Kiefer creates the twin towers of Piccadilly

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The Independent Online

They soar unsteadily into the cold January air against the Palladian splendour of the Royal Academy, two rough, unstable-looking towers crafted by the internationally acclaimed artist, Anselm Kiefer.

In the world of post-9/11, it seems almost impossible not to consider the 50ft (15m) high structures as symbols of the disaster that struck New York.

But Kiefer, 61, who has spent nearly 40 years exploring what it is to be human against the context of his own upbringing in post-war Germany, dismisses the analogy.

"I'm a political man, I'm in the world, I read newspapers and I'm very interested, but I don't do political art," he said. "9/11 is just one event."

In fact, these towers are only the latest in a series the artist has constructed, with the first built in the grounds of his studio and home in the south of France long before the events of 2001.

The new versions are called Jericho, a biblical reference in keeping with the diverse religious, literary and philosophical references in his work, and were commissioned for the courtyard of the Royal Academy, on Piccadilly, where Kiefer is an honorary academician.

Cast in concrete by a company in Guildford, Surrey, the rough walls are interspersed with lead sheets in books - another motif in his work - with a ship akin to a Noah's ark parked on the top of one tower as if stranded on Mount Ararat. "It's illogical," the artist said this week, with evident delight.

They are not necessarily rendered more comprehensible by taking in the rest of his new exhibition, which opens on the other side of Piccadilly in the White Cube Mason's Yard gallery today.

The show takes its title, Aperiatur Terra, from a quotation in the Book of Isaiah which translates as "let the earth be opened" - and continues "and bud forth a saviour and let justice spring up at the same time".

There is a sequence of large paintings inspired by photographs of fields in Germany and a work called Palm Sunday, featuring a large palm tree from Morocco and 18 paintings exploring the pivotal day in the Christian calendar when Christ entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week that ends in his crucifixion.

"On the one hand, it's victory and triumph, but on the other it's also death," he said. Such dualities appear to have obsessed Anselm Kiefer since he was born in the small southern German town of Donaueschingen in 1945. "Our house was bombed the day I was born. For me, ruins are not a bad thing. They're a good beginning," he said.

But, growing up in a country in horrified denial of its wartime history, he became one of the first German artists to confront and challenge its recent past.

He began his career with performances in which he mimicked the Nazi salute in a bid to force his fellow countrymen to acknowledge the Third Reich.

He then went on to study under another influential German artist, Joseph Beuys, in Düsseldorf and has since carved out a career as an influential and deeply philosophical artist.

Kiefer, who has lived in a 35-hectare estate in Barjac, Provence, since 1991, has explored Teutonic mythology, history, alchemy, Greco-Roman mythology, ancient gnosticism and Kabbalistic mysticism in his art. His works abound with references to everything from Plato to Velimir Khlebnikov, the Russian Futurist poet.

But although raised a Catholic, he no longer follows the faith. "I don't believe in this Catholic dogma. I see a stream of spirituality. The only religion in this world is Hinduism because Hinduism allows all religions."

Tim Marlow, White Cube's director of exhibitions, said: "I know of few artists, if any, who are as interested in and as well-versed in human history. That is what he has immersed himself in since he was an adolescent."

There was no doubt Kiefer was influenced by the shadow of Nazi Germany, but Mr Marlow said he also saw "the bigger picture - the cyclical nature of history, the inevitable decline and fall - he really does have the grand sweep".

Aperiatur Terra is at White Cube until 17 March and will then travel to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. The Royal Academy commission will stay in situ until the spring.

Kiefer is thrilled at the impact of Jericho amid the classical grandeur of the courtyard, not least because the authorities in France have been loath to allow similar constructions in public.

"I was very surprised when I arrived because I didn't know whether it would work," he said. "But there's an immediate dialogue with the buildings. [The towers are] the Royal Academy in 200 years' time."

Kiefer's last exhibition in London was at White Cube Hoxton in 2005 when he built a pavilion similar to those that populate the landscape at Barjac. Andrew Hall, an Americancollector, bought the pavilion and the 30 paintings inside.