violence and loss: dead moon fever

The beauty in ambivalence? Theodor Adorno said that after Auschwitz it was impossible to write poetry. But, is attempting to make beautiful art irresponsible? Is it responsible to invoke, to posit, monumentalism to unyielding hopelessness; to imply that nihilism is the way of truth; to kick the bucket in a blast of messianic violence? …

Kiefer: I am interested in Heidegger’s ambivalence. …I know he was a nazi. How is it that such a brilliant mind was taken in by the Nazis? How could Heidegger be so socially irresponsible? It is the same problem with Celine…Ambivalence is the central theme of all my work. There is no place so ambivalent as Germany. …I want to embody, as did Heinrich Heine, both German intellectuality and Jewish morality….

---But then it is a question that is meant to embarrass, and one that Kiefer has long asked himself – "Not whether I am a Nazi, but whether I would have been one. It is an important thing for all of us to know." A student of Joseph Beuys at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in the 1970s, the young artist's remorseless picking at the scabs of German history went even further than those of his master. In 1969, aged 25, Kiefer staged a series of actions called Besetzungen-Occupations- n which he had himself photographed doing Sieg Heil salutes at various European monuments. This, as may be imagined, went down like a cup of cold sick with German critics: the only one who defended the work was an artist called Rainer Küchenmeister, and he, as Kiefer points out, had been in a "KZ – you know, a ( Nazi ) work camp. He said the work was fun." Having begun by blotting his copybook in heroic form, Kiefer went on to provoke his countrymen mightily. Throughout the 1970s, he made art that alluded to Teutonic myths, to Wagner, to the dark, soughing forests of Caspar David Friedrich. ...Read More: image:

May 8, 1945. Defeat, humiliation and disgrace or liberation and a new beginning. What happens if we don’t chase the typical socially prescribed functions of memory; perhaps the two responses are less antagonistic? Something a little more nuanced than the paths of least resistance: demanding proof that the “dark period” is not to be forgotten. Early, despite the Eichmann trial, the political discourse filtering through society was that Auschwitz was fuzzily looked upon as a metaphor for the extreme policies of the Nazis; the overarching subtext of alchemical purification based on perverted ideolgies based on myth was not fair game. Eventually, in the late 1960′s, parents began to be increasingly comforted by materialism but also confronted in their amnesia regarding their behavior in the 1933-45 period. The thawing of the hermetic, political repression began with the outing of academics, known as uder the gown, a musty smell of a thousand years.” ironically, as if the 1000 year Reich began before the first millennium.

---Here’s a summer vacation unlike any other: Sophie Fiennes’ highly unconventional documentary “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow” takes you inside the symbolic and apocalyptic world of German artist Anselm Kiefer, who has spent almost 20 years building a dreamlike city to house his paintings in the south of France.---Read More:

Capitalism-Fascism is a bit simplistic and artificial. The borders are a little more porous than that. Its more than the connection between FArben and Auschwitz. If we poke the sleeping beast a bit, we see some synthetic, erzatz experiences at the community level. A love of nature and ecology, happy, healthy, sensuous and successful collective change, the German version of the American dream that fascist policy makers were skilled in exploiting.  In other words, the country for most Germans, as Hilberg implied, was not a prisoner state , but a inevitable utopic, near messianic project of milk and honey. What is repressed is the subjective angle, the toleration of the system, tacit approval, complicity, even enthusiasm which is the necessary tack to understand. When one uncovers and examines these banal, ordinary daily experiences we are left gazing at a perverted mix of violence and wishes, destruction and desire, and the sheer fantasy which the systematic fascism could package and represent as a mediated image of reality that assumed a life of its own as self-actualization and a pseudo-real-truth as fulfillment and the just fruits of white patriarchal entitlement.

---His works are characterised by a dull/musty, nearly depressive, destructive style and are often done in large scale formats. In most of his works, the use of photography as an output surface is prevalent and earth and other raw materials of nature are often incorporated. It is also characteristic of his work to find signatures and/or names of humans, legendary figures or places particularly pregnant with history in nearly all of his paintings. All of these are encoded sigils through which Kiefer seeks to process the past; this often gets him linked with a style called "New Symbolism."---Read More:

from Donald Kuspit. The article is almost ten years old,but is fresh, pertinent and brilliant….

Kiefer’s new works are supposed to be about the Kabbalah, but I think they show his ongoing preoccupation with the Holocaust — indeed, his obsession with the Jews Nazi Germany sacrificed to ensure victory as well as rid the world of degeneracy (the Holocaust had alchemical purpose, that is, it embodies Nazi Germany’s alchemical ambition to make the world a pure place). The Kabbalah is an excuse to dwell on violence and loss — and Kiefer’s works reek of violent loss. They are more descendental than transcendental. The stairway in the lower part of Sefroth (2002) seems to descend rather than ascend — it doesn’t go very high, but does reaches to the bottom of the picture, that is, the earth. The Hebrew terms — Kiefer litters his works with them — are fading graffiti, suggesting the transience of Jewish beliefs even as it mystifies them. The Jewish star in the upper half of the picture is a fragile molecule that shines with reflected light, like the dead moon. There is no hope in Kiefer’s works, only inevitability. Grayness alone has enduring presence in Kiefer’s work, and also blackness….

---Kiefer has been courted controversy ever since he established himself in the '60s, taking pictures of himself doing the Nazi salute. As a non-Jewish German born the year the war ended, in 1945, there was always a layer of suspicion added to any explanation he gave. But he always gave one, maybe frustratingly plain to some, but never coy.---Read More:

…Does the grayness symbolize mourning or melancholy? Does Kiefer reify the Holocaust into German melancholy or does he convincingly mourn for the Jews it destroyed? To rephrase Freud, there is mourning, which is alchemically successful, in that it liberates one from the dead, but mourning can become melancholy when one feels guilt toward them, as though blaming and punishing oneself for their death. One really disliked them — and also felt they never really liked you, even though they lived with you. Thus one can’t really get rid of them — they remain alive inside one, like the exciting black patches in Kiefer’s pictures. They darken one¹s self-image–they are the opaque abyss in oneself. I submit that Kiefer’s pictures have more to do with melancholy than mourning — traditional German melancholy, so closely rela

to traditional German mysticism (and Kiefer is a traditional German melancholy mystic, producing fragmentary modern versions of Dürer’s Melencolia I (1514), conceived as German as well as artist’s melancholy, that is, the artist’s inability to reach the heavenly palace as well as Germany’s failure to become one under the Nazis and in general, despite its musical pretensions to being one)….

---Ronald Goetz:With an almost messianic sense of mission, from the outset Kiefer took it upon himself to thrust the faces of his fellow Germans into the abrasive realities of their country’s Nazi past. Clearly he believes that a sizable residue of Hitler’s spirit still resides in the German soul. Is he also aware that if this is true, then the Nazi residue must reside in his own soul as well, and not simply as a matter of his romantically extravagant but deliberately self-controlled program to "be a fascist’’ (a decision he can turn on and off at will) ? I cannot say. However, Kiefer’s art raises serious questions in my own mind as to whether it may unwittingly help to nurture some of the very beliefs and attitudes he hates, Kiefer does not, in my opinion, consciously intend finally to end in nihilism, Yet his determination never for one moment to permit the horror of the Nazi regime to leave the foreground, leads him to create a pictorial world which is fundamentally without faith, hope or love. Even where these virtues of the One who alone is the only perfect atonement are wistfully alluded to in Kiefer’s work, his constantly interjected reminder that all things are completely subject to the same corruption that Hitler brought upon German culture so overwhelms his visual field that nothing remains except scorched-earth, dead gods and the shattered ruins of the Third Reich. How can there be healing when Kiefer is driven by a need to open and ever reopen old sores? Read More:

…They are more about Germany’s self-respect — the great narcissistic wound it suffered in a century’s worth of wars, which ironically disintegrated it into an unholy version of the Holy Roman Empire, a composite of fragments that had no organic unity — than about Germany’s wish to repair the damage caused by its own history. Kiefer is not mourning for the Jews, but using the Jews to mourn for Germany. That mourning must go on forever, for the Jews are a dead bone stuck permanently in the throat of a melancholy Germany, which is why Kiefer shows us — and this is his radical honesty — that his art no longer sings as art did in the work of Bach and Beethoven, Schiller and Goethe, among many other German masters. Kiefer’s works are about Germany’s loss of self-esteem — the failure of its will to power, now become a failure of spiritual nerve — rather than about the Jews or the Kabbalah, however much it cleverly mystifies the Nazi destruction of the Jews through its laudatory allusion to the Kabbalah….

---Mark Dobbins:In Kiefer’s art, we can see the powerlessness of the artist as he struggles to articulate what cannot, what must not, be articulated. The recipient of the encoded transferred guilt of the German psyche, Anselm Kiefer, on some level, can be seen as creating from a “compulsion to repeat,” to revisit what is unconsciously stored in a vain attempt to expurgate what is intolerable. Faced with such a burden, Alice Miller believes that two choices face us: mental illness or expression through symbology, i.e., art. Kiefer has spoken of the despair he feels while creating his art, despair we feel when facing such works as To the Supreme Being or Nero Paints. Though he acknowledges his attempt to present the intolerable truths of Germany’s participation in World War II, if we look beyond the prima facie iconography of Teutonic Germany seen in such works as Ways of Worldly Wisdom – Arminius’ Battle (Art Institute, Chicago), we can see the subtle signs of the child daily fed a diet of guilt and shame for acts he did not commit and could not understand. Unable to articulate these feelings, and terrified of losing the affection of his parents, he sublimates the negative emotions. Years later, when the adult Kiefer consciously revisits Germany’s past in his work, these feelings still remain. Reenacted unconsciously in his work, this compulsion to repeat the history of Germany allows the indirect rediscovery of the original trauma, the guilt of a people horrified over their actions in war. Read More:

…For Kiefer, Germany is not the phoenix that has alchemically risen from its ashes, but spirit that has become all gray: the gray in which light and dark dissolve, the gray that is the dregs of spirit. Kandinsky, in On the Spiritual in Art, wrote about the struggle between light and dark, but in Kiefer’s art both have been obliterated into gray — the washed-out color of the stripes on concentration camp uniforms, canceling the individuality and human identity of those who wore them — confirming that there is no longer anything spiritual about art, whatever illusion of spirituality it creates. Working with gray, Kiefer identifies with the anonymous Jewish victims of Nazi Germany. But by spreading gray ash on his head, as it were — a traditional gesture of mourning — he also identifies with the German victims of war. They are not the same thing: they did not perish the same way. Dust to dust, no doubt, but the Germans didn’t turn to dust in a crematorium. They lost their lives fighting for a different cause.

---While working on his New Chancellery series, Kiefer began what are called his “books.” Often bound by Kiefer himself, they contain paintings, lead drippings, steel wool, dirt, and other media associated with his work. Begun in 1985 and finished in 1989, Kiefer’s The High Priestess is composed of over 200 books in two steel bookcases, bound together with copper wire, weighing over forty tons. Modern critics have come tantalizingly close to a interpretation for this work based on the theories of Alice Miller. Noting the sheer weight of the piece, James Hall compares it to the “weight of knowledge,” not referring to the weight of the knowledge of German guilt but the avalanche of information in contemporary media. 23 Inside each of the 200 lead books are pictures of Nazi imagery, such as Kiefer making the Nazi salute in famous sites around the world or the interiors of famous Nazi buildings. By fragmenting these images, Kiefer is attempting to redistribute the guilt they convey and to undermine their power as they are literally “put away on the shelf.” Referring to his images making the Nazi salute, Kiefer could also be speaking of his art in general: “I have to re-enact a little bit in order to understand the madness.”---Read More: image:

Solidarity with the victims is the comfortable solution for the surviving perpetrators and their decendants. Instead of documenting the hundred-thousand-fold involvement of Germans as offenders, the grief that is truly felt by only a few people in Germany, is turned into a lie on the level of a national declaration. Author Manfred Zach describes in his novel “Die Bewerbung” this blending of perpetrators
and victims: “Nobody in Germany wanted to be reminded of the tertium imperium after it went up in smoke and  flames. Everything was smoke, smoke from crematories, and smoke from ruins. A giant collective smoke-sacrifice, after whose burnout the people who lighted the fire joined the victims who they only recently had treated like animals. The indistinguishable ashes of the dead as catharsis for the living: what an elegant way to leave the disgusting event behind! How simple, how perfect, how fatefully definite.” Read More:


---Yet Kiefer’s engagement with history is highly personal and hardly without controversy, as becomes clear in the exhibition’s imposing centerpiece, Occupations, which reconstitutes the series of photographs from 1969 in which he performed the Nazi salute in front of significant European sites. Here, 76 new prints are blown up, mounted on lead and then burlap and hung in crammed rows within a partially enclosed steel container that the New York Times’s Roberta Smith astutely compared with “box cars, crematoria, barracks or meat lockers.” But it isn’t so straightforward. It’s more like an enormous time capsule that the mature artist has unearthed, one that suggests a fragile book or archive of blurred images, only glimpses of which are revealed through slightly open doors.---Read More: image:

Goetz:For all his power and talent, Kiefer has not, I would argue, found the real truth of the human situation, and so there is a basic contradiction running through all his work. If it were actually true that everything we are and do is inevitably corruptible (including art and the artist) , and that all the fruit of human labor is but the meat and drink of corruption, why would Kiefer continue to create monuments to despair’? It is evident that despair and nihilism feed upon themselves. A supposedly meaningless world is an invitation to the next “superman” to arise and impose his own version of order upon it. Granted, Kiefer expresses loathing for Hitler. but since that very loathing is itself corruptible, why doesn’t Kiefer sink into quietism and create nothing, thus giving the inevitable corruptive process nothing with which to work?

The answer is, in part at least, that Kiefer is driven by a kind of truncated, forlorn sense of hope, which nonetheless he cannot permit to surface because of his programmatic need to resurrect the horror of the Holocaust as if it were the first thing to be said about everything. If only he could let go of his self-acknowledged (and self-induced) pessimism and embrace the truth about human sin.

Kiefer is a salient example of the way in which modern culture has generally lost its sense of sin and thus has fallen prey either to a Kieferesque self-consuming sense of irony and pessimism, on the one hand, or, on the other, to the shallow bourgeois denial of tragedy which Kiefer set himself to puncture. Without a faith in the living God, there can be no sense of sin. For sin is the radical acknowledgment that indeed something is wrong in the world, but it is also the recognition that at root what is wrong is our warped relationship to God.Read More:

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Years later, when the adult Kiefer consciously revisits Germany’s past in his work, these feelings still remain. Reenacted unconsciously in his work, this compulsion to repeat the history of Germany allows the indirect rediscovery of the original trauma, the guilt of a people horrified over
their actions in war. Though Kiefer is by far not the only artist to work in post-war Germany, and I do not mean to suggest that the entire collective shame of Germany is bound up in one individual, he is perhaps the most prolific voice of that generation struggling with the shame of its parent’s actions. Seen in this vein, the work of Anselm Kiefer becomes the plea of a child still clutching his mother’s hand, listening with rapt attention as she feeds him the guilt of a nation. Read More:

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