memory and remembrance: disrupting comfortable convention

Artist Steve Reich and his recording label Nonesuch have been raked over the proverbial coals this past week since previewing artwork for Reich’s WTC 9/11 recording by the Kronos Quartet. It depicts the second plane going into WTC based on a manipulation of the famous Masatomo Kuriya photograph. The negative fallout reveals to what extent America remains an insular society, a nation with the destiny of exceptionalism, somehow who have won the lottery to be chosen by the almighty to be a light under other nations. Reich’s cd cover is light fare compared with what German artists have to contend with when questioning German standards of memory and remembrance when the Holocaust or the fascist mechanisms that brought it into being are called to task: …

---For the 1993 Venice Biennale, Klaus Bußmann was asked by the Foreign Office--which controls the German pavilion--to curate work representing the newly united Germany. So bothered by the demand, he included Haacke-who lives in New York, and Korean-born Nam June Paik--who was teaching in Germany at the time. Haacke tore up the floor of Hitler's remodel of the pavilion. He said visitors to the installation picked up tiles and hurled them to the floor, breaking them even more, taking out their grief and anger on what transpired under the Nazis. Read More:

Hans Haacke, as invited artist to the cultural festival “Steirischen Herbst” 1988 in Graz, confronted this city, which on the 25. July 1938 had received from Hitler the honorary title “City of the People’s Insurrection,” with its not so laudable past. He draped the Mariensäule (a column bearing a sculpture of the Virgin Mary) in red fabric emblazoned with a swastika and the inscription “Und ihr habt doch gesiegt” (you have won after all), turning it into an obelisk, the same way the Nazis had done in 1938.

The only difference from 1938 was that Haacke, using the fractura typeface preferred by the Nazis, listed the victims of the “Insurrection.” In addition he confronted the citizens of Graz with posters and facsimiles of anti-Semitic documents from the Nazi period. The provocation was so powerful that somebody firebombed the installation.

---Hans Haacke, A Breed Apart (detail), 1978, 7 panels, photographs on masonite, framed, under glass, 36 by 3.6 inches each. (photo © Fred Scruton; all Hans Haacke images are reproduced with permission from Hans Haacke, Phaidon Press, 2004. More:

For several years now Beate Passow has been photographing the forearms of Auschwitz survivors,presenting the photographs in various ways under the titles “Mengenleere” or “Nenner/Zähler.” The trace of the past in form of the tattooed number from Auschwitz is here the information that the viewer recognizes, apart from the trace of the present indicated by the natural patina of old age (spots on the skin, wrinkles, etc.) and the codes of fashion (jewellery, clothes). By means of the surviving victims, this work thematizes equally the existence and disappearance of history.

Beate Passow. Warlord. 2003. Read More:

In another work Beate Passow presented the clothing of a KZ-inmate inside a glass case in downtown Munich, in the typical style of a fashion-
store window display. This act, whose provocative tension is created by the brutal confrontation between sales-increasing window displays and the suppressed memory of the victims, touches upon the theme of memory, but also comments on contemporary tendencies of historical revisionism and neofascism.Read More:

wolf vostell. 1968. Read More:

There appears to be alot of evidence that large swaths of the population perceived the May 8th, 1945 cessation as a defeat and disgrace. Nevertheless, the term “liberation,” gradually became became part of conservative circles by the 1980s. In all likelihood  this was an effort to join the side of the victorious West, the carrot and stick approach using reunification as a fulcrum. Thereby, one distanced oneself from the “evil” that made Auschwitz possible. This shaping and spinning technique was a shallow attempt to identify oneself with the victims, this being a comfortable way of not having to deal with the perpetrators. So, the art that exposed this sham, used its aesthetic power disturb the ceremony of
the solemn and self-righteous national memorial service.Solidarity with the victims is the comfortable solution for the surviving perpetrators and their descendants; instead of documenting and examining  the almost infinitesimal  participation, almost all fervently willing, of Germans as offenders, seeing their chance to assert claims of new found status and advance on the pecking order….

Sam Goodman. Boris Lurie:I remember Goodman's work before, from the beginning of the historic exhibitions at the rebellious March Gallery that had been the first rallying call for a truly new social art, from the wealth of which a subsequent generation of artists nourished themselves. From burnt babies, dolls of our childhood, of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, and dolls of the little Negro girls killed here in the USA, he had gone on to enrich our consciousness with an image of the useless and discarded people, mounted rags and discarded bundles. His Doom-Show constructions sat up a howl to exorcise nuclear holocaust, and his NO-sculptures now, —an ultimate gesture of aggressive manly despair plunged into our consciousness with the exactitude of the matador in the final kill. When I was imprisoned in a German concentration camp during the war, Jewish prisoners drowned a fellow Jew in the accumulated excrements of the latrine for collaboration with the enemy. The price of collaboration in art, too, is exc

ntal suffocation. Read More:

…The painter Blalla W. Hallmann, who died in 1997 at the age of 56, engaged himself in many examples of his figurative oeuvre with Hitler and fascism. His drastic and provocative paintings, which often push the threshold of pain and disgust, combine “pornographic” elements with seemingly preposterous historical fabrications. But when taking a closer look one notices that these historical fabrications convey a quite real picture of the existing continuities, both in terms of ideology and personnel….

---Hallmann.---And yet he was never able to capture that flame of mass intrigue emitted by his arch nemesis Andy Warhol, nor would he have necessarily wanted to. As made clear by his 1991 painting Koofmich! Koofmich!, in which the art market is portrayed as a convention hall filled with proper names and dollar signs, Hallman saw through the corruption plaguing the art world. To him, it was no different than the corruption plaguing every other sphere of the social nexus. From politics to organized religion to popular culture and back again, the sum of all human endeavor is nothing greater than a acrid mass of excrement, violence, and mass stupidity. We spend our days shitting, fucking, and destroying one another beneath the ridiculous symbols we elevate to unreachable heights as reminders of our inferiority, totems in homage to our vain mediocrity, as the planet we find ourselves nesting upon nears its expiration date. To an individual not only aware of this existential condition but acutely sensitive to it, what function can art serve other than a means of survival?---Read More: image:

…Hallmann’s resignedconviction of the world’s inalterability, and his in the end extremely pessimistic view of history,  bring his work into the vicinity of the great apocalyptic visionaries of painting. To say it with a title by Hallmann: “As the old sang, so twitter the young” (Wie die Alten sungen, so zwitschern auch die Jungen). Hallmann engaged himself in a 1981 painting with the myth of ignorance concerning the Nazi
atrocities committed in concentration- and extermination-camps….

---These paintings abound with crude copies of Walt Disney characters cloaked in various symbolic guises (representing money, religion, patriotism), and joyfully wallowing in any number of perverse acts. In Ecce Homo, a decrepit Jesus mouse with a huge dick for a nose looks on as two female ducks shit all over money bags. He is protected by two pigs in American military garb and grips an American flag as blood leaks down his face from the crown of thorns etching its way into his brain. Another painting, Gott ist die Liebe, portrays a dick-nosed God wearing a robe emblazoned with dollar signs sodomizing a smiling dick-nosed Jesus, who is in turn sodomizing a duck with an American flag tattooed upon its head; while yet another, Das tuet zu meinem Gedächtnis, showcases an orgy of McDonald’s hamburgers and Coca-Cola bottles with Donald Duck replicas sucking off Mickey Mouse....---Read More: image:

…The painting shows a KZ-scene and is called Bild im trostlosen ‘modernen’ Stil: Nichts hören, nichts sagen, nichts sehen, nichts riechen (Painting in the desolate ‘modern’ style: hear nothing, say nothing, see nothing, smell nothing). Hallmann, who one might call a moralist in the positive sense, perceived with acerbic accuracy the crimes of political systems, churches and state against man. However, he also always acknowledged the “voluntary” submission and obedience, including the opportunism of the dependants and oppressed, taking out of all this the stuff his dark worldview is made of. Hallmann had sworn off all isms and had lost all hope that reason  might prevail in politics and history. Read More:


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
180 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.”32 Read More:
The implication of these changes for Benjamin was that artists could no longer afford to stand above the social struggle and look down; artists had to choose sides. Benjamin saw that art was not innocent, that every artist living in those years had to choose between the fascist aestheticization of politics and the communist politicization of art. The Italian Futurists were able to avoid political realities by understanding war as an aesthetic phenomenon, as a new architecture, as a symphony—as anything but the horror and the political event it is. In reaction to the growing support of fascism by artists like the Futurists, Benjamin developed his own contribution to the theory of art….Read More: …Benjamin argues, fascism and communism have no choice but to fight—given the increasing formation of masses, the historical development of capitalism in the 1930s, and the technological development of art to that time. Fascism introduces aesthetics into political life as a way of giving the masses “a chance to express themselves” instead of a chance to claim their “right to change property relations”…

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