correctional devices

Truth at the margins. Playing with trauma and variations on holding the traumatic moment. There is an uneasy relationship with popular culture, kitsch, and an underlying current of fascism. As Adorno said, “The encouragement of kitsch is merely another of the inexpensive ways in which totalitarian regimes seek to ingratiate themselves with their subjects.” Harsh, but to be dismissed out of hand. Saul Freidlander has linked kitsch to death.

But kitsch has also been a  scapegoat. During the flower power heydey there was also a current that sought to reclaim the pleasure, an often guilty pleasure, found in popular arts well articulated in  Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp. The camp sensibility opened a portal of appreciating serious art and kitsch, due of its excessiveness, its obvious efforts at role-playing, and lack of sublimity in decoration. Those with camp sensibilities develop an aesthetic  understanding of kitsch. That is, camp judgments implicate a series of perceptual values, which in sum stand up well or at least parallel to the diatribe Clement Greenberg’s inveigled over kitsch when compared to abstract expressionism in his Picasso versus Repin paper. Ultimately, the values of Picasso can be seen as a minor artist with a violence and destructiveness equal to a Repin or Fildes.

---Lauded by the likes of Susan Sontag as one of the greatest works of 20th century art, while reviled by many both in Germany and abroad as a work of depraved reactionary nostalgia, Hans Jurgen Syberberg’s epic rumination of Germany’s Nazi past remains as troubling and troublesome today as it was thirty years ago. (Two top German critics I met in Berlin admitted to not having been able to sit through the film.) Syberberg takes the old adage of confronting the mistakes of the past lest they be repeated and puts it to an extreme test, immersing its audience in seven-plus hours of Naziana drawn out to such length and breadth that it suggests a morbidly intractable fixation with its subject. A historical zombie movie for intellectuals, the film fixes an unwavering gaze on reanimated Nazi figures like Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler (whose obsession with a mythic Germany Syberberg seems to share), Hitler’s personal valet, and Hitler himself, toga-clad and rising from Richard Wagner’s tomb, as they deliver endless monologues amidst a landscape of kitschy Third Reich paraphernalia and atmospheric dry ice fog. ---- Read More:

…One of  cinema’s most viewed  kitsch sequences is Chaplin’s balletic dance with a balloon globe in The Great Dictator. There is an absence of dialogue; only  Wagner’s Lohengrin. The music, props, and choreography enhance the blood and soil theme Wagner exemplified for Hitler an almost surreal levity, while also accentuating the diabolical nature. This part of the film does camp the composer,  but also manifests the vicious kitsch of Nazism’s Wagner fetish in the first place, showing how allegedly high art can be middle-browed into service as well as positing a comparison with Chapin ( Hinkel) having the same mustache as Hitler.

Read More: ---Thus, in contrast to critics who regard kitsch as functionless or cheap failure, Friedlander stresses its very costly dangers in representing something as murderous as Nazism. For him, its tastelessness and inappropriateness reside in being unable to distinguish the regime's atrocities or the material horrors of death from their banalization, sentimentalization, or glorification. This kitsch process eroticizes, spectacularizes, honors, and mythologizes. For him, Nazism's relationship to death was both an aesthetic and anestheticizing one, similar to Benjamin's warning about the aestheticization of politics at the end of his essay, "The Work of Art." Friedlander is not alone in discovering kitsch in political contexts. Gillo Dorfles associates it with modern, right-wing regimes that devote themselves to ritual and pageantry and retreat into the past for models. Their glorification of death, battle, and sacrifice all establish that kitsch, like camp, is not necessarily constituted after the fact by outsiders. The scary allure of the SS's leather coats, for instance, was certainly evident at the time, not emerging all at once in postwar s/m dungeons around the world.---

But is the holocaust now ancient history, the stuff of myth? Saul Friedlander  challenged the transformation of modernity’s most atrocious era into myth. Friedlander wrote Reflections on Nazism , an interventionist critique onto the debate  surrounding Nazi themed films popular at that time,1982, such as the t.v series Holocaust which followed Roots, and also German films such as Our Hitler and Fassbinder’s  Lili Marleen, that he came to term as a new discourse  of Nazism, leading to a backdoor justification since within these contexts he perceived strategies of disavowal that masked atrocities of the Nazi past precisely as they were depicting and, ostensibly, exposing that past. He asserted that they achieved this by encouraging what he termed a fascinating fascism, either through eroticism, as in The Night Porter, or banality- sequences of Our Hitler  detailing Hitler’s daily life, which focus on the ordinariness, the ho-hum daily struggle with inertia of the tyrannical. But, by the same token was not Picasso’s Les Filles Davignon and Manet’s Olympia appealing to the same fascination, the same death/sex dynamic, the same voyeurism? Are we not all tinkering with correctional devices ?

…almost every object we use, especially toys, are devices for correction. Somebody can look at my correctional devices as devices that were themselves “corrected”. How can you point to the fact that banal everyday objects have such an educational aspect? Only by way of comparing them to other, similar objects that are just a little bit different. This confronts you with the idea that these objects can function in the same way, only normally we are not conscious of that….

Read More: --- All the pieces in the correctional devices series seem like ready-mades. I really needed this misunderstanding. I needed this ready-made effect, this effect of familiarity, so that people...

ZBIGNIEW LIBERA: Naturally, Lego was such an important piece that it divides my career into two parts. Lego brought me international recognition, and in this sense it really changed something. It is also very hard for an artist to have one of his works raise expectations very high. It becomes very hard to do any work after it. Sometimes such expectations even paralyze you, because you want to do something similar, but you cannot. And then you have to deal with the likelihood that you will never do something that significant again. It is a personal problem as well. But looking back over the years, it is not so simple to draw a dividing line. When I was working on the Lego project in 1996 it was not really known; it became well-known only a year later. But then, mentally I was at a somewhat different stage, I was dealing with different things. So where is this divide? Is it when I made “Lego” or is it when it became well-known, when I achieved recognition for it, which of course also changed me and my thinking about that piece?

Read More: ---In a world where the normal obsession with violence is associated with guns, the mere idea of a "toy" concentration camp is enough to evoke strong responses, as was in the case at an international conference in December, 1997. When Libera showed this work to a group that included Jewish Holocaust survivors, he was immediately pelted with a barrage of insults which included "Go back to Warsaw!", "You're an anti-Semite," to "This is not art!" However, the issue debated at that particular conference was the question of how to keep discourse about the Holocaust "alive." Libera's Lego provided an answer, albeit not the one most were expecting. Many in the audience, even artists, were uncertain if this was an artwork with a limited edition (which it was) or a mass-produced item that was availabl


H.T.:: Did Lego change your recognition in Poland or mainly abroad?

Z.L.: I was known in Poland in the 1980s, but mainly among artists. “Lego” made me known among a wider public in Poland. However, fame did not make life nice and easy, on the contrary, it was a bad fame. I received attacks rather than appreciation.

H.T.:: Who attacked you?

Z.L.: Different people, for different reasons, but almost everybody. I think that these were people who misunderstood “Lego.” Many thought that this was not an art work but a real toy….

…My intention was to refer to the icon of the 20th century, which for me is the concentration camp. The first concentration camp was set up not by Germans, not even by Russians, but by the British during the Boer war in South Africa around 1905. When I was working on “Lego” in 1996, the war in Yugoslavia was going on and there were concentration camps in Bosnia, we could see these things every day on TV. This was one of the strongest reasons why I decided to make this piece. So there is no specific historical reference, and I do not represent any particular camp. This is not Auschwitz, nor a Boer War concentration camp, nor the Gulag but the Concentration Camp. Of course when you talk about concentration camps today it is always the Holocaust that comes to mind, because this was such a significant historical event. But in this work there are no particular signs, no swastikas or stars of David. I considered making a Russian Gulag, a “Lego” Gulag. But it doesn’t work. It corresponds to no image in our head. And it did not really work for what I was trying to say either. German terror was organized, rational. Soviet terror was absolutely chaotic, anybody at any moment could be arrested. I was thinking about rationality and education.

Read More: ---In fact, LEGO is a case of artistic representation which may have more answers about the Holocaust and contemporary genocide than most traditional art forms. First, the idea of a concentration camp available in toy and kit form was deemed offensive and not suitable for children. This discourse in itself raised the more important question of "from where did the Holocaust emerge?" Certainly, Hitler did not have a LEGO system, and the origins of his anti-Semitism and genocidal instinct is still being debated by historians. More importantly, Hitler was an aspiring art student rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, the last time being in October 1908. Beyond this, art held a very important place in the Nazi scheme of things. Libera's "lesson," if it may be said to be that, is that his Lego concentration camp was constructed entirely from existing LEGO stock, with a few minor exceptions which demanded adaptation.---


Libera creates his pop art pieces in multiples, seemingly suggesting with Lego that history itself is repeatable. His Lego appears to be like many of the German concentration camps, which are almost in the artist’s everyday field of vision as he lives in Poland. However, there is nothing specifically German about them, suggesting they could be in the Soviet Gulag, in Bosnia, or any location where genocide is being or has been carried out. The elements for such atrocity, as one reads Libera’s pop-art, exists within civilization. All that is needed is the right person to “assemble” the pieces correctly. Commenting on this, Libera has noted that:

To a certain extent it reminds work of a producer, where a role of an artist is limited to sketch a project of an idea or sometimes, if a process demands it, to create a model object or to supervise and co-ordinate a production. The composition as a whole is created by an object itself as well as by carriers of representations, such as a package or a poster, which lead into the object’s world and guides its meaning.

In fact, with Lego, the suggestion of a concentration camp is mainly on the box. Anyone assembling the material could make anything from it, depending upon imagination. Thus, the suggestion of the possibilities of constructing a concentration camp also suggests the antithesis—the construction of something else with the same materials. One may also take Lego as a starting point for analyzing aspects of violence in existing toys—from the obvious in guns to toy soldiers, “cowboys and Indians,” and police toys. Libera is aware of this comparison. Read More:
We do not really know what to do with emotions. Plus, today you are supposed to create only and exclusively the “right” emotions. How should you do that? I do not know. I am not in the Shoah business, but I am somebody who reveals that a Shoah business exists. During the Mirroring Evil exhibition, I had a rather unpleasant encounter with a reporter from the BBC who invited me to an interview but failed to mention that I would be interviewed together with an American right-wing politician. Had I known this I would have said no, thank you. This politician claimed that I was trivializing evil and the Holocaust. But it was not we, the artists, who trivialized evil in this exhibition, we just showed the world: look how evil is trivialized. The construction of the Memorial of Europe’s Murdered Jews in Berlin took many years of discussion. But one thing that is certain is that monuments are used to forget, not to remember. This is a trick that is well known and we play with it. It is a strange game that politicians, survivors, Jews, the government of Israel, everybody has started to play. In 1996 or 1998, Kazimierz Switon erected a cross in a concentration camp, and then hundreds of thousands of people came with crosses. The whole thing ended with an intervention by the army to remove these crosses. In Poland, this was a sign that something was really, really wrong….The artist is not the owner of interpretations. There might be reasons why I myself haven’t thought of an interpretation, so it might be true, and anyway who knows what truth is? I am a mystery for myself as well. The Positive series is part of the same line as “Lego”. It is another attempt to play with trauma. ( Libera. ibid.)

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