scorched earth policy: the burning fiddler

The dull oppressive heaviness of Nazi neo-classicism. The scorched earth policy. Everything to repress regeneration and to seal off the gases of expressionist madness that could escape and find their way into the water. It was a meaningless world. If you represent it, you reaffirm it. Like it or not. Maybe there is a sense of hope buried under the pessimism. The memories of the dead victims still being used, appropriated for assuage al the anxiety and stress from mourning. Let them do it. They have time on their side.

From Donald Kuspit:

One of the many paradoxes and ambivalences of Kiefer’s art is his unconscious identification with such degenerate artists as Hitler and Nero in the act of despising and mocking them. It is as though, despite himself, he envies their imperial power — an imperious power that they perversely used for destructive purposes and that the imperious artist in Kiefer tries to put to constructive, soul-searching use. The abuse of power, squandered on delusions of grandeur, is as much a theme as fascination with its grandeur, indeed, awe at its intimidating absoluteness. Thus, in a 1969 conceptual series of photographs, Kiefer shows himself making the Hitler salute at various places the Nazis occupied. It is a mocking but also triumphant gesture, suggesting a certain pride in Hitler’s military accomplishments in the act of turning them into farce. It was in fact Hitler who was a degenerate artist, not the avant-garde artists who revealed the degeneration of humanness in modernism. The degenerate traditionality of Hitler’s youthful paintings — they did not even get him admitted to the conservative Vienna Academy — as well as the degenerate classicism that became the Nazi ideal makes this clear. ….

---Seraphim is part of Kiefer’s Angel series, which treats the theme of spiritual salvation by fire, an ancient belief perverted by the Nazis in their quest for an exclusively Aryan nation. In this painting, a ladder connects a landscape to the sky. At its base, a serpent—symbolizing a fallen angel—refers to the prevalence of evil on earth. According to the Doctrine of Celestial Hierarchy, a 5th-century text, the seraphim “purify through fire and burnt offering.” Kiefer used fire to create the surface of Seraphim, and it is evident from this and many other works that he associates fire with the redemptive powers of art. This equivalence was suggested in the 1974 canvas Painting = Burning, in which the outline of a painter’s palette is superimposed on a view of the war-torn earth. The actual burning of materials used in Seraphim suggests a more specific reading: the Latin word used to describe a sacrificial offering consumed by flames is “holocaust.”--- Read More:

Its an old problem. The paradox between a moral imperative to remember, even with all its contradictions, and hopefully without nostalgia and sentimentality and yet the near impossibility of representing this past which by its horror evades opaque representation. The truth is simply too enigmatic such that the contradictions in creating these paintings result in a despair and a furious nihilism feeding like bleeding sharks on each other. Like Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, what is left is a prize Marlin picked dry to the bone.When something defies representation it eventually has to devolve into kitsch since it cannot sustain itself otherwise. Hitler memes like the Downfall, Hogan’s Heroes, Benigni’s A Beautiful Life, all end up reinforcing the vulgarity at is base. Like the American amusement park in Baghdad or selling popcorn at Dachau, everything becomes culturally relativised.

…Hitler wanted Germany to be a new thousand-year empire, like ancient Rome, and Hitler made art while Germany burned, as Nero made art while Rome burned. Indeed, both perversely regarded destructive burning as creative art, a point clearly made by Kiefer’s Painting=Burning (1974). A ghostly palette encompasses the entire terrain of a charred Germany, burned completely to death except for a lone tree. It is a more consummate image of death than Nero Paints, where a row of green trees remains on the horizon next to the burning homes. Again and again Kiefer dismantles Nazi fantasies, showing their pathology but also their real effect on history. However much Kiefer’s landscape remains diseased or dead — however emblematic it is of the misery and nightmare of German history, writ large as an existential paradigm of world-historical trauma — he breathes imaginative dialectical life into avant-garde as well as traditional ideas and styles that have become reified, particularly avant-garde process art as well as conceptual art and traditional history painting as well as landscape painting….

---In Nero Paints, we can see Kiefer’s own identification with the guilt of the German people and the sense of grandiosity that informs those burdened with that guilt. Over a barren and devastated landscape, we can see an artist’s palette, a self-referent by which Kiefer identifies with the destruction of das Land. Referring to the topos of Nero fiddling as Rome burns, Kiefer both accuses and identifies with the inaction of the German people as atrocities were committed in war-time; the artist’s palette becomes a symbol for the artist looming over the landscape just a guilt still “hangs over everything…covering it with an…impenetrable veil.” --- Read More:

Can aura even exist in the most bleakest of perspectives? In theory it will, as long as sexuality and aggression are in play. But aura is also deeply attached to emotional reality, and what if that reality is dead. Sucked dry and unable to regenerate. Like the Monty Python parrot, perhaps its not dead, just resting. Its supposed to exist as long as there is a psycho-ethical conflict to add enigma to an antagonized state of mind.

…Again he shows his postmodernist attempt to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable. Neither sense and intellect nor history and nature are mortal enemies for him, although they are not always on the best terms. Their parallel lines meet in the infinity of Kiefer’s sublime space — the space in which being dialectically emerges from nothingness. A masterful postmodernist, Kiefer has encyclopedic knowledge of art history, mourning for the historical art he uses while suggesting that it still has expressive potential, especially when it is put to trenchant contemporary use. Art does not commit suicide in Kiefer — formal as well as expressive suicide — as it does in Minimalism, but reveals the suicide that is German history, less protracted than Rome’s suicide, and more dialectical, for the Nazis committed suicide with open-eyed self-deception. …Read More:

---"Iron Path" (1986) , shows a bleak, gray, incinerated landscape in which a railway track leads from the foreground to a junction at which the track splits and goes off in two directions to nowhere. "Iron Path" evokes the photographs of the railyards at Auschwitz, and like most of Kiefer’s recent paintings, it is very large....Even before World War I, German art had taken an expressionist turn. Often savage and always tinged with a sense of the tragic, it was an art deeply influenced by the existentialism and irrationalism of Friedrich Nietzsche. In many ways, the reason that the expressionistic, existentialistic, dialectical theology of Karl Barth’s Letter to the Romans, in all its drastic negation, caused such a sensation in Germany in 1922 just after the war was that the expressionist and existentialist mood was culturally far advanced there before the war. For many, the war simply confirmed the prophesies of the great German expressionists, What is true of post-World War I theology is also true of German philosophy. The most influential German philosopher between the wars was Martin Heideggear, whose indebtedness to Nietzsche and his spiritual kinship with the expressionists were obvious. Because Nietzsche’s thought was appropriated by Hitler and Nazism (however legitimately or illegitimately the Nazis understood that self-contradictory philosopher -- and the jury is forever out on that question) , Nietzsche came under a cloud in Germany immediately after World War II. But such an eclipse could not be expected to last, and at present Germany is experiencing a Nietzschian revival, Kiefer is plainly indebted, as were his early 20-century German expressionist predecessors, to elements within the Nietzschian mind-set,... Read More:

So, With a near messianic sense of purpose, the absorbed zealot fanatic, like a renegade Maccabee,   Kiefer began  putting shit in the faces of his co-citizens, a kind of anal-retentive blast into the jagged realities of a Nazi past. Whether traces  of Hitler’s spirit are still fecund in the German soul is questionable;  but, its convenient for him to propose this since the residue can be in his own as well, a pretext for a kind of cultural catharsis. The art, as Kuspit argues, poses the issue of his own emotional attachment, the attraction-repulsion complex, of the very values he ostensibly is opposed to. The angst of the white liberal and the fear of the self-image of the petit-bourgeois not far removed from the feudal tiller of his

tle plot. Sometimes the art is so serious, there has to be a line of black comedy in it.

Its doubtful that Kiefer consciously intends to will an ending, a grand finale in nihilism,marveling at the beauty of 9/11 like Stockhausen,  yet there is something determinedly pathological, obsessional about not allowing the nightmare  of the Nazi era to quit the foreground; there is something traumatic in him, like Bergman he wants to hold the traumatic moment, almost eternally,  a visual world which is almost devoid of hope; perhaps compounded by a sheer inability to love. However, the constant reminder that the alchemical properties are subject to corruption is both overwhelming in his visual field yet provides enough diversity and contradiction to himself that there is always the “feint hope clause” of some form of redemption, albeit minor. A child’s portion. Maybe a distraction by some chance occurrence of distraction that will lead to a little enchantment and bury the memory, discarded, of shattered ruins and faded photographs of contradictions not redeemable within one human lifespan. Don’t pick at it. the old wounds will heal on their own.

---Though he has been acclaimed by critics such as Simon Schama, who called him "incapable of producing trivia", and was the first artist since Georges Braque in 1953 to make a work to go permanently on show at the Louvre, Kiefer regards himself as underground compared with artists like Damien Hirst, who he says makes "anti-art". But he's at pains to point out that this "anti-art" is itself part of art. "Art has something which destroys its own cells," says Kiefer. "Damien Hirst is a great anti-artist. To go to Sothebys and sell your paintings directly" – as Hirst did in 2008 – "is destroying art. But in doing it to such an exaggerated extent, it becomes art. I liked this action, the Sotheby's sale, and the fact that it was two days before the crash made it even better." In fact, Hirst's auction, which netted £93m, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers happened at the same time, 15-16 September.--- Read More: image:


…They disappear in the sand of time, which has run out for Germany. Each is the same road of destiny — of futile, lonely destiny. For Germany lost credibility for all time at Auschwitz — lost its soul. It will always be haunted and tainted by Auschwitz — the dirty fly in its ointment, the fatal flaw in its identity, suggesting that its great music and philosophy were all in vain, glorified expressions of hubris — even when the Nazis have faded into the past. But they will never be forgotten. They will survive as symbols of absolute darkness, which is what they have become in Kiefer’s art.Read More:

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