Archive for November, 2011

Quotes from an interview with Lonia Jebnięty (engl.: Leo the Fucknut)

Posted on: November 28th, 2011 by Denhart von Harling

Quotes from an interview with Lonia Jebnięty (engl.: Leo the Fucknut), one of the member of the Voina Group from Russia

This text is an abridged version of the interview "Yes, the Truth is With Us", which will be published in the first publication of the 7th Berlin Biennale.

 

 

Lonia Jebnięty (engl.: Leo the Fucknut)

For me everything started last New Year’s Day, which was when I met Oleg and Koza. It was December 31, and on every 31 of the month in Russia people organize protests in support of article 31 of the constitution, which is devoted to the freedom of assembly. In Moscow people get together and protest on Triumph Square. Many are arrested by the police. I showed up at the demonstration with a Christmas tree, and ended up arrested with that tree. They were trying to take it away from me, but I screamed that I won’t let go. I walked into the van for those arrested, banged it on the floor, and shouted: Happy New Year! In the bus, we had everything that people brought along to the protest: alcohol, tangerines, and, well, a Christmas tree. We were released three hours later, so I went to celebrate the New Year. This is when I met Oleg and Koza. When they told me about what they do, I immediately said, “Great! Now I’ll be working with you.” And they immediately agreed.

 

[…]

 

We don’t buy our food, and we don’t pay rent. In general, we don’t use money. Though I can’t say it never happens. Once we had to pay bail to get ourselves released from jail. But our first rule is: not to use money.

 

[…]

 

The origins of bad government lie in a passive society which is unable to define its own problems or even see them. In addition, the state acts as a censor, preventing independent media from developing. While a political statement in the form of an artistic gesture quickly resolves all of these problems. Nobody listens to politicians speaking. But if it’s us, artists, the message immediately bangs you on the head. People appreciate our actions that provoke strong reactions. This is how we win them over to our side. We act violently and directly, so that the media can’t ignore us — what they do instead is distort information and efface the political content. But that’s pointless, as the politics returns anyway. If the media turn to us directly, we always declare that our activity is political and it’s not about scandal.

 

[…]

 

We act directly because it’s an issue of emotion. Our actions are both art and politics that are inextricably related. Making divisions into pure art and art that is politically active is wrong. Undoubtedly, our art is an ongoing political statement. My own actions have their roots in civil-protest movements. For an activist, politics and society are the most important things. But as a way of action, art dominated my thinking the moment I joined Voina. Some people try to protect us, claiming we’re artists and that is why we shouldn’t be persecuted. That’s not a good approach. We’re innocent not because we’re artists, who shouldn’t be subject to repression, but because what we do is right. We adopt a political and social attitude and take responsibility for it. We don’t want extra-special treatment just because we’re artists. We speak sharply. As soon as we left prison we announced that we’re active again. So you should expect the unexpected. We’re not running away anywhere, we will act, and it will be art.

 

From the Polish by Krzysztof Kosciuczuk

7-berlin-biennale-voina

Projects

Posted on: November 26th, 2011 by Denhart von Harling

Projects

KW Institute for Contemporary Art & Congo

“A Gentrification Program” by Institute for Human Activities

If we feel art should fully embrace the terms and conditions of its own existence, it may be good to inquire where art has... More >
“A Gentrification Program” by Institute for Human Activities

Internet

“Art Covers Politics” curated by Tomáš Rafa

The front page of the 7th Berlin Biennale website shows the project »Art Covers Politics«, which presents images submitted by artists and others who... More >
“Art Covers Politics” curated by Tomáš Rafa

Deutschlandhaus

“Battle of Berlin 1945″ – a documentation

The 7th Berlin Biennale has invited a few re-enactment groups to stage the Battle of Berlin 1945. More >
“Battle of Berlin 1945″ – a documentation

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“Berek” by Artur Żmijewski

The movie »Berek« was removed from the exhibition »Side by Side. Poland – Germany. A 1000 Years of Art and History« by the director... More >
“Berek” by Artur Żmijewski

KW Institute for Contemporary Art & Berlin

“Berlin-Birkenau” by Łukasz Surowiec

The project Berlin-Birkenau brings a few hundred young birches from the area around Auschwitz-Birkenau to Berlin. More >
“Berlin-Birkenau” by Łukasz Surowiec

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“Beyond” by Lou Cantor

The movie by Lou Cantor documents the final phase of the construction of Christ the King-Statue in Świebodzin. More >
“Beyond” by Lou Cantor

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“Blood ties” by Antanas Mockus

Antanas Mockus refers to Teresa Margolles’s work on the current drug war in Mexico, where gangs and paramilitary groups kill each other, murdering many... More >
“Blood ties” by Antanas Mockus

Akademie der Künste (Black Box)

“Born in Berlin” by Joanna Rajkowska

I believe that the place of birth has a significant influence over each human being’s fate and their attitude toward it. You return to... More >
“Born in Berlin” by Joanna Rajkowska

KW Institute for Contemporary Art & Internet

Breaking the News

»Breaking the News« presents the activities of a number of artists and their documentary practice, readiness to act, civic disobedience, and willingness to put... More >
Breaking the News

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“Christ the King” by Mirosław Patecki

The »Christ the King« statue, designed by Mirosław Patecki, reaches over fifty meters and is situated about sixty kilometers from the German-Polish border, in... More >
“Christ the King” by Mirosław Patecki

CIVIL INITIATIVE FOR THE MEMORIAL TO THE SINTI AND ROMA MURDERED UNDER THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST REGIME

Up to now the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Murdered under the National Socialist Regime still has not been built; it is an... More >
CIVIL INITIATIVE FOR THE MEMORIAL TO THE SINTI AND ROMA MURDERED UNDER THE NATIONAL SOCIALIST REGIME

Deutschlandhaus

Deutschlandhaus as Venue

Metaphorically speaking, Deutschlandhaus seems to be a container of repressed or excluded German memory. More >
Deutschlandhaus as Venue

St. Elisabeth-Church

“Draftsmen’s Congress” initiated by Paweł Althamer

The »Draftsmen’s Congress« is a continuous meeting of people who talk using images instead of words. Everyone is invited! More >
“Draftsmen’s Congress” initiated by Paweł Althamer

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

„Facing the Scene” by Anna Baranowska and Luise Schröder

The film »Facing the Scene«, which was shot in November 2010, depicts the inauguration of the statue Christ the King. More >
„Facing the Scene” by Anna Baranowska and Luise Schröder

Eisenhüttenstadt

Filtered by Eisenhüttenstadt

It’s easy to offer culture to people in Berlin, where there are always some visitors who will come to see the show. But what... More >
Filtered by Eisenhüttenstadt

Akademie der Künste (Black Box)

“Final Fantasies” by Joanna Rajkowska

There is an important question for everyone whose life is about to end: »How would you like to die?« More >
“Final Fantasies” by Joanna Rajkowska

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“Germany gets rid of it” by Martin Zet

The campaign »Deutschland schafft es ab« (Germany gets rid of it) was launched by artist Martin Zet in January 2012. More >
“Germany gets rid of it” by Martin Zet

Berlin-Mitte

“Happy New Fear” – an action by BUREAU Mario Lombardo

With our experiment we want to investigate the limits of politics, art and election advertising. More >
“Happy New Fear” – an action by BUREAU Mario Lombardo

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“Key of Return” – probably the biggest key in the world

In 2008, the residents of the Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem in Palestine collaboratively produced what is said to be the largest key in... More >
“Key of Return” – probably the biggest key in the world

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

Krytyka Polityczna in Berlin

As part of the 7th Berlin Biennale, Political Critique launches its newest Club. The Berlin branch (following Kiev and London) is another international initiative... More >
Krytyka Polityczna in Berlin

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“Lady of War” – Center for Political Beauty

In 2011 the Federal Security Council, under its chairwoman Angela Merkel, decided to approve a major arms deal. More >
“Lady of War” – Center for Political Beauty

Deutschlandhaus

“Lebanese Flag” by Youseef, Ibrahim and Moussa Bassal

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Germany the Arab and Turkish population showed unprecedented support for the national soccer team by putting German... More >
“Lebanese Flag” by Youseef, Ibrahim and Moussa Bassal

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

Mobinil advertising banner

Recent Mobinil advertisements capitalize on the revolution and struggles for democracy. They feature images of protesters and quote famous politicians who expressed support for... More >
Mobinil advertising banner

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“New World Summit” – a congress with Jonas Staal

The »New World Summit« is an alternative parliament for political and juridical representatives of organizations currently placed on international terrorist lists. More >
“New World Summit” – a congress with Jonas Staal

KW Institute for Contemporary Art & Internet

Open Call & ArtWiki: Digital venue of the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art

In November 2010 curator Artur Żmijewski announced a call to artists from all over the world, asking them to send in artistic material as... More >
Open Call & ArtWiki: Digital venue of the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art

Friedrichstrasse/Besselstrasse

“Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

A wall is standing on Friedrichstraße. Finally, we are on a way to establish peace. More >
“Peace Wall” by Nada Prlja

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“PM 2010″ by Teresa Margolles

Teresa Margolles collects the front pages of the Mexican daily tabloid PM, published in Ciudad Juárez, one of the most dangerous border cities in... More >
“PM 2010″ by Teresa Margolles

Auguststrasse 10, 10117 Berlin

“Rebranding European Muslims” by Public Movement

»Rebranding European Muslims« is an international public relations campaign by Public Movement, which aims to change the image of the European Muslim population. More >
“Rebranding European Muslims” by Public Movement

Deutschlandhaus

Remembering Piece by Piece. First objects for the future exhibition

We invited the curatorial team of the Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation to present items from their collection of belongings donated by Germans who left... More >
Remembering Piece by Piece. First objects for the future exhibition

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“Self # governing” – a newspaper by Marina Naprushkina

Marina Naprushkina works with the cultural and political scene in Belarus in order to strengthen democratic processes in the country. More >
“Self # governing” – a newspaper by Marina Naprushkina

Solidarity Actions

We asked other art institutions who are interested in the same issues to develop their own research and present it in the framework of... More >
Solidarity Actions

KW Institute for Contemporary Art

“State of Palestine” by Khaled Jarrar

Khaled Jarrar, a Palestinian artist, decided to declare the existence of a non-existent state. He created a passport stamp for the »State of Palestine.« More >
“State of Palestine” by Khaled Jarrar

“Sunray” – a project by Paweł Althamer

In Minsk, Belarus, more than 150 people in golden suits walked two miles to welcome the sun on May 18. More >
“Sunray” – a project by Paweł Althamer

Universalizing the Exception

Posted on: November 26th, 2011 by Denhart von Harling 1 Comment

Universalizing the exception

A conversation between Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza

 

Joanna Warsza: You’re the kind of artist who monitors other artists and the art scene in general. You publish interviews with culture producers, you’re the artistic director of the periodical Krytyka Polityczna, and you have been appointed the curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale. What are your guiding principles?

Artur Żmijewski: I’ve always been more interested in the social or political dimension of art and the impact of artistic work. I’ve asked myself whether the language of art is capable of getting people religiously or politically aroused. Could artists acquire the same manipulative skills as politicians? How do you exert influence on people’s actions? Artistic action must take on a performative character, which means it has to interact with reality, and reality must react, change, and become an active part of the process.

 

JW: What does “career” mean to you?

AŻ: Career means improving yourself professionally. You move forward, acquire knowledge and skills.

 

JW: That’s a very idealistic definition.

AŻ: But that’s the correct definition of the word. There’s the greatness of art and there’s poverty in society—and some artists possess skills that are truly astounding.

 

JW: You’ve been chosen as curator of the Berlin Biennale because your art seem to be driven by certain ideals. You reject cynicism; you think things are still possible.

AŻ: The privileges, benefit, or authority that a person could gain from such a position are beyond me. I guess I’m kind of autistic or sociopathic in that way. I’m just not able to cultivate networks or comprehend social hierarchies and power structures. Some people might think it’s a matter of being introverted or socially incompetent. In the meantime, I’ve come to understand the necessary rituals and etiquette. Sometimes you have to force yourself through tedious discussions in order to forge social bonds. My autistic trait is my fixation on ideals. I don’t mean to say that I’m totally free of artistic narcissism—I’m also driven by that. I, too, enjoy seeing my name mentioned somewhere. The need for attention is an important mainspring. You just have to channel it so that you can use it for political purposes—for example—instead of for securing privileges. As curator of the Berlin Biennale, I have the feeling that I’ve been granted a certain amount of power, but this power is ephemeral and only symbolic. Compared to political power, it’s actually rather limited. The Berlin Biennale is a difficult exercise in delegating power—it’s like cinema. Filmmaking is about teamwork—you need the knowledge and skills of many people: camera, sound, editing. I might have a magnificent idea, but if I don’t incorporate the skills of all these people, I can’t make a film.

 

JW: The fact that you’re the curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale is a result of your work, but also a result of the work of many people who supported your art and positioned it in the symbolic and economic sphere. Why do particular works garner such appreciation, while others don’t? The proportion between the narrow and privileged class in the art world, the known and the rich, and the rest of the “dark matter” is approximately 5 percent to 95 percent. Do you have any ideas about what could be done to address this inequality?

AŻ: I think that we could bid farewell to the false promise of the art world—there’s really no room for tens of thousands of artists earning a profit. This is neo-liberal logic, which profits from the excess—from “possessing” a crowd of jobless artists. People who aspire, who can be used to speculate on content, and who ensure the exchangeability of ideas and personnel.

 

JW: And why do artists tend to promote their own career instead of standing for a cause?

AŻ: The longest, most significant tradition in art is conformism, not resistance. Assimilation and declarations of loyalty make up the mainstream. What we think of as the most important things in art—namely resistance, non-conformism, challenging norms—are just flashes on the fringe. Today, art is used as a tool to help people conform, to ensure that certain rules are followed. One rule, for example, is that in the art scene, artists are supposed to sympathetically converse in “leftist” terms about social misery. We always assume that artists want to help people and that a curator wants nothing more than absolute freedom of opinion. But this language glosses over political divisions and is little more than conformism. Some time ago, I read a report about an art fair where artists and galleries presented numerous interesting works, which drew attention to social misery. I thought, what would happen if you changed the sentence to read: “At the art fair, people came together who actively support capitalism and hope to profit from commercializing social misery.” That is the underlying obscenity of art, just as far-right sympathies or neo-liberal positions are obscenities that underlie artistic do-good terminology. Or as obscene as the opportunism of allegedly rebellious or provocative artists.

 

JW: But art is extremely attractive. The fact that everyone can be an artist is seductive and democratic. Perhaps, then, artists should also occupy other positions in other fields?

AŻ: Not everyone can be an artist. That’s an illusion. True, everyone can try to imitate art. But I don’t think that art deserves to be downgraded so as to claim that it can be made by anyone. We are faced with imitations of artistic action on the market—imitators have learned the strategies and tricks of the trade. And the biggest market for such imitations is, of course, the art market, where imitations, fakes, and counterfeits are sold on a massive scale. Someone I know once coined a term which aptly describes these (sometimes high-class) “accessories”: squatting art. Grzegorz Kowalski, a professor at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, where I studied, suggested a different, but equally accurate, term: “art pollution.”

As far as the place of artists is concerned, I’d say yes. They should occupy various positions in our reality. But I have the feeling we’ve gone too far in our illusions and in the institutionalization of art. If you look at this crowd of Berlin artists, you’ll see that they in fact follow the local galleries. The galleries offer a hope for the “precariat”—their sprawl encourages artists to move to Berlin. At the same time, the institutions exercise a form of “velvet censorship,” operating hand-in-hand with the market.

 

JW: Various dictatorships also controlled art. They differentiated between true and degenerate art. Aren’t you wary of such classifications?

AŻ: People still classify art today, only the criteria have changed. Class differences and sub-categories exist based on various levels of artistic quality. It’s not so much classification that I’m afraid of, but rather that the channels of expression are getting clogged. There’s no unity; there’s only a loose collection of particularities and localities.

 

JW: You’re asking for art that is self-conscious, has real effects, which renounces representation for the sake of directness and effective action, and performatively transforms reality. But such terms as “effect,” or “real effect,” “creativity,” and “action” are also part of the neo-liberal agenda. Any activity is expected to bring about effective action, is focused on a goal. How can the logic of art resist supporting the system? We can be certain of one effect—the market value of the works of artists invited to participate in the Berlin Biennale will skyrocket. Above all, this concerns your own work. As for me, although I’ve got nothing to sell, I won’t have any reason to complain, in the symbolic sense.

AŻ: Such thinking is precisely what leads you into the neo-liberal trap. The neo-liberal operating system, which is active in all reality, holds no monopoly on defining our needs and goals. My conscious activity is based on formulating my own goals, instead of ideologically representing the system.

Our conscious involvement in the Biennale project could be formulated in a number of ways:

  • art is a public service, because an artist represents not only him or herself, but also the community to which he or she belongs;
  • art is an influential element of public opinion, represented by intellectuals, and by artists who speak not only on their own behalf. It has broad exposure in the public sphere, and operates in close relationship with the media.
  • much of today’s art is based on a language of representation that operates in a dispersed network of power. The powerful influence of this representation could help us master the tools we hold in our hands, and it would also mark the first step towards acknowledging the fact that we have a right to exert such influence.

What discredits art and blocks its influence is, among other things, the speculative art market, with its overrated valuation of artworks and corruption of talent. Artists are often brilliant innovators, or talented politicians, but the market employs these skills in the production of spectacle. The connection between the market and dirty money is a serious problem. One cannot expect credibility if artists’ works are sold for astronomical sums. One cannot expect credibility if the money on the market comes from dirty enterprises, which create collections to improve their image. This was the case with the Flick collection. The connection between dirty money, immorally extortionate prices set via a process of speculation, and lack of artistic effectiveness is evident. The question of the art market is, on the one hand, a question of economic survival for artists, and on the other, the ethical question of favoring a handful of prominent figures at the expense of an immiserated majority.

I think that the situation of artists is similar to that of an exploited class, which begins to fight for its own stake. In Marxist terms, the precariat is in the mirror stage.

 

JW: Then ‘true art’ happens as the exception and rarity?

AŻ: The Dutch artist Renzo Martens claims that artists are able to make utopias a reality, that they can create something extraordinary, conjure up a situation, which, for instance, could do away with mechanisms of suppression in the capitalistic economy or dispel social constraints. Instead of an economy of profit-taking, an economy of giving would suddenly predominate, ushering in an unlimited, non-destructive freedom. Artists have the ability to manufacture such situations, but they can’t transfer them to other contexts and sustain them. And that’s one of the biggest, most dangerous desires among artists—universalizing exceptions. Maybe we should look for ways to universalize them. If artists are in a position to create situations based on alternative principles which seem more attractive and liberal than our normal social coexistence, then perhaps we should try to universalize them, to disseminate them. Religion has succeeded in universalizing the divine experience. Democracy is a universalized condition of coexistence in which disputes are solved on a symbolic level that guarantees security to both conflicting parties. The possibilities for safely resolving conflicts or experiencing the presence of God are universalized exceptions. That could be the political task of art—naturally, not every branch of art. There have been situations when political change has served as a vehicle for universalizing artistic experience. That was the case in the time of Socialist Realism. Socialist Realism was a new aesthetic paradigm which, under administrative and political constraints, served as an highly ideological means of visual communication for the masses in a time of proletarian turmoil. Local terminology and visual language were universalized and became the mainstream. This only applied not only to the fine arts. There were poems written back in the 1930s in the style of Socialist Realism: “Czy rośnie chleb spod pługa, czy lecą skry spod młota—to nasza jest zasługa, to nasza jest robota” (“If bread grows from beneath the plough, if sparks fly from the hammer’s blow—this is our doing, and is our great work.”). Today this kind of language is anathema. Unjustly so. The Bauhaus is another example of a universalized and generally recognized aesthetic experience. In several smaller German schools, an aesthetic exception was produced and universalized so successfully that a new aesthetic paradigm emerged.

 

JW: How then this exception, say: “Paweł Althamer method,” can be universalized?

AŻ: Doesn’t that question also belong to the logic of capitalism? We should instead develop a kind of franchising, a free Althamer license. The knowledge, which he has been developing could be translated into techniques for tackling various social situations. I can’t say I’m not interested myself. But perhaps we might universalize the conditions of possibility that are re-invented by Althamer time and again? We could try to universalize the social and political atmosphere that allows Althamer to operate beyond the field of art. Because as far as the field of art is concerned, his presence is clearly visible.

 

JW: And if someone urged you to get involved in politics …

AŻ: That would interest me.

 

JW: If you got into politics, how could you maintain your status as an artist?

AŻ: I’ve no real choice, because my abilities are all anchored in the arts. I don’t believe that what we call “politics” is truly politics. It’s actually a fraud, ersatz, cultivated by the professional elite of the political bureaucracy, which has snatched politics from the hands of the citizens. The insensitivity of governments with regard to citizens’ demands for equality, emancipation, and prosperity, and oversensitivity faced with the fascistic fantasies of an impoverished majority, are now the rule, not the exception. Capitalism has destroyed the social solidarity between us and turned society into a group of competitive clans. In its radical form, capitalism corrupts democracies, transforms them into oligarchies, and conjures up dreams of plutocracy. Artists could also have an impact in this area. It’s not about maintaining one’s status as an artist, but rather creating room to maneuver so that you can manipulate reality, for example, by putting leftist ideas into practice. Artists are just as capable of setting in motion the same chain of events as politicians. In order to activate their followers, artists—in contrast to politicians—use paradoxes, reveal inconsistencies, challenge the status quo, or disclose secrets, which give way to a whole range of new secrets. This enables them to achieve a kind of diversion or shocking revelation which influences action. The viewer is stunned by the magnitude of the secret. Media exorcisms by journalists, and now by politicians as well, are the typical reaction to such artistic works. The status of the artist plays no role in such a situation. What matters is gaining operative knowledge: How do I plan my next move; how do I change the stakes on this frenzied playing field?

 

JW: And what is politics for you and what is politicization?

AŻ: Politics is a formula for social interaction. For artists, it seems the best thing to do is to take some idea and run with it. I have the feeling that everyone in the arts who has put their faith in an idea and felt inspired by it triumphed in the end.

 

JW: Who, for example?

AŻ: Hans Haacke and all those who pursue idea-driven politics through art—they’ve come out on top and are visible. That’s also how they become proactive subjects. You can’t bestow this status on yourself—you have to achieve it through ideas, which represent something bigger and stronger than yourself. Or do you think you can be a subject just by being? A somebody?

 

JW: Yes, I think so.

AŻ: That’s an illusion.

 

JW: When you first started at the liberally-oriented periodical Krytyka Polityczna, did you immediately equate your work with an idea?

AŻ: Not completely. I had certainly bathed in the radiance of various leftist ideas before, but I had no names for these ideas. But after I joined Krytyka Polityczna, the guardians of the art world repeatedly tried to put me in my place. I noticed they were trying to shackle me. I realized that artists are kept in chains so that they don’t get too close to the political fire; otherwise things might get dangerous.

 

JW: Speaking of you, or Paweł Althamer, people often mention the fact that you graduated from the Kowalnia [Smithy], that is the studio class of Grzegorz Kowalski. Did he really shape you, or it is rather that society needs the myth of a founding relationship between the master and the apprentice?

AŻ: Kowalski is a master, and he runs a master studio. But his students have freedom, and they are partners in artistic play. True, being there you could feel the hierarchy, but there was also a radical freedom of discovery, and a radical freedom of creation. He didn’t like passive students. He appreciated those who were able to make a row using arguments. And of course, he was the one who taught us the craft.

 

JW: Who cares about artistic craft today? We’re seeing other areas migrating into the arts—radical sociology, architecture, and education all have an established place in the art world. No one seems interested in diplomas anymore, because art also integrates people from outside the field.

AŻ: I agree, but I would also claim that art is comprised of both craft and knowledge of a specialized area. It’s wrong to think that art is a tool of the ignorant. If you use images to convey information, you have to know how an image is constructed, how graphic elements can have a forceful or relaxing effect. You have to know whether you are playing with myths, stereotypes, or prejudices. You have to know how things are constructed and what kind of layers there are in a picture—including ideological layers. I have a very broad concept of the images. I see images as a visual language with various dialects and slang. I myself used to think, “Why do we need an academy; why do we need to learn about composition and waste time with boring drawing exercises using models? Why do we need this, when in reality it’s all about ideals?” But if a picture is to convey an idea, you have to master visual language. And that is based on craft, on knowledge of graphic design, on understanding spatial relationships and color theory. Of course, you don’t always need academic knowledge. Sometimes one’s intuition is enough. But you do need the grammar of visualization so that your artistic language is effective and communicative.

 

JW: Isn’t this more about sensing a certain form, or having an aesthetic preparation of some kind? After all, the organization of a meeting is also a form.

AŻ: It’s interesting that you talk about “sensing,” a term that is difficult to define. Whereas professionalism or mastery consists in the fact that we speak not of sensing, but of knowledge, representation, composition, color, line, or stroke, as well as of what tools might be used to construct an image, the weight of the composition, its realism or abstraction. For language to be effective and communicative, we need a visual grammar. If you ask what Kowalski taught us, the answer is: that very language. This was why his class was so appealing. We weren’t lost, like most students in art schools. We came and learned the syntax. Take Althamer, for example: he’s involved in all kinds of activities: inviting children to paint on gallery walls, flying in a biplane over Warsaw with a group of paralytics, or dressing people in concentration-camp uniforms to counter a march of neo-Nazis. There seems to be no logic to it, but if you look closer, you’ll see that he has a fluent command of visual language, both in speaking and in writing. Everything is planned, and has its own structure and order; he is not only a master of ideas, but also a master of language. A flexible language makes it possible to speak about ideas.

 

JW: What then is the visual grammar in the film Berek [A Game of Tag], where people play tag in a Nazi gas chamber, recently removed from the Polish-German exhibition Side by Side in Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau, or in your latest piece Katastrofa [Catastrophe]?

AŻ: In Berek, it’s the greenish-yellow marks of Zyklon-B on the walls, and the naked men and women playing a game of tag in a gas chamber. It plays on the dissonance of perception between what is appropriate—quiet, respectful behaviour in such a place—and the abrupt intervention of bodies, flushed in playful movement. The result is a feeling of almost obscene, pornographic relief. No one dies, and at the same time, the film presents an image of vital, sexual energy. Katastrofa, on the other hand, is almost purely journalistic, with a slight anthropological thrust. We artists see more than journalists do; we are allowed to see more and to say more. Katastrofa is an abundance of seeing, a liberation from a single, ideologized goal. We observed what people in Poland did following the catastrophic crash of the Polish president’s plane near Smolensk.

You mentioned that one form might be coordinating a meeting of some kind. That’s possible. In most cases, forms are indeed something external; most works by contemporary artists are structured like a joke. They can even be told like a joke. First there’s the set-up, and at the end comes a surprising punch line. For example: Two older women, one German, the other Turkish, meet, speak, and then remove their clothes and exchange them. I’m not passing judgment on this situation; I only mean to show that it possesses the same structure as a joke. It is a self-contained, ideological unit which can stand on its own even when removed from its local context. You can show it in Berlin, or just as well in Beirut or Barcelona. You can tell it like an anecdote—and the art world is constantly telling such anecdotes. Most of them eventually become channeled into a collection of anecdotes which are told around the world. That is a self-contained form, but I don’t want the work of an artist to end with a punch line. If it weren’t so introverted and hermetic, it might be an option for local contexts. But then again, it wouldn’t be able to defend its quality, because it would be open to attack from outside. Perhaps it would be more interesting to work on artistic structures that resemble jokes without punch lines, which have any number of resolutions, or even no resolution at all.

 

JW: We have been living in Berlin for the last year. You once said that the seductive narcissism of the city lays claim to artists from all over the world. Then why do radical artists from Colombia or Japan come here? What are they doing here?

AŻ: They’ve wandered away from home, lured by the cheap rents here. They’ve forgotten that the only thing that makes sense is doing something for one’s own community—without that, nothing has meaning.

 

JW: Nevertheless, Berlin is among the most attractive and tolerant cities to live in. I recently saw a performance by andcompany&Co. where a characters asks: “How come with all the critical minds and left-oriented culture producers gathered in Berlin, we are not yet living in a communist state?” Instead, the repressive tolerance acknowledges every attempt at revolt. Artist fell in love with their own radicalism, activists look down on artists. How does one introduce creative conflict into a society fraught with compromise? What is the aim behind bringing confrontation and tension back?

AŻ: Berlin is an exceptional case—it’s a city that was “purged” of ideology and ideas. It’s possible that artists based in Berlin are critically oriented, but at the same time the city welcomes ideological passivity. It’s almost obligatory. I think that this why Berlin is so appealing to artists—it’s a place where they can hide away from ideas and immerse themselves in the ideological void that results from the denazification and the outbreak of liberalism. The art world encourages people to distance themselves from ideology, so Berlin artists can be ideologically passive, hollow. They can come here from countries ravaged by conflicts, or affected by financial and social crises resulting from the introduction of a rigid capitalism. They can escape from Western countries where capitalism was immiserated, and which are now witnessing a wave of poverty and a resurgence of segregation by class. Berlin is like a “panic room” where you don’t need to have an ideology, and where you can forget about the social duty of an artist. Berlin is a city of clerks, a city of passive intelligentsia.

 

JW: Berlin’s openness for all of us is also linked with post-nationalism. This is why we are all here. The society was re-educated, nationalism or religion are yesterday’s concepts. When talking with Germans, I sense a persistent, internalized self-control, an echo of the denazification. The American slogans addressed to the German nation read, “You can all be like us”—meaning normal again. That is also the reason why today there’s no strong right-wing party in Germany, unlike Austria for example. Do you think that Germans have today the right to consider themselves also as victims?

AŻ: One could say that Germans were victims of a false consciousness. I think that the situation calls for a break of some kind. It would put an end to the compulsion to address the past, playing on it, profiting from it in various ways, and basing politics on guilt or lack of atonement. It could be a coordinated international effort, say, in the form of announcements on the front pages of European, Israeli, Japanese, and American newspapers. The announcements might read as follows:

  • The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, USA Today: “Europeans wish to express their thanks to the American nation for putting an end to the war in Europe, and for the sacrifice of the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who fell there—with your help we began our lives anew. May the gods and all the spirits of the world bless you.” [Europeans]
  • The International Herald Tribune, Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, Ma‘ariv: “Our ancestors persecuted Jews, killed many of them, and expelled them from Europe. We want to apologize, on their behalf, and on our own behalf, although we were not the perpetrators. We ask you to remember that we are no longer the same people—also with your help, we now know how to care about the living.” [Europeans]
  • Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Your ancestors started a devastating war and paid a terrible price for it. Although the nations of Eastern Europe, especially the European Jews and Roma, paid an even higher price. Today, the generations of the tormenters and those cursed with the misfortune of being born in the wrong time, are passing. We know that the Germans of today are a different people, a people who is free, and who knows that the Holocaust is a horror of the past. Contemporary Germans should know this: You are not responsible for the Holocaust.” [Jews]
  • Rzeczpospolita, Gazeta Wyborcza, Polska: “Poles, at the behest of the German occupiers, played a limited role in the extermination of Jews. Despite the threat of imminent death, they also played a major part in saving them. Poles have accounted for their guilt—today’s generations are not responsible for the deeds of their ancestors. You are not guilty of hatred towards Jews; you are not guilty of being sympathetic towards their extermination. You are free from guilt.” [Jews]

 

From the Polish by Krzystzof Kosciuczuk

A shortened version of this interview has been printed in the series Positionen IV / Zeitgenössische Künstler aus Polen [Positions IV / Polish Contemporary Artists], edited by Tomasz Dᶏbrowski and Stefanie Peter and published by the Steidl Verlag Göttingen in October 2011. The country-specific Positionen series is a joint project by the Academy of the Arts and the Goethe-Institut.

http://www.adk.de/de/projekte/2011/blickwechsel/publikationen.htm

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Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza. Photo: Anna Eckold

Demand to end the death penalty in Belarus!

Posted on: November 26th, 2011 by Denhart von Harling

Demand to end the death penalty in Belarus!

On November 30, 2011, the Supreme Court in Minsk (Belarus) will proclaim their sentence in the law case of the two supposed terrorists Dimitri Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalev (both aged 25).

 

The proclamation of sentence takes place at a time in which the Belarusian democratic opposition faces severe repressions from the side of the Lukashenko government. Repressions which the government is trying to justify over and over again in obscure and shady ways.

 

The two young men are accused of having plotted a terrorist attack in the underground station ‘Oktjabrskaja’ in Minsk. On April 11, 2011, 15 people were killed in an explosion. Over 200 people were injured. In the course of the investigation, they were also accused of having planned two further bombings in Minsk, one of them in 2008 and the other in 2005.

 

The Attorney General Alexei Styl demands the maximum penalty as a result of the investigation: death penalty.

 

Belarus is the only country in Europe that still proclaims and executes death penalty.

The first day of trial took place on September 15 in Minsk. During the hearing, no evidence against Konovalov and Kovalev was presented. On the contrary, the trial raised more questions instead of providing answers. The only evidence that was present were confessions of the defendants, which, according to them, were given under pressure from the KGB and have been withdrawn by now.

 

A lot of political prisoners have openly talked about torture in Belarusian prisons as a means to get confessions. The Belarusian judiciary system has been internationally criticized for the use of torture, official arbitrariness, faking of evidence and perversion of justice.

 

Kovalev said, that he heard Konovalov screaming during the first questioning. He pointed out, that they were often questioned without somebody taking written records. Subsequently, they were forced to sign ready-made record documents.

 

The lawyer of Konovalov pointed out, that the person on the CCTV video from the underground station had no resemblance with his client and that the state attorneys found no traces of explosives on the fabric of his client’s clothes. Furthermore, he stated that it was easy to tell that the video had been manipulated.

 

In Belarus, the trial is staged as a show trial. Nevertheless, big parts of the population still do not believe the two men to be guilty and demand a transparent and fair trial and investigation. At the moment, there is an ongoing petition against the expected death penalty sentence for Kovalev and Konovalov:

http://bit.ly/petitionbelarus

 

For further information contact amnesty international, the offices of the members of the German and European parliaments, that deal with the situation in Belarus, such as Marieluise Beck.

 

V.i.S.P Eva Quistorp, tel: 030. 3239543

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Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel

Posted on: November 9th, 2011 by Denhart von Harling

Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel

 

 

4th Berlin Biennale

from the series Evidence, 1977 / 2001

29 silver gelatin and light jet prints

each 56.5 x 51.5 x 2.5 cm (framed)

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Larry Sultan & Mike Mandel: from the series "Evidence", 1977 / 2001. Installation view 4th Berlin Biennale. Photo: Uwe Walter, 2006

The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg is endagered.

Posted on: November 4th, 2011 by Denhart von Harling

The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg is endagered

The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg is endangered of decay if it is not receiving serious funds for renovation and maintenance.

 

Historian Jan Tomasz Gross, Professor of History at Princeton University as well as collaborator of the 7th Berlin Biennale, was asked by Artur Żmijewski to travel to Nuremberg to research the historical importance of this monument. After his travel Gross expressed his support in an open letter:

 

It is my belief that the maintenance in good condition of the Zeppelin Field on Nazi Party rally grounds in Nuernberg is essential for the sake of historical record. The Zeppelin Field is one of the best known architectural artifacts of the Nazi era. Millions have seen it featured in Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will,” where it serves as background illustrating the scale of human folly embraced by the Nazis. It belongs in this capacity to the patrimony of all mankind and should be preserved in perpetuity for the future generations to see. The Centre as its custodian has a responsibility to do so, and I urge you to do all in your power to discharge it.

 

On November 5, 2011 the Documentation Center organizes a symposium to address and publicly debate questions about the future of the Nazi Party Rally Ground.

 

 

A comment by Jan Tomasz Gross and Zofia Waślicka can be found HERE.

 

A conversation between Hans-Christian Täubrich, director of the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, and Jan Tomasz Gross and Zofia Waślicka will be published in the forthcoming book of the 7th Berlin Biennale and can be found HERE.

 

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At the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. Foto: Zofia Waślicka

The City of Toys

Posted on: November 4th, 2011 by Denhart von Harling

The City of Toys

Hans-Christian Täubrich in conversation with Jan Tomasz Gross and Zofia Waślicka

Nuremberg, Juli 10, 2011

 

JTG, ZW: You are the director of the Documentation Centre in Nuremberg. There is a whole complex of Nazi architecture designed by Albert Speer adjacent to your museum. Is it under your supervision and protection? The Zeppelin Tribune, Luitpoldhain, Grosse Strasse, Congress Hall, marching fields, and so on?

HCT: Yes, we care for this architecture, but paradoxically we are not able to do so. We can only try to deal with it ideologically or historically. Let’s try to imagine this huge complex—the Party rally grounds were seven times bigger than the Old Town in Nuremberg. There were several mass assembly sites: the Luitpoldarena, the Congress Hall, the Zeppelin Field and the Municipal Stadium. The planned German Stadium alone should have had the capacity to assemble 405,000 visitors. The March Field for show maneuvers of the Wehrmacht was a few times bigger than the Stadium. In fact the Nazis used for their plans a recreational area which had been in existence there for centuries. We know that the artificial lakes which are located there were built in the 14th century. This whole area was always in use by the citizens of Nuremberg. There was a zoo founded in 1912 in this very place. It seems like there was always a good atmosphere for mass events here. The Municipal Stadium, constructed already before the Nazi era, is used for sports competitions. For example, the last Football World Cup in part took place there. So it’s still a crowded area with recreational sites and fairgrounds. Maybe you’ve heard of the biggest toy fair in the world, which takes place every year in Nuremberg? On the very spot where Nazi rallies took place, kids’ business is conducted. Nuremberg is famous as the city of toys.

 

It sounds like a bizarre way to use Nazi party grounds—put toys in it.

Think of places in Berlin like the Olympic Stadium, the Ministry of Finance, or Tempelhof Airport. Each of these sites was or still is in continuous use, because its construction was finished and its function was defined—a function still necessary and useful after the war. Another such example would be the Haus der Kunst, the House of the Arts in Munich, which is still a public art gallery. But in the case of Nuremberg the situation is different. Nuremberg had a problem with this former Nazi rally ground, because it was only half-finished and served a purpose which was no longer necessary after the Second World War. So, the successor of the German Reich, the Federal Republic of Germany, simply handed it back to the City of Nuremberg, because it didn’t need it anymore. It became a real problem—for fifty years the City Council tried everything. The Municipal Stadium, finished in 1928, and used by the Nazis to celebrate the mass meetings of the Hitler Youth, has been refurbished several times. The last time was for the Football World Cup in 2006. For this occasion we installed twenty-three huge plaques with information in German and English about what happened here. The mayor’s idea is that every square meter can of course be used for a different purpose. But the people who use it have to know what it was used for seventy years ago. So we had more than 100,000 football fans hopefully educated by us about the history of the Stadium. The plaques didn’t disturb their enjoyment. This is how it should be, because life goes on. But life cannot go on without being conscious of the past.

 

There is one wooden tower inside the yard of the Congress Hall, which looks like a watchtower in a concentration camp. What is it?

Nuremberg had a problem with what to do with all these remains. So, the City Council simply thought to organize a fun fair, which takes place just besides the unfinished Congress Hall twice every year. Or when a big circus comes to town, it should be added. U.S. Army parades and annual mass assemblies of political parties took place on the Zeppelin Field a few times. Later, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones performed there. The City of Nuremberg tried to use the Congress Hall twice (1949 and 1950) as an exhibition space. They shamefully called it an “exhibition building,” because they wanted to eliminate those Nazi terms. There are huge galleries inside the Congress Hall, which was unfinished and later became a ruin. It has no roof, and the rain poured in during the winter. There is also the tower you mentioned, which was built and used only by emergency units for rescue-action training exercises. The condition of the Congress Hall is a remnant of several different ideas for how to use the building. And the building itself is half-abandoned, reconstructed in different parts by different users for different reasons. The hidden agenda was to minimize the importance of this area. Everyone, the mayor, the culture commissioner of the city, supported this idea. That was, let’s say, conscious passivity on their side. This was the reason why for a long time towed cars were parked in this huge yard. Portable toilets were stored there. In 2000, plans for the Documentation Centre in the Congress Hall were laid and construction began. An important part of the new museum was a panorama platform at the end of a long gangway running diagonally through the whole building. Many people visited the place at the time. Once an Israeli visitor asked, “Why do you invest 18 million marks (9,5 million Euro) only to create a view of towed cars and portable toilets?” Thus the huge yard of the Congress Hall became for us a kind of “Place for Thinking,” because we are always thinking about what to do with it. We can’t even use it for film screenings or other events, because of restrictive emergency-exit rules. One exit is not enough for German regulations.

 

But one thing I would like to push you on. The Zeppelin Field is the only structure that was really finished, as you say. And since you’ve been here and had custody of it, it’s been left in complete disrepair. Why? Is it deliberate? Have you given some thought to it? Or has it simply happened?

That is true. All these buildings are in dramatically bad condition, especially the Zeppelin-Tribune. This problem—how to preserve these buildings—will be a central issue of discussion in Autumn 2011. There was a row of columns on the top of the Zeppelin Tribune, which were blown up in 1968. The administration then said that they constituted a danger for visitors. Were these columns really so dangerous? It’s a fact that the whole building was constructed very hastily. Everything had to be built very quickly. Speer and Hitler wanted it finished. Its chalkstone surface was badly done, and water infiltrated the construction. Already under the Nazis, pieces of it began to crumble. Years ago, the back wall was used by tennis players for practice. Nowadays they can no longer use it, because pieces of masonry are falling off the facades. The remnants of the party rally grounds, the Zeppelin Field, the unfinished building of the Congress Hall, and so-called Great Road are listed buildings since 1973. The City of Nuremberg is obliged to pay all the costs to maintain it. 600,000 Euro go into this building here (i.e. the Congress Hall) simply to keep it as it is. The same amount goes into the Zeppelin Field because of its giant dimension. Through the ages and due to the damage, which was partly done by blowing up the columns, water went between the stairs and frosted. They have to repair it every year. But meanwhile they only repair the repairs from last year. So, at the moment Nuremberg has to decide to either let it crumble down once and forever and to put a big fence around the whole area because not only the grand stand is affected but also the thirty-four flag towers. Or according to a report it would cost 70 million Euro to fix it and to put it into a state where it would survive another fifty years.

 

What’s the position of the Centre in this? What do you want?

We want to maintain it. We will be discussing the need of preservation of this architectural and urban complex in autumn. We will have our 10th anniversary and we will use this chance to put public attention in the problem. The ordinary tax payer may think 70 million is too much money to preserve Nazi buildings and that it should be used for kindergartens, or roads.

 

Can you get it from the European Union? There is much funding for preservation.

They have to fund Greeks and Italians because of the crisis. We wrote letters to the Bavarian and German government, because this Documentation Centre was installed with the financial support of the Free State of Bavaria and the Federal Republic of Germany. Local government in Nuremberg thought that to keep representative buildings of the Third Reich in a good condition should be a national task. That’s why nothing really happened for a long time. Luckily just after the plans for this Documentation Centre were set up, there was an agreement between German State, the Free State of Bavaria, and the city of Nuremberg to share costs of preservation. Each partner should pay one third. In fact they all should decide if they want to keep it as a national monument, heritage of humanity. Now these are just listed buildings which could easily be removed from the list, for commercial reasons for example.

 

I should think that German historians would be absolutely outraged about the fact that it’s unclear whether this will survive or not.

On the contrary. There are some German historians who would not object to clear it, who don’t think that rubble is necessary. They think that we already have places everywhere where the consequences of Nazism are shown, Dachau, Neuengamme, Sachsenhausen, and many others.

 

But there has to be a place where the enthusiasm of the German people for Nazism is shown.

Exactly. This is our persuasion strategy. We feel obliged to give our opinion. At the moment the Documentation Centre is just a clue to the remnants of the party rally grounds. When we ask for 70 millions to save this place we will make sure that it will be possible for the visitors to also go inside the Zeppelin Grand Stand for example, the only interior room finished in this Nazi complex, the so called “Golden Hall” due to some mosaics on the ceiling.

 

And now nobody can go in there? What was its function?

It was a reception hall for Hitler. But this room was never used, never passed by Hitler and his entourage. He never entered the Grand Stand of Zeppelin Tribune from behind. He always came by car along the frontal facade.

 

It’s a big job for you to fight for its preservation. You really have to go through with it.

It is an enormous amount of money, which we need here. As a first step, we want to clear this place. There are protection fences in front of the Zeppelin Tribune for the car races. It looks so ridiculous. The Zeppelin Tribune is used as seats for spectators for the famous car race called “200 Miles of Nuremberg,” which takes place here annually in a 1.6 km circuit. During fairs huge lorries are parked here. So, the way this place is used is very brutal. There is also a row of small trees on. If we want to cut it, the Greens will come and protest. We asked for the keys and we will organize an information day in September, when the German citizens will have opportunity to join a guided tour inside the area surrounded currently by the fence put by organizers of the car races. People will be allowed to go into one of the towers and to see the whole area which is restricted now.

 

What is inside the towers?

Toilets. There is also a huge toilet inside the tribune. Once a very famous German documentary film director Michael Mrakitsch talking about the Zeppelin Field, mentioned it was a unique connection between the sacral and the anal or, the sacrament and excrement.

 

Actually, that makes sense. When you have a lot of people, 150,000 of them, they need toilets.

The mayor of the city of that time, Liebel, described this area as a “Temple City of the (National Socialist) Movement.” But each bigger building is just a toilet. It’s a huge complex of shithouses. Going back to the money—we want these 70 millions to save this whole area and its buildings. We want people to have an access to the so-called Golden Hall, to the staircases of the Zeppelin Tribune, and to one of the toilet-towers. We really want to make it accessible again. And we want to remove from this area remains of the sport competitions. There are for example barriers to separate viewers from the racing cars way. Nowadays with all this new multi-purpose use, viewers need a lot of fantasy to imagine people’s activity in this area during Nazi period of time. And the way the space was used for propaganda purpose. You should not only enter the tribune from its frontal facade, climb the stairs and watch all this area from Hitler’s balcony. It is the view from the other end of the Zeppelin Field, some hundred yards away, which will give you an impression what it meant to be part of a huge people’s assembly, totally focused on one person.

 

What do you show in the Documentation Centre? Documents?

We don’t have any original document here. We only have some objects from Nuremberg citizens. We are not a museum, as we don’t have a collection. On the other hand we are not just an exhibition. We welcome 140,000 pupils from different school classes, military units, police, per year. In German we use the term “Dokumentation” also for a film which deals with history. All these places which present perpetrators call themselves “Dokumentationzentrum.” There is one in Cologne, in a former headquarter of Gestapo. Another one is planned in Munich where the Nazi movement started its career. Our “Dokumentationzentrum” simply documents. We show the events stressing the area and the party rallies, which took place here around seventy years ago. It is embedded in very quick steps dealing with questions such as who were the Nazis, where did they come from and what was their message, how they became racists and what kind of law they created. All of it is done in few very concentrated and precise steps. We show a lot of pictures and not too much text, because we want people to go through this whole story and not to get bored after two rooms. Anyway, we are talking somehow about our own families—when they called off the party rally 1939—ironically named the “Party Rally of Peace” on August 26, my father camped already along the Polish border with the German Army, which invaded Poland on September 1. We are prepared to have visitors from all over the world and we have an audio guide in seven languages.

 

The Documentation Centre building is very attractive; people probably like it.

Yes. We had a small international competition, in which one Austrian and one Swiss architect took part. The Austrian architect Günter Domenig who is famous for a deconstructionist style was chosen. The main rules of Nazi architecture were symmetry, sheer dimension, rectangularity. So, by driving diagonally through the whole building, Domenig destroyed it forever. It was his intention by heart.

 

It’s similar to what Santiago Sierra made for the Boros collection, which is located in that huge bunker in Berlin. He designed a construction that destroys walls in the Nazi bunker. They had to make really big holes in the wall in order to present his artwork properly.

Domenig’s father was a 100 percent Nazi believer and was lynched by the citizens of his small town. So, there must have been deep emotions involved for Domenig in his architectural concept. He was very content to see this building done. Everything, much to the joy of the architect and the engineers, is spread out diagonally in radical contradiction to the original building shape. We have here two seminar rooms. We have lecture and cinema auditorium. We have also this 130 meters long spear—a gangway—driven through the whole building, which is a negation of the existing building plan. Sometimes we say, slightly ironic, “an Austrian finished what an Austrian began.” A bit different, of course. But we never get tired to explain how the building is shaped because together with the exhibition, many visitors are very attracted and impressed by the brutality of the spear. It’s based on contrasts—we have brick walls from the past here, solid concrete elements and the whole internal part of the modern spear, which is full of bright light. But as you can see in this part of the building we are just breaking the dark, which creates another strong contrast for the visitors’ eyes. The rest of the Congress Hall, out of our building is still just a huge ruin. One needs approximately one quarter of an hour to walk slowly from one end to the other.

 

It would be really scandalous not to preserve this place. It’s like a pyramid in Egypt. It has a meaning, it has a life, it exists. And people from all over the world see it and understand what it means. And this will be the same, because of Leni Riefenstahl. Just because of the film Triumph of the Will, which was shot in Nuremberg. This was the emotional heart of Nazism, not Wilhelmstrasse. It belongs to the history of mankind.

Concerning the memorial sites and concentration camps humankinds obliged to maintain them because there are just graveyards. But the camps were the final step, the consequences of the Nazi movement existence. Every deed is preceded by a thought, by an idea. Nuremberg was not the place where National Socialism was invented. But it was presented here at the party rallies to a very broad extent. And the infamous racial laws proclaimed in Nuremberg in 1935 marked the ‘legal’ beginning of a road which led directly to Auschwitz.

 

So the poor condition of this whole former Nazi complex is shocking. Especially when coming from Berlin, where it was decided to replace the East German Palace of the Republic with a reconstructed Prussian one. Which seems to be another crazy decision.

I think it’s a shame for all modern city planners that they have not had a proper idea about how to shape a modern city of Berlin. I do understand the people in Dresden who reconstructed the Frauenkirche. It was rebuilt due to the direct engagements of the Dresden citizens. But they are using it as a church. The Berlin Palace will not be used by an emperor.

 

Have you ever shown Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will on a big screen at the Zeppelin Field?

No. We have to be very careful when you consider what you can do there. Our institution has a very good reputation but we can lose it very quickly from one moment to the next doing the wrong thing.

 

 

A comment by Jan Tomasz Gross and Zofia Waślicka on the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds can be found HERE.

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At the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. Foto: Zofia Waślicka

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The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. Photo: Zofia Waślicka

On the condition of the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg

Posted on: November 4th, 2011 by Denhart von Harling

on the condition of the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg

A comment by Jan Tomasz Gross and Zofia Waślicka

Would anyone dare suggest bulldozing the Pyramid of Cheops because the expense of keeping its stonework from crumbling was too high? After all, it is but testimony to a ruler’s hubris, as he ordered himself entombed without regard to the cost in deaths and the blood and tears of thousands of slaves.

 

The Parteitagsgelände in Nuremberg is another such testimony to infinite hubris and human folly. It was here that men (it was an exclusively masculine undertaking, I regret to say) put up an enormous playground where they could dress up, march, sing, shout, light fires, and wave flags to their hearts’ content.

 

Only these aren’t innocent games when taken up by grown-ups. Violence always lurks beneath the façade of pomp and celebration. What we witnessed at the Zeppelin Field and its environs—and still can, thanks to the cinematic genius of Leni Riefenstahl and her Triumph of the Will—morphed into the greatest bloodbath in the history of the world.

 

The breeding grounds of Nazism must be preserved in perpetuity. It’s not enough to commemorate the victims; we have to think about the perpetrators and the anonymous crowd of their supporters. It is a true intellectual and moral challenge—and of course part of the German identity. Actually, it is a shame that the upkeep of the Zeppelin Field has been so neglected till now, and that dozens of columns from the top of the main tribune have been removed and crammed into its vast interior. The Field should be restored to pristine condition and ought to serve as a privileged site for the public commemoration of Nazism’s perversions.

 

And then perhaps one day an inspired artist will make full use of the Zeppelin Field’s renovated interior spaces, which contain—few know of this, though it makes perfect sense—hundreds of toilets. Underneath the monumental façade of columns and stone, the hallowed ground of Nazism is but an enormous shithouse.

 

Jan Tomasz Gross and Zofia Waślicka

 

Jan Tomasz Gross is Professor of History at Princeton University as well as collaborator of the 7th Berlin Biennale.

A conversation between Hans-Christian Täubrich, director of the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, and Jan Tomasz Gross and Zofia Waślicka can be found HERE.

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Jan Tomasz Gross at the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. Photo: Zofia Waślicka

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10th Berlin Biennale