Blog Post March 15
Research and 503 Module
I spent a lot of time at the local university’s library during the past two months. I read several books and continued the research for my paper that I had started in the fall.
After I received feedback to my first draft from my research advisor, Caroline Koebel, I shortened the paper during the past two weeks to make it more concise. Since I would like to take a finished version to Plymouth at the end of the month, I have just submitted my revised version. I will let some peers read the paper now and hope to get feedback within the next two weeks. I will hand in the final paper at the end of March. I have posted my paper separately under 503 Module.
I have decided to eliminate the preface. It makes my paper too long and heavy. But I will post it here (at the very end of this blog post), for those who are interested. In the summer, Andrew had asked us to write about our memory of an encounter with a piece of art. In the preface, I was writing about this encounter with Anselm Kiefer’s ‘World Ash’ and my aesthetic experience, but also about my heritage and my family’s background.
The organizers of the Future Imperfect conference (Plymouth University), who had invited the video and myself to come and contextualize my work, had asked me to shorten the video to 15min.
I did not want to take out whole passages, so I now edited several seconds here and there to cut the piece by 3.40 minutes. Here is the link to the revised 14:55 min video: https://vimeo.com/203736016
During the winter residence, it was suggested by Jean Marie and Andrew that I break down the video into several pieces. I have not done that yet, that is on my list for next month.
Regarding the interview I did with Holocaust survivor Fred Terna in Brooklyn on Janyary 15th,
I plan to overlay images of Fred’s Paintings onto some of the interview excerpts with him.
Surprisingly I also found the time to create one new painting during the past four weeks. Here are some process images and the final painting. I had started the painting with mostly black shapes on black, thinking of Ad Reinhardt, but mostly of Susan Hiller's work with 'ghosts' of the past. Then I added more and more shapes in different colours. I finally added free brushstrokes in red.
Please give me your feedback.
Here is how it looks now. I added a darker tone of red, but it is hard to see in this studio image which I took with my phone:
I am excited that I was one of ten alumni of Vancouver Island School of Art (where I graduated with my Diploma of Fine Arts four years ago) whose work was chosen for their juried TO RETURN AGAIN EXHIBITION. My two recent paintings from last fall ‘Structure I’ and ‘Camp Moschendorf’ were selected. The opening took place on March 10th. The exhibition will continue until April 3rd.
I had an overwhelming and pivotal experience when I was 23 years old. The discovery of Anselm Kiefer’s painting World Ash evoked deep emotions in me.
The three by four-meter painting shows an empty stubble field with the straw burnt down. The painting, which was created in 1984, is held in very dark tones, mostly black, using heavy material, emulsion, tar, shellac, sand, straw and ashes. The horizon line is on the very top, so the viewer looks onto the field, an empty field full of ashes - the ashes of guilt, referring to that time when everything was lost, everything that had constituted a value to German history. There is also a burned piece of wood that looks like a sword. It obviously represents the sword of Nathan from Germanic mythology. The burnt sword is an allegory of defeat. Not only had the Nazis annihilated almost the entire Jewry of Europe, but Europe had been largely destroyed and everything that had constituted German and Germanic history had been appropriated and abused by the Nazis. There was nothing left but the ashes of guilt.
World Ash had an incredible impact on me. It took me back to the time after the war when I grew up. The time of guilt and no words; the time when a leaden blanket was put over our history. Anselm Kiefer and I grew up in Post-World War II Germany. We belong to the so called generation of the ‘Nachgeborenen’, the ‘Second Generation’, who were not actively involved during the times of the Hitler Regime and were born during or after the Second World War.
Kiefer’s World Ash spoke to me about the emptiness and hopelessness that was felt in the time after World War II. The work seemed to question how it was possible that in a country so rich in its culture before the Nazis came to power, the unbearable had happened. How could millions of people have been systematically tortured and killed through a deadly dictatorial regime?
Thousands of years of history and culture had belonged to the German nation. How was it possible that this nation, with incredible minds like Nietzsche, Kant, Bach, Beethoven, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Duerer, Schubert, Schiller, Brahms, Brecht, Goethe, Fontane, Rilke, Tucholsky, and many others could allow such actions resulting in the Holocaust to happen? The Holocaust will now always be a part of German history. Those twelve years of the Nazi Regime can never be erased.
The painting World Ash referred to that burnt soil that will be contaminated forever, loaded with the guilt of the Shoah. It conveyed the shock of waking up to that nightmare. All the material belongings were gone. The sons who had fought on the wrong side had fallen in the war. A whole nation had lost its dignity and suffered with incredible guilt. The painting spoke to me about how the German people needed to face what had happened during the war and understand that there was nothing but burnt ashes left. The work represented the state of a nation needing to turn and find a new identity.
I grew up with my grandmother. She had lost her brother in the war who was in his early twenties when he died in Russia. My grandfather, on my father’s side, was a pilot in the First World War, who was promoted to ‘Hauptmann’ in 1940 and who was in charge of aerial bombardments. Only when I was an adult, did I learn that my grandfather was a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the NSDAP, and that he was a Nazi. Having grown up in that time after the war, knowing that silence, remembering the short explanations we were given when we asked questions about the war and about the cruelties that had happened, I was now interested in going back to the time shortly after WWII, with the atmosphere of repression where no words could describe what had happened.
I was questioning how it was possible to continue with life after what had happened during the war. How would people create a new identity after the nightmare Nazis and their followers had brought to mankind and to its own people? How would art take on such a heavy leaden burden?
I was interested in finding those visual artists who worked against the trend to try and forget; those, who in their art, spoke about the condition of the German state after the war, spoke about the Holocaust, the Hitler regime and the horrible consequences the totalitarian Hitler regime had on millions on people, including the Germans. Who were those artists who denied the ‘Stunde Null’ (Zero Hour) and knew Germans would not be able to move on without facing the past?
After the war, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when I grew up, there were several German artists who went against all convention and spoke about the German war experience, the Nazi regime and its consequences, such as Anselm Kiefer (*1945), Georg Baselitz (*1938), Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), Gerhard Richter (*1932), Markus Luepertz (*1941), Sigmar Polke (*1941), Jochen und Esther Gerz (*1940, *1957), and A.R. Penck (*1939).
My encounter with World Ash had had such a pivotal and shaping impact on me and my perception of art, I decided to investigate Germany’s identity during that time after the war and studied these artists’ work with a focus on Anselm Kiefer’s work for my Bachelor Thesis for the University of Gloucestershire, which I wrote in 2014.