SWITZERLAND IS NOT AN ISLAND #2
Controversy Out Loud
June 1, 2013 – July 21, 2013
Opening: May 31, 2013, 7 p.m.
With a lecture performance by Saar Magal
(Video design and editing: Benjamin Krieg)
The second part of the SWITZERLAND IS NOT AN ISLAND exhibition and program of events, “#2 Controversy Out Loud” refers to the Richard Wagner Year 2013 and his connection with Swiss politics of memory.
Works by Tal Adler/Karin Schneider; the „The Pressure Group to Transform the Lueger Monument into a Monument against Anti-Semitism and Racism“; Sasha Huber; Tina Leisch; Saar Magal and the “Café Temelín” reveal strategies for a artistic approach to figures, places, and stories that are “ambivalent” and “problematic” in terms of the politics of memory.
Over the past several decades, cracks have begun to form in the image of Switzerland as a “neutral country” and humanitarian island. While Switzerland is clearly not a Nazi successor state, it was complexly involved in the national-socialist regime. There was active resistance as well as collaboration, and profiteering in Switzerland. The country’s current financial wealth cannot be viewed as something separate from this.
Anti-Semitic and racist policies in Switzerland have a long history. Between 1933 and 1945 Switzerland was a land of exile, but also a country that closed its borders for those who were on the run “simply for racial reasons,” turning them back and thereby accepting their death. Continuities in these policies are evident even today with regard to Jews, Roma, and refugees, while claims of neutrality and the “special case” of Switzerland remain as a protective shield against the country’s confrontation with its own involvements.
This problematic stance towards its own history becomes apparent in the handling of Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism in the anniversary year 2013. The figure of Wagner offers the opportunity for a confrontation that delves deeper into the artists persona and his work: as a participant in the bourgeois revolution, he fled from Dresden, was granted asylum in Zurich where he composed not only musical works, but also the anti-Semitic essay, “Jewishness (or Judaism) in Music,” which the Nazis would later use as a politico-cultural source of terms.
In a serious approach to Wagner and his works, there is no clean separation of his musical creation from his political attitude and actions, or justification of the musical “genius” while treating his anti-Semitism and Deutschtümelei (Germanomania) as, at best, a disturbing footnote. Taking a serious approach to Wagner as a political artist means taking a closer look at the logic of his creation – shaping the world by means of art. And, finally, such a consequential confrontation (in Switzerland) also means confronting historical forms of anti-Semitism and racism and also, speaking out against and fighting their current forms.
The exhibition project “#2 Controversy Out Loud” proposes a serious consideration of the work, attitude, and reception of figures that appear “fickle” or “ambivalent” when they are considered in their overall contexts. Opposing apologetic and obscure attitudes, the art works shown in the exhibition present strategies of clarification and change.
The choreographer Saar Magal opens the exhibition with a performance–lecture of her piece “Hacking Wagner” in a version adapted for the Shedhalle. The piece deals with the possibilities of “hacking” the work and reception of Richard Wagner, that is, cracking the appropriate code, redefining it, and newly appropriating it from the position of Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Also questioned is the perform-ability of Richard Wagner in countries where National Socialism and its effects continue to play a role—thus, also in Switzerland.
In two works from the series “Dispersed Fragments” and “Leveled Landscapes,” Tal Adler/Karin Schneider look at sites and forms of memory, forgetting, and concealing in the Austrian “landscape.”
In Tina Leisch’s riefenstahlremix, Anna Blach and Rosa Winter, Sintezza, recall their forced labor in Helene Riefenstahl’s film Tiefland. The Nazi film icon drafted them from a Nazi concentration camp, forcing them to work as extras for the film.
The works shown in the exhibition by Sasha Huber and the two collectives “Café Temelín” and “The Pressure Group to Transform the Lueger Monument into a Monument against Anti-Semitism and Racism” present forms of artistic intervention that are interested in expanding the scope for action at very concrete sites.
The “The Pressure Group to Transform the Lueger Monument into a Monument against Anti-Semitism and Racism“ invited to an open call in which 225 applications were submitted for the redesigning of the memorial for an anti-Semitic politician, Karl Lueger (Mayor of Vienna 1897-1910). Shown in the exhibition are a chronology of the project, the winning concept as well as a summary publication.
Sasha Huber documents her re-naming of the Agassizhorn (Berner Alps) as “Rentyhorn.” Agassizhorn bears the name of a proponent of Swiss scientific racism, Louis Agassiz, while Renty was the name of the Congolese slave whom Agassiz photographed and used as evidence in his racist argumentation.
“Café Temelín” shows cinematic and photographic excerpts from a tour through Austrian border and mountain regions. Its goal was to disturb the normality of revisionist historiography and the continuity of nationalist and extreme right-wing discourses.
Tal Adler/Karin Schneider
Swarovski Crystal Worlds, Wattens, Tyrol, 2012
76.0 x 110.0 cm, archival inkjet print, from the series “Leveled Landscapes”, © Tal Adler
Sylvie Fleury’s artwork YES TO ALL, covered with thousands of Swarovski’s glass crystals at the entrance of the complex at Wattens. Here in the temple of the fake, fantasy replaces content with sensual experience and Swarovski’s Nazi history is masked under superficial shine.
District Museum Ottakring, Vienna’s 16th district, 2012
87.0 x 110.0 cm, archival inkjet print, from the series “Dispersed Fragments”, © Tal Adler
The museum honors Josef Weinheber with the reconstructed room of the Nazi poet, who wrote admiring poems for Hitler, was an outspoken anti-Semite and committed suicide on April 8, 1945, as the Soviet forces were taking Vienna.
The series “Leveled Landscapes” by Tal Adler uses the genre of landscape photography to examine political practices concerning history in Austria. It also develops a contribution to the history of rendering and comprehending landscape. Different landscapes all over Austria are photographed through a bubble level. The histories of these places and the memories that remained, forgotten or reconstructed around these places are put under critical observation. The bubble level is commonly used in photography to assure a “natural” perception of the landscape. It is usually embedded in the photographic equipment itself, and remains always “backstage” and invisible in the final image. In this series the bubble level is detached from the equipment and staged in the foreground, alluding to the process itself behind the creation of narratives.
“Dispersed Fragments” by Tal Adler and Karin Schneider showcases the way museums in Austria – from small local museums to national institutions – present and teach history. A series of photographs of the museums’ displays, room installations, objects and tableaus is coupled with texts about the findings, based on observations and interviews with researchers and workers of the institutions.
Both “Leveled Landscapes” and “Dispersed Fragments” were produced in the frame of the art-based research project MemScreen, which took place at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, 2011 – 2013. The research process that accompanied the creation of the artworks is an integral part of the artistic practice. When exhibiting these projects, the research material is accessible in the form of an archive, adjacent to the photographic prints.
Rentyhorn - The Intervention
Commissioned photography by Siro Micheroli © Sasha Huber
Lambda print, 40 x 60 cm, 2008
On 28th May 2007, the 200th birthday of the Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz was commemorated, both in Switzerland and worldwide. However, Agassiz was not only an influential glaciologist, but also an influential racist and ideological forerunner of apartheid. On the commemoration day, Hans Fässler has launched the campaign “Demounting Louis Agassiz”, thereby suggesting to take „his mountain“ away from him (thus “de-mount-ing” him) and to henceforth call the Agassizhorn (3953 metres above sea-level) on the boundary between the cantons of Wallis and Berne, named by Agassiz in the 1840ies „Rentyhorn“. Renty was a slave from the Congo on a South Carolina plantation, whose photo was commissioned by Louis Agassiz in order to „scientifically“ prove the inferiority of the „black race“.
Huber is a member of the transatlantic committee “Demounting Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)”. This has inspired her to take action and to realize the name change from Agassizhorn to Rentyhorn. Additionally, she started the online petition www.rentyhorn.ch. “Rentyhorn” is also the name of an exhibition that was first presented in 2008 in Helsinki, so as of the book that was published in 2008. 2010 she was co-editor of “(T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today” (2010) as part of the 29th São Paulo Biennial.
Short film, 33 min, AT, 2003
“Frau Leni Riefenstahl is obliged to Zäzilia Reinhardt, to no longer make or distribute the following claim or allow the following claim to be made or distributed: ‘After the end of the war, Frau Riefenstahl again met all of the gypsies who worked in the film Tiefland and nothing had happened to any single one of them.’ Leni Riefenstahl replied to threats of a lawsuit for sedition with this cease and desist declaration in mid-August 2002. Yet it has long been known; and recorded and proven by documents from the Riefenstahl production and death lists from Auschwitz, that a large share of the Sinti and Roma taken from the concentration camps Maxglan near Salzburg and Marzahn in Berlin, who worked as extras and supporting actors, were murdered in concentration and death camps after the end of filming. The fact that Riefenstahl continued to lie until she died, to whatever extent possible, simply testifies once again to how greatly the denial of any guilt has become an automatic, well-trained reflex. While Riefenstahl received royalties for the remainder of her life, the actors were never remunerated.
The Pressure Group to Transform the Lueger Monument
into a Monument against Anti-Semitism and Racism
Responsible for the content of the exhibition contribution: Jasmina Hirschl, Lilly Panholzer
The “Pressure group to transform the Karl Lueger statue into a monument against anti-Semitism and racism in Austria” called an open competition in which 225 proposals were submitted for the redesign of the monument to the anti-Semitic politician Karl Lueger (Viennese mayor 1897-1910). The exhibition features several stations of the project in the form of excerpts from the press and the project’s website (www.luegerplatz.com), the prize-winning design, as well as the Handbuch zur Umgestaltung des Lueger-Denkmals.
“Meanwhile, a broad consensus reigns that it is problematic to honor the anti-Semitic mayor and demagogue in a form as prominent as the monument. After all, Karl Lueger is not only well-known in Austria as one of the leading founders of modern, populist anti-Semitism, but he also generated with his ‘diatribes, an atmosphere of brutalization’ in Vienna, and in Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler designated him as one of the most tremendous German mayors of all times. The cultural scholar Aleida Assmann must therefore be endorsed when she writes: ‘Those who want to rescue the achievements of Lueger’s person and his government, must explicitly distance themselves from this other part of his heritage; silence in this case means not only tolerating, but also recognizing and perpetuating this dangerous tradition.’
Anti-Semitism and racist populism must be invalidated at all levels. For, ‘[w]e cannot think of Auschwitz without all that occurred a few decades before it—particularly here, in this city; and for that reason, we can also no longer think of Lueger without remembering Auschwitz.’ In his declaration of support for the Open Call, historian and writer Doron Rabinovici offered an important argument for no longer simply accepting the Lueger monument as is. And art historian Verena Krieger joins with him when she says: ‘After the experience of national socialism it has become unbearable that undiminished homage is paid to an aggressive anti-Semite and declared role model for Hitler.’
The Pressure Group states: “The Viennese ÖVP (People’s Party) display their history-politics by laying a wreath at Lueger’s grave every year in his honor. It cannot be expected that this party will change its historical awareness of Lueger any time soon. The Viennese SPÖ (Social Democratic Party) hides behind the preservation of historical monuments act. Who has final authority here? Who decides which policies of history and commemoration will be employed? Is it really in the public interest to continue to glorify Karl Lueger with such a prominent monument? Isn’t it much more in the public interest to overturn it? We say it is!”
The “Handbook” is an action-oriented contribution to the discourse about monuments and memorials. The publication gathers all 225 submitted designs, shows the course of the project, and documents the negotiations with the city of Vienna. The submitted ideas for redesigning the monument are contextualized by contributions from guest authors, statements from supporters, excerpts from the press, and a contribution on the cult surrounding the person of Karl Lueger.”
“Hacking Wagner“, a piece that was conceived for Bayerische Staatsoper in 2012, interacts with the Wagnerian monumentalism in both the German context, in which it is conspicuously present, and the Israeli context, in which it is conspicuously kept absent. The cast and the crew were performers and artists from both Germany and Israel, where Wagners works are banned since the Nazis initiated “Reichskristallnacht“ in 1938.
The cast and crew took it on themselves to use “hacking” (breaking the code) to become “cultural insurgents,” outlaws to the accumulated norms. “Hacking Wagner” is a field of personal associations, a strain of a collective unconsciousness with regard to the Wagner issue and the peculiar Jewish–German cultural love affair that took place before the war, before the Holocaust, and before all hell broke loose; a tense affair of love and hatred that persists to this day
Documentation of the toppling of the so-called “Heimatdenkmal”, Unterretzbach
Short film, A 2003
Café Temelín reached their first actionist highlight in autumn 2003 in the form of a one-week tour through northern Austria. During the “nie wieder heimat tour,” the Café visited a handful of towns, offering theater productions, various games, anti-homeland merchandizing, texts, and cake and coffee in the town squares. The attempt was to thereby break central, right-wing-shaped concepts of the so-called “homeland expellees,” and instill the “down-to-earth” people with a bit of imbalance through displaced homeland iconography.
Along Austria’s northern border are numerous memorials from the Sudeten German Expellee Associations. These memorials not only provide evidence of a historical inability to deal with the crimes of national socialism, in that the immense role of racial policies in the destruction of Czechoslovakia and persecution and murder of so many people remains ignored, but additionally, in their design, they work, in part, with Nazi district borders from 1938 and with designations, symbols, flags, and coloring that were valid solely in the national socialist era. Ultimately, the constructions, some of which are monumental, show how the hegemonic landscape of memory in Austria is still there, seventy years after the abolition of the national socialist regime.
“Café Temelín” wanted to tackle these facts with the action “Denkmalsturm.” In a theatrical performance, „Café Temelín“ toppled the monument in Unterretzbach and raised a banner declaring: “Heimatrecht is very schlecht.”
Documentation of the highest-elevation black-block-demo,
Granatspitze Group not far from the Sudeten German Hut
Short film, A 2005
Music video “Zurück zum Beton,” Granatspitze Group
Short film, A 2005
diverse prints, A 2005
2 Polaroids, A 2005
In the beautiful early autumn of 2005, Café Temelín went on an excursion to Hohenems in westernmost Austria. During the “25-(twentyfive)-hüsle-tour” the Café’s “Schnelle Eingreiftruppe” (SET) (rapid deployment force), exemplarily halted at historical and contemporary sites of Austrian right-wing extremism. Along with old acquaintances, such as the “Haus der Heimat” (Center of the Austrian Expellee Associations) or the Burschenschaft (right-wing fraternity) “Olympia,” the tour thematized also less prominent protagonist-sites, publishing houses, and book stores.
As a medial highlight, the tour crew climbed the gravel of the Granatspitze Group, a stone’s throw away from Großglockner, to the Sudeten German Hut. A spontaneous demonstration, as well as a music video shooting resulted. Both interventions in the high mountains sought the political in the apolitical and played with clichés from riot to traditional costume and golden bonnets.
The Café then returned to the valley and organized an anti-homeland procession in Hohenems and, finally, a zombie spectacle.
Beginning from semi-documentary material of the tour, a road movie was created in autumn 2005 showing a handful of the twenty-five stations that were visited and otherwise considered.
Tal Adler/Karin Schneider
Karin Schneider is an art mediator and contemporary historian based in Vienna. She has been working in the field of politics of history and memory in Austria for many years. She was involved in several research projects that dealt with the theory and practice of museums and with participatory research. Currently she works with Tal Adler and others in the art based research project “Conserved Memories” at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Karin does research and mediation for the projects “Leveled Landscapes” and “Dispersed Fragments”.
Tal Adler is an artist and photographer interacting and intervening with social and political structures and the power relations and blind spots they reproduce. Among his topics are the politics of history and memory in Israel and Austria; disempowering power relations and political culture in Israel; and politics and power in Human-Animal relations. In his previous exhibition in the Shedhalle he presented a political party and an alternative election campaign, initiated to claim the sphere of the elections campaigns during elections in Israel, 2003.
Sasha Huber (b. 1975, Zurich) is a visual artist who currently lives in Helsinki and Zurich. She uses various media including video, photography, drawing, stapling, intervention, installation, graphic design and publications. Being of European and Haitian heritage, she allies herself with the Caribbean Diaspora. The starting point for her work is an examination of her roots and of how this affects the process of constructing her personal and artistic identity. The journey began as a reaction against the historical injustice of colonialism. But, as her work progressed, this was gradually transformed into a quest for understanding and a more interactive dialogue. Huber holds an MA from the University of Art and Design Helsinki. She has exhibited at: Center for Contemporary Art Tbilisi, Georgia (2013), Hasselblad Foundation/Project Space, Gothenburg (2012); Retretti Art Centre, Finland (2012); Botkyrka Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden (2011); SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum, Kristiansand, Norway (2011); 29. São Paulo Biennial, Brasil (2010); Kunsthalle Helsinki/Studio and Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, Finland (2010) and Riga Art Space, Latvia (2009).
Tina Leisch is a film-, text- und theater worker and lives in Vienna. Co-Founder of kinoki, Volxtheater Favoriten and Verein Peršman. Creates theater experiments in social confict zones (among others: “Elf Seelen für einen Ochsen, Enajst duš za enega vola” about the massacre at the southern carinthian Peršmanhof, “Date your destiny“ and “Medea bloß zum Trotz” in prisons with the inmates. Together with a Roma-Ensemble, she created the multilingual pieces “Liebesforschung/Rodimos e kamlipeso /istrazivanje ljubavi“ and “Schneid deinen Ärmel ab und lauf davon! C(in c‘i baj taj naš!“. She was honoured with the NESTROY-Award for the production of George Tabori’s “Mein Kampf“ with residents of the men´s dormitory at Meldemannstrasse in Vienna. Citation for her documentary “Gangster Girls“ at the viennese film award. In Mai 2013, she completed her documentary “Roque Dalton, erschießen wir die Nacht!“ about the Salvadorian revolutionary Roque Dalton.
The Pressure Group to Transform the Lueger Monument
into a Monument against Anti-Semitism and Racism
Ruben Demus, Lukas Frankenberger, Jakob Glasner, Jasmina Hirschl, Veronika Kocher, Alexander Korab, Martin Krenn, Lilly Panholzer, Georg Wolf
Saar Magal‘s was born in Tel Aviv in 1976. Her latest creation is a performance piece called “Hacking Wagner,” which was commissioned by the Bayerische Staatsoper and premiered in July 2012 at Haus Der Kunst, Munich. She created several dance performances, such as “Furniture Showroom” at the Laban Center London 1996, “Shin” at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv 1997, “Telem” at Peridance New York 2000, “Adagietto” at the Bat Dor Dance Company Tel Aviv 2001, “Phaedra 4.48” at ART Institute in Cambridge and Mxat Theater in Moscow 2002, “Roaches” at the Curtain Up Festival in Tel Aviv 2006, and “Showdown” at the Khan Theater Jerusalem 2008. Her dance film “Cell Fish” premiered in 2005 at the Lincoln Center in New York. One of her latest dance creations is the duet created and performed with her colleague Jochen Roller, “Basically I don‘t but actually I do,” which premiered at the Kampnagel in Hamburg in 2009 and performed at the Sophiensaele in Berlin, the Muffathalle in Munich, Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv, Arts House in Melbourne, and at Auawirleben Festival in Berne.
“Café Temelín - nie wieder heimat” arose in 2002 as a project thematizing Austrian Expellee Associations in the context of historical revisionism and the debate about Temelín, the Czech atomic power plant. While the eco-patriotic debate about Temelín served as a spring board for openly historical revisionist and revanchist agitation against the Czech Republic and the so-called “Beneš Dekrete,” Café Temelín used the power plant in a similarly wily way to ‘infiltrate the normal Austrian madness between cross-stich and concrete by means of cross-stich and concrete.’ The subtitle “nie wieder heimat“ (homeland, never again) refers to the demand of the Expellee Associations for “Heimatrecht,” or a “right to a homeland,” an encoded type of revanchism.