Berlin

“November November”

Galerie Anselm Dreher

Conceptual artists have long been making works that comment on the obsolete political systems in postwar Europe, and “November November” brought a number of these efforts together. The exhibition’s point of departure was a work by Robert Filliou, This Flag Is Meant to Straddle National Borderlines, 1972–74, which was part of a series that attacked national (chauvinistic) emblems and rhetoric. Composed of two flags, the work appears as an ironic assault on national symbols and border demarcations.

Jochen Gerz was represented by three photo-text works from the “IT WAS EASY. . . . ” series of 1988. Each piece consisted of five black and white photos hanging in vertical columns that distortedly reproduce a horizon with five drifting clouds. Alienating texts such as “IT WAS EASY TO MAKE LAWS FOR PEOPLE” and “IT WAS EASY TO MAKE SOAP OUT OF BONES,” coupled with the distorted images, reflect twisted elements in our culture. In Free Rosa Luxemburg, 1990, Gerz deals with the ideological co-option of the Socialist leader, who was murdered in 1919. Both the West German Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Unity Party of (formerly) East Germany tried to link Luxemburg to their platforms, even though her ideas bore few affinities with theirs. In this piece, which consists of eight framed, identically sized photographs (two side by side and four in a column), Luxemburg’s name is written perpendicularly in black over the entire length of the dark-brown background. Her name is sliced up so that the individual letters do not link up evenly. Recalling concrete poetry, this work sums up the inadequate and distorted reception of Luxemburg in both the East and the West.

Alfredo Jaar expressed his view of West-East détente in a backlit Cibachrome entitled East = South, 1990, depicting the gable of Berlin’s old National Gallery with its terrifying ten stone eagles, which symbolize totalitarian control. This architectural ornamentation was an early symbolic utterance of the Prussian state’s claim to imperial power, and it calls to mind the faded pomposity of military gestures—a grandiloquence still operative today. On the blue sky over the architectural detail, Jaar mounted the phrase “East = South,” a comment on the political change from the viewpoint of the Third World. Serge Kliaving’s German Flag, 1988, consists of four small oil paintings that trace the metamorphosis of the German flag into a red Soviet banner with a hammer and sickle. This mutation goes through two intermediate stages, so that, as in a heraldic “maneuver,” the transformation can take place. Maurizio Nannucci was represented by a small, radiantly blue piece, UnitedUnique, 1990, which visually and tautologically reflects the relations between the languages of England and France. The pictorial impact of the neon symbolizes, on a semantic level, both commonality and contrast, both adjacency and difference.

Ange Leccia showed Arrangement Stasi, 1985–90 (Stasi is the abbreviation for the former East German secret police). This work deals with the theme of power and surveillance in the electronic age. Two of the Stasi’s video surveillance cameras, attached to the wall approximately seven feet above the floor, observed one another. Two monitors—likewise from the Stasi legacy—projected the images of each other that the cameras were recording. This work describes the surveillance of East Germany’s secret service, whose perfectionism could hardly be topped. In Leccia’s arrangement, the cameras are defined as weapons, and it is precisely their antiquated ’50s design that makes them look like cannons. As a whole, the exhibition showed that concepts like border or control have been radically transformed within a few short years. The distance between Filliou’s object and Leccia’s installation emphasizes how helplessly obsolete territorial borders have become in an age of technological surveillance.

Peter Funken

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.

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