Ulrike Grossarth

Ulrike Grossarth is interested in the structures of social systems that are visible on both a micro- and macro-level: in her work on National Socialism, cooking becomes a metaphor for larger questions. For Grossarth, the yeast cake of bourgeois households bears a peculiar resemblance to the monumental buildings that Adolf Hitler wanted to erect. This association is central to the piece entitled Mohn (Poppy seeds, 1987–93), which was also the title of this exhibition. Just as poppy seeds can either be a tasty ingredient or a numbing narcotic, seduction and collective intoxication were central to the establishment of the Nazi regime—a means of garnering and maintaining power that has been the object of Grossarth’s investigations for some time.

Most of the enlarged photocopies in this show come from a ’30s cookbook that offers suggestions for a correctly decorated holiday table. In another image, we can recognize the face of Carl Klauberg, a doctor at Auschwitz, as he is eating a piece of cake. Between the images there was a text panel with excerpts from the memoirs of Hitler’s favorite architect, Albert Speer. Speer writes about how happy Eva Braun was as she anticipated her death in the Berlin bunker. Encircled by Russian troops, she offered her cohorts champagne, candies, and, of course, cake. In this political context, the images from the cookbook take on new meaning: the open oven doors eerily connote those of the gas chambers; a rolling pin pressing everything down becomes a metaphor for oppression, cakes a model of dictatorial practice.

Grossarth distributed the elements of Mohn loosely on the gallery wall; history becomes a question of selection, restructuring, and association. In another work, Projection, 4er Ordnung (Projection, 4th order, 1993), she relives history by using the plaque that all workers received on the occasion of their 25th anniversary at the Krupps company. But on this plaque it is the founders of the company who are honored, not the worker. The relief shows the two industrialists looking at one another. Onto their heads Grossarth projected two small circles of light that accentuated their faces, while on the wall next to the relief there was just the projection onto the empty wall. Grossarth either emphasizes or eliminates specific levels of meaning that are contained in an existing or fabricated image. In every work, however, her intervention remains focused on the essential.

Justin Hoffmann

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.