Markus Hansen

Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations / Serge Aboukrat

Born in Germany in 1963, Markus Hansen belongs to a generation of artists still coming to grips with the trauma of their country’s Nazi past. While he has often looked to the history and symbols of his fatherland as fodder for his art, in his recent two shows, autonomous yet complementary vignettes, Hansen established a radical position for himself vis-à-vis his generation’s demanding, often suspicious relationship with the past. (Although not formally affiliated, Hansen’s concurrent installation at Gilles Peyroulet, Dürer’s Pillows, 1996–98, three-dimensional re-creations of the old master’s drawings of cushions, could be seen as conceptually linked to the other two shows in its desire to reinvent an aspect of German history.)

Set up in the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations was the video installation Pasolini Loop, 1997–99. On entering the churchlike space, the viewer was immediately assaulted by image and sound, with videos simultaneously projected onto three walls and the ceiling. Where was the sound coming from? Why were the images distorted? At what point in the narrative were we? In fact, the artist had recut Pasolini’s 1975 film Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom, into three short, interconnected stories, and projected them at different angles to create distortions; only one segment had sound at any given time. In the original film, Pasolini reimagined Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom in Fascist Italy, a superimposition that is not easy to bear. For Hansen, re-editing the film presented “a series of problems: ideological, historical, aesthetical, moral, and cinematographic.” He regards the resulting narratives as “meditations rather than commentaries, which reconcile me with the film that shows what cannot be shown.” The “loop” in Hansen’s title evokes the eternal return.

To accompany the opening of Pasolini Loop at the Caisse des Dépôts, Hansen orchestrated a performance/installation at Serge Aboukrat; it lasted only as long as the party. Entitled Oh Little Star of Bethlehem, 1999, the piece was an inquiry into the sublimation of Germany’s past and the reconstruction of German national identity. A late-model Mercedes—hieratic and imposing, an icon of the country’s industrial might—was parked haphazardly in front of the gallery. The car radio repeatedly played “Oh Little Star of Bethlehem,” as performed by the ’70s German cult band CAN, while a series of very German (read Romantic) digitally manipulated images of the sky were projected from the inside of the car through the Mercedes logo onto a wall in the gallery. A man who looked like a chauffeur stood in front of the car, emphasizing the power symbolized by the luxury vehicle, heightening its fetish value, and raising the question: Which, in the end, is more beautiful, the German car or the German skies?

Jerome Sans

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.