Galerie Otto Schweins

“We were ghosts from the present trying to see the past, floating over the countryside and through memorials specially designed to facilitate our visit.” This is how Andree Korpys described, in 2005, a research trip he undertook with his colleague Markus Löffler shortly after German reunification—a tour of several memorial sites in both East and West Germany that resulted in their series “Memorial Sites,” 1993. Korpys’s description of this early collaborative project also suggests some of the central themes the artists would later develop: an interest in memory processes, particularly in the representation of German history; the question of how the past determines our perception of the present, and vice versa; a fascination with situations and sites in which complex strands of history intersect and then branch off into legend.

One such site is Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda, built in the late nineteenth century as a summer residence for one of Italy’s wealthiest families and now a five-star hotel. It provides the title for the film Korpys/Löffler produced for the last Manifesta that is now on view at Schweins, as well as for a series of photographs. (Also in the exhibition were two more photographic series, “Ravioli” [all works 2008] and “Treasure Island.”) The villa served as Benito Mussolini’s head- quarters between 1943 and 1945, providing an elegant stage set for the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, also known as the Repubblica di Salò. After the war, it was given back to legendary publisher and militant left-wing activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, who hosted a Communist Party camp there in 1947 “to exorcise the Fascist ghosts”—ghosts that Pier Paolo Pasolini invoked in his last film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), thus bringing them into a present that he saw as characterized by decadent consumerism. Ostentatious luxury and cultural refinement form the backdrop for the sadistic torture of the protagonists in Pasolini’s film, which was released shortly after the director’s violent death. As for Feltrinelli, he became involved with a terrorist group. His corpse was discovered in 1972 near Milan; apparently, he was killed by his own explosives during an attempt to blow up an electrical pylon.

Taking up these scattered yet interwoven threads of Italy’s political and cultural history, Korpys/Löffler begin their film with the camera approaching the villa by car, meandering through its well-tended grounds, circling, repeatedly switching between exterior and interior shots, and finally lingering on individual details of the structure’s opulent interior and Mussolini’s former suite, which the artists have rented out for the night. At first only ambient sound is used, but then the images of this ostensible idyll are increasingly disrupted by disturbing noises. The images grow more ominous as well: blood in a sink, pictures of Mussolini as well as of Feltrinelli’s and Pasolini’s mutilated corpses. This moment of filmic suspense culminates in a scenario that recalls, among other things, the Communist Party camp Feltrinelli organized in 1947. The artists are shown sitting in the suite’s empty bed frame, using a camping stove to prepare a funeral feast. After displaying pictures of the mutilated corpses, they shred them, mix them in with a can of ravioli, and attempt to eat them. But this bit of history hasn’t been digested yet, as becomes clear in the final sequence, in which the film’s key images flash before our eyes as if in a kaleidoscope: Their pictures return to haunt us like the ghosts of the past.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.