Texts to the exhibition "Halcyon Days"

I      les messieurs d’avignon

Les Messieurs d’Avignon is a collection of modernism’s bad boys ranging from Nietzsche to Houellebecq. What they have in common is the fact that they questioned the one or other 20th-century worldview and self-conception that over time had gained official recognition from a prominent position off on the sidelines. Randomly targeted. In its permanent contradiction to a model of progress that ostensibly proceeds stringently, it marks the loops and interferences of a text that requires revision.

Picasso’s 1907 “Demoiselles d’Avignon” as an icon of early modernism is the starting point for such a text that is in urgent need of correction. Beyond the Cubist analysis of the female body in sunlight, it is conspicuous that there is an absence of the men who reference one of modernism’s shadow lines, the protagonists of which continued a labyrinthine, myth-like continental European pictorial and intellectual concept in which all logical or pragmatic understandings contain an inaccessible core. There is naturally no political correctness on this shadow line, no total social solutions, no common sense pragmatism and no reliable morals. The treasure chest of images and ideas by these authors, which are not entertaining, not informative and are by Anglo- American standards difficult to exploit, describes a horizon that gains in significance today as the model of a modernity beyond Karl Marx and Coca-Cola.

II      after tsalal

The decisive concluding sequence of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film “Le Mépris” (Contempt) takes place on the roof of the Casa Malaparte on Capri. The architectural icon that makes it possible to adventurously bridge the gap between Arnold Böcklin’s mythic Isle of the Dead and a futuristic, deconstructivist aesthetic draft, looms bizarrely over the period of the 20th century’s ideological conflicts: the eccentric poet Malaparte, who was initially close to Mussolini, later converted to Communism and attempted to bequeath the villa to the People’s Republic of China, which in the end was thwarted after a legal dispute lasting many years. As a “film within a film”, Godard’s “Contempt” is about an American production company and a European director (played by Fritz Lang) shooting Homer’s Odyssey on the roof of the villa.

The thematic of the confrontation between cultural spheres (the theme of antiquity as opposed to a modern format, American “entertainment” as opposed to “serious” continental European art) broached here becomes the creative hotbed for a different and less conciliatory cultural collision: in E. A. Poe’s fabricated seafarer’s journal “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” (1838), a desperate reciprocal massacre between cultures encountering each other occurs in the Antarctic on the fictitious island of Tsalal – which is perhaps no further away from Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead than Capri. It concerns a reverberation of European colonial history, but maybe also a remnant of the background melody from Fritz Lang’s Odyssey in Godard’s “Contempt” – while Brigitte Bardot is killed in an automobile accident on a country road together with the American film producer.

III      what is metaphysics?/spiegel interview

The so-called “Spiegel Interview” between Rudolf Augstein and Martin Heidegger took place on 23 September 1966. Heidegger’s condition for taking part in the interview was that it first be published after his death. It ultimately appeared under the title “Only a God Can Save” in the 31 May 1976 issue of the magazine “Der Spiegel”. The interview is a document of the inability of two generations to communicate with each other. Where Augstein inquired about historical entanglements, Heidegger responded with metaphysical ponderings. This unbridgeable gap, as well as the death of the protagonist that was negotiated in advance, appears to be voluntarily and involuntarily linked to the discussion of “annihilating Nothingness” from Heidegger’s inaugural lecture “What is Metaphysics” held on 24 July 1929, at the University of Freiburg. The link supplies a gloaming of the overlapping legibilities of text and image: the apparent encounter that takes place between rigid gestures at a round table of spirits in the darkened interior of a knowledge that can only be transmitted by way of parables. The wine glass in front on the desk shimmers back and forth in the last rays of light between lost boundaries. For all the plays of reflections present here, nobody notices whether the invisible hand of the nihilistic wanderer is raising a cup of hemlock or whether a vitreous dancer on the philosopher’s papers loses her final superfluous layer of clothing.

IV      what is metaphysics?/kingdom

The main title for the ensemble of pictures called “What is Metaphysics?/Kingdom” references the round table of spirits that came about in conjunction with the 1966 conversation between Rudolf Augstein, the editor-in-chief and publisher of “Der Spiegel”, and Martin Heidegger (“What is Metaphysics?/ Spiegel Interview”). Martin Heidegger’s condition for taking part in the interview, namely that it first be published after his death (1976), set diverse spirits free. These include calculable and incalculable ones. The incalculable might for example include those that Lars von Trier gathered together in a grotesque hospital for his 1994 television series “The Kingdom”. “The Kingdom” appeared to be Europe’s answer to David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”.

The abysses that open up behind the physically describable world do not lead to philosophy, but to a gloomy world of madness instead in which the comic and the monstrous are parallel to each other. Only two employees with Down’s syndrome, who work in a dark kitchen space in the hospital’s basement, know something about the uncanny goings-on that are enmeshing physicians and patients in a dense net of real and unreal moments. Lars von Trier links his production to a northern European tradition that includes Ibsen, Strindberg, Hamsun, Berman, etc. that represents a psychologically unfathomable variation of continental European culture in which a textually entwined spirit is at work that is guided less by a stringently chronological plot development than by complex undercurrents.

In the hospital’s nocturnal kitchen as well as in the darkened philosophical library, spirits are trying to figure out a disturbed world in which light can only deliver the promised knowledge if it does not dispel the spirits.

V      rupert’s words

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film “Rope”, a conversation takes place between the philosophy teacher Rupert and the other dinner guests about Friedrich Nietzsche’s ambiguously seductive moral philosophy: because the laws of morality are only valid for the “average person”, a murder for murder’s sake, i.e. the ultimate immoral act, would have to be the ideal instrument of demonstrating a privileged individual’s cultural superiority. Nietzsche is naturally misinterpreted in this mix-up of the aesthetic and the ethic spheres. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, the short-circuited analogy of an artwork for an artwork’s sake inspires the murderer and his helper to act: the corpse of the friend who was otherwise also invited as a guest to the dinner party and had been murdered without motive, has been lying all evening in a chest on which plates and food had been placed. Just as the perfect murder is an expression of an absolute free will to create the perfect work of art, the party taking place after the murder with all of the victim’s friends is “the artist’s signature”.

But the philosophy teacher turns into a detective over the course of the evening and discovers the murderer. He points in the process to the borderline of a reality in which the words concerning autonomy, freedom and sublimity are no longer valid. He seems, however, to be contradicting himself as well as Nietzsche’s misunderstood thesis, which in any case has long evaporated in the evening small talk on a parenthetically glossed-over abyss.

VI      iras

IRAS, the “International Republic for Artists and Scientists”, is the utopian refuge for the elite from the world of art and science after the nuclear devastation of the earth in World War III. This gloomy science fiction vision dating from the time of the Cold War in the 1950s derives from Arno Schmidt’s novel “Die Gelehrtenrepublik” (1957) (English edition “The Egghead Republic”, 1979). While the conflict between East and West has, of course, in the meanwhile vanished into the thin air of a pragmatic global consumerism, The Egghead Republic remains where it always has been, holding on only to its memories – on an island swimming in the midst of a humanity lost in a frenzy of self-destruction.

     a)    iras/300

A reflection of such memory takes place for example on the occasion of the movie “300” (2006), by Zack Snyder, based on the comic series by Frank Miller. With its martial aesthetics and choreography that are taken up from the comics, a wild gap is bridged between Leni Riefenstahl and the excesses of the fantasy splatter genre from the 1970s, whereby attention is focused on one of modernism’s most difficult, densely ramified but nevertheless crucial byways: heroism in battle and self-sacrifice, both frowned upon in post-war Europe, hibernated in the esoteric format. The legendary Battle of Thermopylae, during which a small number (300?) of courageous Spartans held back the superior and overpowering forces of the invading Persian army, was one of the decisive turning points in the history of the world that would lead to the development of an occidental culture that now plays a determinative role all around the world.

The movie – which was filmed during the highpoint of the American Afghanistan campaign – depicts the Persians with some general similarities to the Taliban warriors, thus creating an analogy to a renewed defence of the West against the onslaught of barbarians from the East. The controversy triggered by this parable is all too familiar to the inhabitants of IRAS: it is impossible to know who the real enemy is when everybody has long been fighting everybody else in the face of an omnipotent threat from all sides.

     b)    iras/reflection

Memory can conceivably lead back to the beginnings of a modernism that simultaneously represents the far side of these beginnings, a leap over the nihilistic obstacle that forms the acid test of the age of autonomies. The viewer is thus transferred to the fantastic site of an occurrence, the constructedness of which forces image and word into the allegoric: there is a link to classical antiquity in Goethe’s “Faust II”, which was staged for the first time unabridged by Peter Stein at Expo 2000 in Hannover, that intends in retrospect to give the story the sense of a definitive universal parable. The cosmological boundary demarcations that transform the “classic Walpurgis Night” scene into an absolute celebration of poetry, while the following marriage between the Faust of “modernism” and the Helena of “antiquity” attempts a historical conciliation and rounding off that wishes to include the whole of the future within itself. The attempt to halt and annul history in antithetical concentration appears to stave off and anticipate modernism’s utopian trauma. The apocalyptic proximity to the best of all possible worlds now shows itself as the undertone of every expelled accomplishment of memory that escapes the constraints of everyday life.

     c)    iras/medea/p.p.p.

One of these streams of memory regularly led the film director Pier Paolo Pasolini back to Greek antiquity, the so-called “cradle of the Occident”. Although this reference had not been self-evident for a long time even in his day, he defied the then fashionable anti-eurocentrism here in order to find an answer to his own questions in tragedy’s notion of destiny. As a means of tracing the archaic compactness of an unconditional law of life, for which he yearned for himself and his society, he transferred the events to the simultaneously timeless and barren desert landscape of northern Africa. Whether in “Oedipus Rex” (1967), “Medea” (1969) or the cinematic sketch “Notes Towards an African Orestes” (1970), Pasolini tried wherever he could to even further exaggerate his anachronistic approach by contrasting Hollywood’s then recent mass entertainment movie with his own films that were produced with as little technical extravagance as possible. He intended the plot to be related as authentically and purely as possible, elementary and wordless, just from a simply concentrated image. The long-winded human sacrifice scene in the beginning of “Medea”, from which the famous photograph was taken, shows that Pasolini himself plays the “crucifixion victim” with outspread arms and sunglasses, stands in place of the whole here.

The long-lost inhabitants of IRAS themselves would have understood what was meant by Pasolini’s staged speechlessness, because they knew that fate can only take its course when it evades its own ability to commentate.

VII     marcel’s spoils/pierre’s yearnings
           comma before and, roberte
           actaeon, pierre, justine

Das Leben Pierre Klossowskis (1905–2001) reicht – genau The life of Pierre Klossowski (1905–2001) extended – exactly like that of his younger brother Balthus – almost across the entirety of the 20th century. Torn between his German and French roots, there was hardly an important contemporary with whom he was not in contact, from Rilke to Lacan. His philosophical writings, which focused on Friedrich Nietzsche as well as the Marquis de Sade, not only influenced the development of Surrealism but also served many poststructuralist thinkers as an important point of reference.

Klossowski first began assembling an oeuvre of drawings late in life. All of these sexually charged scenarios that conspicuously dominate these drawings under the banner of Nietzsche and de Sade speak the language of a hindered desire that ambivalently detaches itself from the object/subject of his desires through the attempt of a violent convergence. Where the self-hindering of desire makes up the motif of the impossibility of his attaining gratification, the depiction of a desperately halted act of violence becomes a metaphor for more wide-ranging text loops:

The first such text loop is entitled “Roberte”, the artist’s wife who herself appears as the model in the scenes of violent seduction, thus circumventing and perverting the conventional understanding of “desire” within the framework of marriage. The permitted is turned into the forbidden, in retrospect, because excitement between the sexes is impossible without prohibitions.

The second text loop is Marcel Duchamp’s absent “Bachelor Machine” receiving the “Nude Descending a Staircase”: against her will and as opposed to any notion of a regulated marital relationship, Roberte is carried down the stairs by her seducer. It is first the resistance of the desired partner that could deallocate the sanctioned, paralysing desire in the process. It is first the bachelor who can again seduce the former wife.

The third text loop concerns the myth of Actaeon and Diana: when Actaeon sees the naked Diana while hunting, she transforms him into a deer that is then subsequently torn apart by his own hunting dogs – possibly a rabies motif concealed in the myth. Klossowski counteracts the myth in de Sade’s footsteps by switching the sequence of the motifs: the hunter who is punished by being transformed into one of his own hounds becomes the desired beast that the supposedly helpless goddess approaches. That which costs him his life in his animal shape now mistakenly appears as his psychosomatic advantage in the act of seduction.

All texts by Michael Kunze