Video (English) 34 mins 2003 Beta SP, PAL 4:3
Documentation of a performance with Rolf Steiner
Hochbunker Cologne-Ehrenfeld (D) 9.11.2002
Trailer 6 Minutes
Price DVD: 50 Euros
Jacob’s Ladder – a collection of works:
- Roman Svastika
- Tantric Snakes and Ladders
- Jacob’s Ladder – a Cybersexual Parable
- Franco and Elke J.
- Fashion Victim
- Barbie and Klaus
- Jacob’s Ladder
- Swastikas and Stars
- Blind Spot
- Red Hot Pokers
- Transcending the Ladder
- Jack the Ladder
Red Hot Pokers is an imagined interaction between the dictator Adolf Hitler and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Tanya Ury and Rolf Steiner read arbitrarily chosen extracts from “Mein Kampf“ 1924 in English, and “Remarks on Colour“ 1950, written in England.
During the Third Reich every German family was provided with a copy of “Mein Kampf” by the state; it is now illegal in Germany to sell, own or read out in public from this book. For this performance Tanya Ury obtained her German copy, printed in Croatia from Slovenia.1
The contrast between the two texts, the former, powerful political propaganda, the latter, a flowery philosophy of language, is vast — it becomes so apparent that language games have no power against tyranny; the resulting performance, whether played in the English or German language (in German with Kristof Szabo, 16.12.2007, Kunstbunker Tumulka, Munich), is nevertheless delightfully absurd, although the abstraction of “Mein Kampf“ quoted in English is most compelling.
Hitler and Wittgenstein both attended the same school as 14 year-olds in Austrian Linz. They were also born within 6 days of each other, the former 20.4.1889 the latter 26.4.1889.
In Ury’s performance Adolf Hitler substitutes Karl Popper, contender for the philosopher’s crown, in a notorious poker game of words with Wittgenstein that took place during a Moral Science Club Seminar 1946, in Cambridge, England. It was the only time that the two emigrant Austrian Jews were to meet.
Wittgenstein seeking to illustrate a point seized the poker, hot from the fire and appeared to threaten Popper with it. While wishing to demonstrate their supremacy in the field of philosophy, Wittgenstein and Popper will nonetheless have reminded each other, of philosophy’s failure in the face of Hitler’s brute power. Was this the true cause of their conflict?
1 On returning from a journey to the USA in 2008, I was surprised to discover amongst other bestsellers, a number of copies of the English version of “Mein Kampf” for sale on the shelf in the New York bookshop: Borders Airport Stores. T.U.
“Our speculation (…), is that this ‘one Jewish boy’ Hitler refers to, the very first link in the chain of hatred that led to Auschwitz, was none other than Ludwig Wittgenstein. I am suggesting then, that Ludwig Wittgenstein is referred to in Mein Kampf.
How likely is it that Hitler’s unknown Jew was really Wittgenstein? McGuinnes notes that there was only a ‘handful’ of Jews at the school. This is supported by Hitler’s own observation that ‘There were few Jews in Linz.’1 Had we known there was only one student of Jewish descent at the school, the case would be settled and there could be no doubt at all that Hitler’s Jew was Wittgenstein.” The Jew of Linz: Wittgenstein, Hitler and their Secret Battle for the Mind, Kimberley Cornish 1998, publ. Arrow Books Limited
“Not until my fourteenth or fifteenth year did I begin to come across the word ‘Jew’, with any frequency, partly in connection with political discussions. This filled me with a mild distaste, and I could not rid myself of an unpleasant feeling that always came over me whenever religious quarrels occurred in my presence.
At that time I did not think anything else of the question.
There were few Jews in Linz. In the course of the centuries their outward appearance had become Europeanized and had taken on a human look; in fact, I even took them for Germans. The absurdity of this idea did not dawn on me because I saw no distinguishing feature but the strange religion. The fact that they had, as I believed, been persecuted on this account sometimes almost turned my distaste at unfavourable remarks about them into horror.
Thus far I did not so much as suspect the existence of an organized opposition to the Jews.
Then I came to Vienna.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf first published in German in 1925, Mariner Books edition, US 1999, p 51 – 52
1 p 12 Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Ray Monk, publ. Jonathan Cape 1990
The documented performance took place at the finissage of Tanya Ury’s exhibition Jacobs Ladder in the Hochbunker Cologne-Ehrenfeld, Germany on 09.11.2002, the anniversary of Reichskristallnacht. The bunker was built on the site of a synagogue, which had been destroyed on Reichskristallnacht, 1938.
The Poker Game 2003, a further performance by Tanya Ury, in which Ury takes on the roles of both Hitler and Wittgenstein, develops the theme of Red Hot Pokers.
Wittgenstein, who had been awarded a medal for bravery in the First World War, was forced to buy his family out by the Second; they were considered Jewish and discriminated by the Nuremberg Laws.
The philosophers Wittgenstein and Popper’s views were diverging; where Wittgenstein aspired to decipher puzzles, Popper aimed to solve problems. This was for him more than the mere untangling of linguistic equations; Popper believed that philosophy should be practical, that a philosopher’s moral duty was to assist in the realisation of democratic rule. He felt that Wittgenstein’s theory of language was dangerous in its abstraction and disinterest of political actualities. The war was only just over; England was still living under rationing. It was cold and the only source of heat in H3, the room where the dispute took place, was from a small open fireplace. A fierce vocal exchange, which quickly developed into a serious duelling of words, occurred within moments of the debate opening. Wittgenstein seeking to illustrate a point seized the poker, hot from the fire and appeared to threaten Popper with it. While wishing to demonstrate their supremacy in the field of philosophy, Wittgenstein and Popper will nonetheless have reminded each other, of philosophy’s failure in the face of Hitler’s brute power. Was this the true cause of their conflict?
“In Jewish terms, he (Wittgenstein) could be seen as a traditional wilderness-wandering tsaddik, a holy man.” (P.18: Wittgenstein’s Poker, Edmonds and Eidinow, 2001 Faber and Faber UK). Wittgenstein, who was probably a latent homosexual, embodied everything anathema to the principle in Hitler’s National Socialist civilization.
Speech to the conclusion of the exhibition “Diasporas and Troubles”, 16th December 2007, for the performance Red Hot Pokers by Tanya Ury with Kristof Szabo
The performance Red Hot Pokers was first presented at Tanya Ury’s exhibition „Jacob’s Ladder“ in the Hochbunker Cologne-Ehrenfeld, Germany, 2002.
The starting point for this performance was a duel of words that took place between the philosophers Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, both Jews of Austrian origin. During this argument in Cambridge, 1946, Wittgenstein snatched up a poker to illustrate his point. Popper felt himself threatened.
Tanya Ury alienates the conversation that really occurred by employing biographical references to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Adolf Hitler. Both were born 1889, within the same six days, in Austrian Linz. They attended the same school — were possibly even in the same class. Tanya Ury draws on the idea of “the unholy twins” – she alienates the philosophers’ debate by creating an interaction using quotations from Adolf Hitlers “Mein Kampf“ that is still banned in Germany, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Remarks on Colour”.
With the arbitrary choice of text passages that in no way relate to each other, a surreal testimony comes about: brutal political dominance is faced with the abstract philosophy of language.
Anette Frankenberger, curator, Kunstbunker Tumulka, Munich
Concept: Tanya Ury
Actors: Tanya Ury, Rolf Steiner
Camera: David Janecek
AVID Edit: Zuhal Er, Karin Sistig, Aron Roos
2002 (9.11.) Red Hot Pokers performance in English with Rolf Steiner Jacob’s Ladder Hochbunker Cologne-Ehrenfeld (D)
2003 (8.12.) Red Hot Pokers performance in English with Marina Grzinic, Vienna Kunstakademie (A)
at the Kunsthaus, 6th Graz Biennial on Media and Architecture (A)
2003 (9.12.) Red Hot Pokers (trailer of video documentation) & invitation as guest speaker, Kunsthaus, 6th Graz Biennial for Media and Architecture (A)
2006 (27.2) Peer Critique, trailer, Ben Uri Gallery, The London Jewish Museum (GB)
2006 (5.4.) Professional Practice Seminar with trailer, Fine Art Department, Sheffield Hallam University (GB)
2006 (6.4) Trailer presented in Seminar within Cathy Gelbin’s PhD. Conference course: Gender and Visual Arts, Holocaust Studies, Royal Holloway, London (D)
2006 (10.5) Körperbilder (Body Images), seminar with video trailer, Kunstverein Dortmund (D)
2007 (23.3.) On the online Feminist Art Base: video trailer, The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, The Brooklyn Museum, New York (USA)
2007 (6.11−16.12) Opening 5th November, ending 16th December, group exhibition Diaspora and Troubles curated by Tanya Ury. Performance Red Hot Pokers in German (Tanya Ury and Kristof Szabo) 3 pm, 16th December, Kunstbunker Tumulka, Munich (D)