The XX of the title refers to the double exposure of a film recording my exhibition of 3 photo series in all Hotel Seehof Zurich rooms April 2001 and Termini Technici in the Trinitatis Church Cologne, August 2001, in which Gerhard Richter first presented “Bridge 14 FEB 45”. “XX” not only discloses the absurdity of two exhibitions jumbled together however, more is revealed with the layering of image: Christian sacred and profane spaces of church and hotel bedroom are united here.
In 2001 I presented 3 photo series in the Hotel Seehof, Zurich. Photographs were displayed for 6 months in all hotel rooms, the passageways, in the stairwells, the dining and breakfast rooms; all in all 91 pictures were to be seen from the series Ô d’Oriane 1997 – 2000 (13 photos), Sonata in Sea 1999 – 2000 (17 photos) and Hermes Insensed 2000 – 2001 (61 photos). Collectively shown as an exhibition entitled “Insensed” the subject matter encompassed accounts of encounters from my life, sometimes referencing the Jacob/Angel biblical legend, sometimes with literary associations, overtly or less obviously connected with Shoah. All works engaged with human portraiture, image and text (my own or quoted texts), in digitally handwritten or in printed form. I documented the exhibition with photographs before the opening on April 10th.
A couple of months later I participated in an exposition, Termini Technici, at the Trinitatis Kirche (a deconsecrated church) that operates as an exhibition space in Cologne, Germany, for which I made two neon pieces: wrestlewithyourangel & neonazi 2001; it was the first time I had presented art work in a church environment and the frame of reference was the biblical story of Jacob and the angel, contextualised in contemporary Germany with the rise in neo-Nazism.
This group exhibition was to include a new work by Gerhard Richter: “Bridge 14 FEB 45”, 2000/2001, originally a duotone offset lithograph, to be first presented in the church as a large plastic hanging, an altarpiece. Richter’s image was of a photo that Heinrich Miess, a lithographer who has worked for Richter for many years presented to him — Miess had found the original document in the drawer of an abandoned piece of furniture when he moved to new premises with his lithography and print firm in Cologne. Under Richter’s instruction Miess then digitally reworked and refined the image on computer for the edition. The photograph was an aerial view taken by an American pilot just after World War II of bombed Cologne at the Bonner Strasse motorway crossing.
Termini Technici was to present many other artists also, and a catalogue ensued.
Richter who developed a photo-realist style in the 1960’s had already dealt with German history in several of his art works, examples being the portrait of his uncle in Nazi uniform “Onkel Rudi” (1965) and the “October series” 18. Oktober 1977 from 1988, of press cuttings with photos of the Baader Meinhof terrorists, all the aforementioned being represented in paint.
In these and many other art works Richter employed the method of “unpainting” in which he slightly blurred the photo-realist painted image of the photograph, his aim being to show how the fact of documented historical events can be fictionalised, when the full story, full history, has not been grasped – these images were created at a time when Germany was still in the process of reassessing the periods of the Third Reich era and post war RAF (Red Army Faction) terrorism.
On the Saturday before the exhibition opening on the 28th August 2001, Heinrich Miess, also a friend of mine, phoned with a tip: “Gerhard Richter is a shy man,” he maintained, “he won’t come to the opening but he will be there to look at the show on Sunday circa 1 pm.”
On Sunday morning I went to the church equipped with my camera and documented, first Eric Witschke, former pastor and curator of the exhibition hanging Richter’s picture (with assistance from Stefan & Heinrich); then Stefan Höller, a former student of Richter’s from the Düsseldorf Academy with his easel placed in front of the altar, painting an oil of Richter’s photographic work; and then Heinrich standing outside the church with both of my neon pieces in picture and finally Richter’s visit, when all the art works were already up. Apart from myself these were the only people present and photographically represented in the exclusive preview that day.
When I developed the photos of Richter and the Termini Technici exhibition I realised to my dismay that I had doubly exposed the film recording my Zurich and the Cologne exhibitions. A most curious but gratifying hybrid ensued, however. The double exposure (“XX” of the title) on a superficial level disclosed the absurdity of two exhibitions jumbled together; but I think that much more is revealed with this layering of image — a Christian sacred and a profane space — church and hotel bedroom are brought together here.
The most intriguing images are of Stefan Höller, Richter’s eager former student seen in a classically modernist pose with easel, captured in the serious process of copying in paint not the master’s painting, paradoxically, but a digital photographic representation of a historical image as heavily loaded as the bombs that created the numerous craters so visible in the photograph. The tautology becomes more complex with the double exposure that places a hotel double bed in front of the altar suggesting a limitless combination of innuendo and double entendre. References are further layered in my photo of Höller, himself photographing Richter and the small group in the church. And the images of ladders being repeated in hotel and church, also suggested by rows of pictures hung together in ladder shape, further bring to mind the Jacob’s Ladder theme implied with my neon art works in the Trinitatis Church.
On 14th September 2007 Cardinal Joachim Meisner (Archbishop of Cologne) made a contentious and widely criticised statement during a sermon in the Kölner Dom (the Cologne Cathedral); he described culture that has been separated from religion as being “Entartet” (degenerate), a term coined by the Nazis to depict Modernist art. Meisner was referring to Gerhard Richter’s abstract stain glass window design that had been installed on September 3rd in the Cologne Cathedral; the Cardinal would have preferred depictions of biblical motifs and felt the non-representational ornamentation would be better placed in a mosque. Some of the press noted that Richter had till then never concerned himself with church art.1 In fact Gerhard Richter made a gift of “Bridge 14 FEB 45” to the Emmanuel Church in Cologne-Rondorf. This copy, a 277 x 210 cm digital print on synthetic fabric under antelio glass was produced in 2002. It has been hanging in the foyer of the community centre of the Protestant Church Community since December 1st 2002.
Richter, who comes from a Protestant background, commented on his religious sentiments already in 1988:
“Art is the absolute realisation of religiosity, the ability to believe, a longing for ‘God’. All other realisations of this most considerable human characteristic are an abuse, in so far that these characteristics exploit, they serve an ideology. Even art becomes ‘Applied Art’ when it abandons a specific purpose, when it tries to give a message; because only in absolutely refusing to make any statement does it stay human. If we however satisfy our need to believe in an ideology, we can only wreak havoc.”2
In the Gemeindebrief (Community Letter) 24⁄73, 1. Advent 2002 – April 2003, from which these (2) quotations come, and in which Heinrich Miess writes about the development of “Bridge 14 FEB 45”, there is also a depiction of Richter’s object “Kreuz” (Cross) (1996, gold, 19.5 x 1.5 com). Richter says of this artwork and his relationship to God:
“It is out of necessity that we build up illusions that make our survival possible and there are various forms of faith and various traditions that make us able to stand this being here by deluding ourselves. Anything goes here, from the shabbiest sort of superstition to the most complicated construction of belief. (…) The golden cross is not about anything specific, it is also meant to be somewhat polemical. On the one hand it is of course a bow with respect to our two thousand year history of Christian culture. This is my home, my roots are here, the tradition that I value highly and is much more complex than any critics can imagine.
At the time it coincidentally came about at the same time as the prohibition of the cross; that urged me to protest and I was glad that I had made it.”
Zufällig kam dann auch dieses Zusammentreffen mit dem Kreuzverbot in der Schule, das reizte mich zum Widerspruch und ich fand es daher gut, dass ich es gemacht hatte.“3
Given the Catholic Church’s controversy regarding (Richter’s) contemporary art I felt it would be interesting to consider a double take on my XX series that in fact discloses another of Richter’s church art pieces, in a Protestant context (if only temporarily) and re-photographed unorthodoxly by a Jewess.
Though far from abstract in design (re Meisner’s comment), Richter’s quite documentary and representational “Bridge 14 FEB 45” shown in the semi-religious framework of the Trinitatis Church, did not depict a religious scene, unless one were to read the bombed Cologne image as being apocalyptic.
1 „Bislang hatte Gerhard Richter nichts mit Kirchenkunst zu tun.“ (Up till now Gerhard Richter has had nothing to do with church art) 28th July 2006 www.spiegel.de
2 Gerhard Richter „Notizen“ 1988: 3.1.99, in H.-U Obrist, G. Richter Text 1993, S. (160−164) 160f. (English translation T.U.)
3 „Glauben“ (Faith), Conversation with Gerhard Richter, Babette Richter, in: dies. (This), Der Andere (The Other) 2002, p. 39 – 58), S. 55, 57, 58. (English translation T.U.)
2008 (24. – 26.4) 15 photos (13 x 18 cm) from the series XX, group exhibition, Kommen Sie Nach Hause 9 (Come Home 9), Kunst und Design Gereonswall 27a, Cologne (D) www.kommensienachhause.de