Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Long Overdue Statement and a Long Way Yet to Go

UPDATE: Daniel Boese, who interviewed the artists for Zitty, provides more details of the unveiling on artforum.com. Included is a quote by gay Berlin mayor, Klaus Wowereit, that summarizes why some of the politics about how late this is, who it's not memorializing, and who else should be recognized, are perhaps missing the larger point: “there can be no hierarchy of victims.” That cuts both ways. Each memorial should remind us of all the victims, whether directly or indirectly.
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The last known survivor of Nazi Germany's persecution of gays, Pierre Seel (who had been deported from France to the Schirmeck-Vorbrück camp, by the compliant Vichy Regime), died in November 2005. Pierre's ordeal is well-documented, though, because he wrote a memoir of his life (including how after 6 months of forced labor, he was inexplicably conscripted into the German army [one assumes because in a time of a manpower crisis the Nazis weren't as bothered by his sexual orientation]). Titled
Moi, Pierre Seel, déporté homosexuel, his account of the camp is as harrowing as any I've read of WWII:
There was no solidarity for the homosexual prisoners; they belonged to the lowest caste. Other prisoners, even when between themselves, used to target them.

[...] But I delay from relating what was the worst test for me, when, in fact, it happened in the first few weeks of my being imprisoned in the camp. It contributed more than anything to turning me into this silent and obedient shadow among others. One day, the loudspeakers ordered us to report immediately to the Appellplatz. Shouts and barks meant that we all quickly got there. Surrounded by SS men, we had to form a square and stand at attention, as we did for morning roll call. The commandant was in attendance with his entire general staff. I assumed he was going to bludgeon us once again with his blind faith in the Reich, together with a list of instructions, insults and threats -- emulating the famous outpourings of his master, Adolf Hitler. But the actual ordeal was far worse: an execution. Two SS men brought a young man to the centre of the square we were forming. Horrified, I recognized Jo, my sweet 18 year old friend. I hadn't previously spotted him in the camp. Had he arrived before or after me? We hadn't seen each other during the days before I was summoned by the Gestapo. I froze in terror. I had prayed that he would escape their roundups, their lists, their humiliations. And here he was, before my powerless eyes, which filled with tears. Unlike me, he had not carried dangerous letters, torn down posters or signed any statements. And yet he had been taken, and he was going to die. The lists were complete indeed. What had happened? What had the monsters accused him of? Because of my pain, I have completely forgotten the content of the death sentence. Then the loudspeakers broadcast some noisy classical music while the SS stripped him naked. Then they violently shoved a tin pail over his head. They set ferocious German shepherds on him: the guard dogs first bit into his groin and thighs, then devoured him right in front of us. His shrieks of pain were distorted and amplified by the pail in which his head remained trapped. My rigid body reeled, my eyes gaped at so much horror, tears poured down my cheeks, I fervently prayed that he would black out quickly. Since then, I still often wake up howling in the middle of the night. For more than fifty years now, that scene has ceaselessly replayed in my mind's eyes. I will never forget the barbaric murder of my love -- before my eyes, before our eyes, for there were hundreds of witnesses..."
It's with a combination of gratitude and renewed anger that I received the news that Germany has unveiled, finally, a monument in memory of the thousands of gays who were tortured and murdered by the Nazis. Gratitude, obviously, for the gesture. Anger, though, because even though the New York Times reports its unveiling matter of factly:
A monument featuring two men kissing was unveiled by Germany in Berlin on Tuesday in memory of thousands of homosexuals who were persecuted, tortured and killed by the Nazis, Agence France-Presse reported. Designed by the Danish-born Michael Elmgreen and the Norwegian-born Ingar Draset, both based in Berlin, the memorial, situated in the Tiergarten park, near the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust memorial, consists of a gray concrete slab about 13 feet high. Inside, at eye level, is a gap filled by a television screen that shows the kissing men [seen above].
The German magazine Der Spiegel notes that even still this monument is controversial:
Even the opening of the monument attracted controversy. Dragset and Elmgreen told Zitty that [Bernd] Neumann, the federal commissioner for culture, refused to allow an image from the video of the two men kissing to be put on the official invitation to the monument's opening. "(The decision) not to print the kiss shows that we still have a problem," Dragset said. "As long as people feel repulsed when they see homosexuals kissing, then something is missing," added Elmgreen, who called the kiss "the basis of the monument."
There are times in life when you simply suck it up and put any uneasiness you have about others' cultural norms on hold and, despite yourself, celebrate diversity as openly as you possibly can. That the federal commissioner for culture, in the context of a monument to gay victims, would refuse to let an image of two men kissing be used for the invitiation...knowing full well that it was bias like his that led to the reason the monument exists...we more than still have a problem: we've made essentially only superficial progress.

Let me rephrase that as bluntly as I can...his uneasiness is exactly what facilitated the rounding up, torture, and murder of thousands of gays. His refusal to accept that gay men kiss, that to us it's the most natural expression of affection, is precisely the kernel of ignorance and intolerance that led so many to their deaths. By objecting to this image, he has convinced me that he would not likely have stood up for the gays being sent to the camps were he to go back in time. And in that way he is as dangerous as the Nazis were.

Does that mean I don't recognize his honest queasiness? Not at all. I do. I wouldn't expect him to volunteer to watch gay romance movies or not object were two men to make out in his living room. I think he should work on getting over that as well, but, I get that if you're not attracted to other men that sexual interactions among men isn't necessarily something you're comfortable with. What I don't get is that he can't simply temporarily deal with that discomfort in order to recognize the atrocity represented by the monument.

I will confess to feeling somewhat ungracious for criticizing Neumann like this. He is opening the monument (and while I think I'm right, it's not exactly generous of me to suggest he would have stood by while gays were sent off to camps). Still, when he's willing to announce that the monument is "also first and foremost an expression of our conviction that in our country there is no place for the discrimination of homosexuals, of people who think and live differently" but still not let the invitation show two men kissing, we clearly have a very long way to go on this issue.

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23 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, I had never heard of Pierre Seel before and his story is important.

When Italy is leaning fascist again and Roma camps are being burned by the townspeople of Naples (and a fascist has just been elected mayor of Rome) we must speak out as we've seen where this leads. Will we ever learn?

5/28/2008 10:20:00 AM  
OpenID ericgelber said...

The cartoon versions of homosexuals and not-Caucasians that appear in the media create the illusion of enlightenment and integration. A majority of the world’s population remains homophobic and racist. In some sense these human traits are more insidious than ever because we can't talk about them openly and rationally. Just look at real estate demographics if you need to prove to yourself that segregation is still alive and well. Bring up homosexuality in most high schools across the country and see how the male students react, if you want to get an idea about how rampant homophobia still is. We have a problem admitting we are homophobic and racist. Many of our fears and hatreds are deeply engrained in our psyches. There is no doubt in my mind that if there was a major reshuffling of our societal order anti-Semitism, racism, and homophobia, would blossom like flowers of evil. What remains unsaid and unexpressed would transform into ugly reality and engulf even those who consider themselves progressive.

5/28/2008 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What remains unsaid and unexpressed would transform into ugly reality and engulf even those who consider themselves progressive.

I totally agree. I think we saw proof of that during the darkest days of the Bush administration when his power seemed unlimited and the calls to enshrined second-class citizen status of gays into the Constitution were at their highest. A state legislator in Alabama felt so empowered to wear his homophobia on his sleeve he actually introduced legislation to ban all books by gay authors or with gay characters from the bookshelves of state schools.

Such sentiments have receded in the past two years, and the relative calm with which news of gay marriage in California nearing reality was met is encouraging, but the seemingly innate fear/hatred/resentment of the "other" among humans needs only the slightest of excuses to rear its destructive, murderous head it seems.

5/28/2008 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

When do you think they’ll be unveiling their monuments in Iran, Cuba or Myanmar?

Undoubtedly this is, and always was, Bush’s fault.

5/28/2008 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

I remember the old New York, the art world was full of gentlemen in ascots, beautiful men with art collections who lived as partners but never appeared together in the evenings. They had to move around in the art world, and among the hetero-elite could not appear together socially. At the same time a fag hag could be surrounded by priests and gay men at her poolside, all there because of her. Then The Attic arrived to Easthampton and changed everything - ironing his jeans before a night of dancing, a houseguest turned to me and said, "you do know I'm gay, don't you?" I did know, but that he said it freed me from growing up in the duplicity of it all. The quieter men in ascots began to die, important men who had built institutions and cared so well for an art world that could not acknowledge their love. There is a lot of unwritten history there.

5/28/2008 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Undoubtedly this is, and always was, Bush’s fault.

Huh?...is that sarcasm? Toward what message?

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Lovely comment Catherine...thank you!

5/28/2008 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Aside from the German squeamishness with public displays of affection, homophobia and prejudice in genera, I;d like to point out that memorializing horrific events like being torn apart by dogs is a bit of a sticky wicket.

Eric Fischl's memorial for 9-11 was deservedly lambasted by those who failed to grasp its conceptual subtleties.

If Fischl had created an abstracted building, he would have been more ironic, and I daresay everyone would have liked it.

But being well liked is a little death, and in the crucible of time, even the most scarlet letters will fade.

The Colonel Klinks of this world are forever young, and spring eternal.

On another note, I'm going to be shooting an episode of The Office on the 83rd floor of an office building that gets hit by a Macy's blimp.

Too soon? Too eighties?

5/28/2008 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

"Bush Derangement Syndrome", he says as he adjusts his ascot (actually a bolo tie).

5/28/2008 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@zipthwung

"Aside from the German squeamishness with public displays of affection"
Huh? What are you talking about...

5/28/2008 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

please clarify time is of the sessence.


DO you mean what are you talking about as in Germans kiss in public a lot, it's no big deal, going back even to the German Naturists in Weimar Era Germany. Or the Vikings, who I wont go into, but who had slaves - and other countries are really uptight when it comes to PDA's? is that what you meant?

Because otherwise I think the onus or whatever of the whatever is up to you. Are Germans uptight? In my experience many Germanic looking people look and act uptight.

Personally I don't like looking at statues (of kissing or even copulating couples) period. Too sentimental.

5/28/2008 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

You'll notice that in times of war, most of the people doing the ugly things are young men in their 20's.

People are horrified, but never consider this aspect: horrors get spread by the youth. Terrorists of today are the youth.


Fact is, human keeps breeding young folks who are less and less educated in times of crisis, and these crisis burst into violent conflicts. At the moment in USA, education is getting poorer and you are getting more kids on the streets every year. This can lead to the type of situations you had in Germany.

Basically, the hard earned mind-opening gained during one or two generations can be lost in a zap, because the wheel constantly turns, and the youth takes the power leftover by the precedent generation.

Is Generation Y really pro-gay?
For every Kanye West they are dozens of (pick-your-favorite-homophobic rapper).


I find that in general, one of the most favorite activity of the human conscious is condescencion. It's used at every sauces. It's the same process wrether we're speaking of the barrier of who gets invited or not at an after party in the art world, or of an heterosexual who believes being gay automatically equals being an underdog.

This is the type of attitudes that I see happening every day, and why I keep my social profile very low. There's a point where I just give up. Man will be man. The topics of gays or snots are redundant. The problem is underneath: we're still holding unto that foots that is stuck in the animal regnum. Everybody is ought to fight for his pride and territory. Hetero is just another lousy territory (as is religion).


Expect the german statue to be saccaged by stupid youth within
10 years. People are already saccaging hetero sculptures (any representation of sex is always a little silly). But cunts will be cunts and pricks will be pricks. When you make peace with yourself, you feel glad to be outside these innermind struggles, and you stop
seeking approval in other people.
If somebody hates gays ? Well, let them hate gays. You don't need that. The less they are hypocrite about it the more they are doing you a service. That german postcard don't satisfy you? Then don't visit the spot. Let it rot.

Always keep it to things where you find absolute satisfaction.


Cedric C

5/28/2008 05:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Zipthwung, something attracts me in what you say. You hate sculpture when it is sentimental.

This is a very popular response in contemp arts, but, in your words, can you explain me why?

Cheers,

Cedric

5/28/2008 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Yes. As a pejorative. But why do it myself when wikipedia does it so much better:

"Sentimentality is both a literary device used to induce a tender emotional response disproportionate to the situation, and thus to substitute heightened and generally uncritical feeling for normal ethical and intellectual judgments, and a heightened reader response willing to invest previously prepared emotions to respond disproportionately to a literary situation.[1] "Sentimental" is a pejorative term that has been casually applied to works of art and literature that exceed the viewer or reader's sense of decorum—the extent of permissible emotion— and standards of taste: "excessiveness" is the criterion.[2] "Meretricious" and "contrived" sham pathos are the hallmark of sentimentality, where the morality that underlies the work is both intrusive and pat."

5/28/2008 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I'm just mildly horrified that a major monument contains a TV screen. It's expected to be a memorial for, what, a decade? Maybe less? Why not put up a sculpture made of salt?

5/28/2008 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"Ilsa the She Wolf of the S.S."

should be in the play list.

To contextualize it.

5/28/2008 05:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I don't think sentimentality applies to me. My sense were naturally augmented since I was born (I was born with Asperger syndrome), so my emotional receptacle is very large (life
is an excess of decorum every day). To me these theoretical texts read almost like censorship, as if some topics are now regarded as taboo in contemporary arts, when actually a great portion of art since centuries was thoroughly sentimental (or made heavy use of sentimental imagery to explore form, as did the Classics).

Why is the image of 2 people kissing tagged as excessive by the artworld? Human beings are overtly emotional beings but this part has been condemned by a large parge of the intelligentsia during the 20th century (compare hollywood with the artworld), and I find that a gray rectangle concrete statue hidding the image of a kiss speaks a lot more about that than a specific political context.

Everything about art today has to be unsentimental. It's a dogma that confuses me, because I thought a good portion of art had to do with the emotional, yet more and more people abide to the theory that "it's never art unless it makes you "think"". Hmm...


By the way, the guy in the white short on the photograph almost look like a girl. Any passing tourist could mistake him for a girl with short hair (maybe turkish). I wonder if they should have opted for two strong army officers kissing. Hmm..fetichism..

Cedric

5/28/2008 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Speaking of that particular uneasiness:

Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men and a group of nonhomophobic men; they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia. The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. ... Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli.

That's about all you need to know about those harboring the uneasiness.

5/28/2008 06:56:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I'd like to see the study where people look at animals having sex.

But what will it prove?

Nothing honey.

5/28/2008 08:40:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

Re: Cedric "Fact is, human keeps breeding young folks who are less and less educated".

Gays are the solution. Dare I say..the overpopulated hetero world's 'final solution'...

5/28/2008 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Sean, hate to disappoint, but, we're at the point in science when we are nearly to merge two sperm cells and develop an embryo from that.


Actually, it seems it will be easier for men than women (again, it's always unfair), but they might need a woman still to feed
and give birth to the baby unless they find a way to do that under glass or inside the belly of a man (that is also under study).

The interesting point is how that demonstrates that sex came a long way after when cells were simply merging into nature. Life was sort of gay from the start.


Cedric

(..or more like lesbian, since we all know that humans are women before some of us grow a penis, as Matthew Barney exemplified)

5/29/2008 04:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fear tends to govern our behavior far more effectively than any other single emotion.
ml

5/29/2008 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

I think this monument is about homophobia, and still cast homosexuality as abnormal, it's basically two men in a closet, a large concrete closet that bears a menacing reference as a vault, locked away and something to be whispered in polite company, at least that's how it reads to me.

It's fateful that later in the day Ed posted this Governor Paterson issued a directive that state agencies start recognizing gay marriages legally performed in other states and countries after the NY supreme court ruled there is no law to prevent recognition of same sex couples married in other states

The appellate judges determined that there is no legal impediment in New York to the recognition of a same-sex marriage. The state Legislature “may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad,” the ruling said. “Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York.”

I wouldn't expect him to volunteer to watch gay romance movies

I'm sure he's already seen "Top Gun"..:)

5/29/2008 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Maybe it's just that concrete rectangle slabs are in vogue.

The 911 monument by Kapoor (an artist I usually adore) will also be a concrete slab.

I thought Tony Smith had overcooked this.

My fave slab artist would be John McCracken. They should have invited him to make a wild pink plastic rectangle and that would have had some effect.


Cedric Caspesyan

(PS: pink is an horrible cliché, I know, but I was thinking in context of the pink triangle)

5/29/2008 04:23:00 PM  

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