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Extract from ‘Anselm Kiefer’s Occupations: Through a Glass Darkly’

Extract from ‘Anselm Kiefer’s Occupations: Through a Glass Darkly’
This is an extract taken from the article printed in Studies in Photography Summer 2022 published on 19/08/2022
Denazification through Performance and the Law
By Christian Weikop
Messianism is one feature of despotism, and in another of the Karlsruhe studio
photographs, Kiefer, clad in the heavy military overcoat he found in his father’s attic, appears to be standing casually in riding boots on the surface of glassy still water that fills a bathtub (fig.6). On closer inspection it is possible to see that he is actually standing on a submerged stool that has been placed in the centre of the bath. In his Heroic Symbols books and the Interfunktionen (Occupations) photo-essay, some of these studio photographs are captioned Gehen auf Wasser. Versuch in der Badewanne (‘Walking on Water. Attempt in the
Bathtub’), which, aside from the biblical reference to Christ’s miraculous act across the Sea of Galilee, refers to a joke in popular currency during the National Socialist era that Hitler walked on water because he could not swim (fig.7). In these ‘bathtub’ photographs, the scene is made particularly absurd – mundane rather than miraculous – by the kitchen utensils on a two-ring hob, the motorcycle helmet by the window, and the chaotic sprawl of bottles, jars, and pots of paint, the general artistic detritus of his live-work space.

Kiefer’s Occupations photographs suggest the isolation of the perpetrator, but they also suggest the malleability and complicity of the masses. War crimes extend far beyond one individual, even if that individual is the ‘grand architect’. Kiefer donned a variety of ‘costumes’ when staging the Nazi salute for photographs that he used in his early unique books. While his costumes - the crocheted outfit, a white shift dress, a cheap suit, some outlandish nineteenth-century pantaloons, collectively subvert or even ‘queer’ the stiff shirt identity of the uniformed Nazi, they could also imply the pervasiveness of fascist tendencies in the wider population and the willingness of the public to ‘follow the leader’. Seen collectively, Kiefer’s photographs suggest that fascism comes in many different guises, that it can morph over time, and is not set in any one form of representation. In another of the Occupations photographs, Kiefer delivers the Nazi salute in the Mars-like terrain of Mount Vesuvius (fig.8). It is an idiosyncratic image as Kiefer wears a suit, sandals, and Easy Rider-style sunglasses whilst standing in the volcanic crater, which could also stand for a bomb crater, or worse, a mass grave.
Kiefer’s choice of contemporary attire here might be a comment on the persistence of Nazism in post-war civilian society.

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