Alice Creischer’s third exhibition at KOW is a snapshot of contemporary German politics, as well as an illustration of political and creative continuity. In the gallery’s downstairs showroom, the works make for a choppy survey of social developments of the past thirty years and more, developments that have been subjected to so much critical analysis that it’s almost impossible today to keep talking about them, to think of new ways to talk about them again and yet again. Meanwhile, seemingly unstoppable shifts of the social climate time and again, and yet again, leave critical thinking at a loss for words. All these things can’t be happening. And yet they are. And they’re plain for all to see.
Creischer’s exhibition conveys her bemusement and bafflement over her own German history and presumably also over the habit of constantly mulling it over. In a war against France, the Germans finally found a crown to bow to. They founded their empire in 1871 as the occupying power sitting in Versailles. Among the young nation’s first heroic deeds was aiding the French reaction in crushing the Paris Commune, one of the most progressive political movements of its century. It was finally defeated by mass executions carried out with Prussian assistance. Then came the German colonial adventures with their genocides and deportations. A pattern was set.
And today? Today, German children drop dead one after another at Tropical Islands, an indoor holiday resort. Over and over. And over again. As though they kept being executed before the exotic décors of a fake paradise of prosperity. Palm trees tower beneath a fake sky where Cargolifter, a widely hyped business venture that was supposed to be a flagship of the East German economic recovery, ran aground. The plan was to build airships that would ferry German products to remote markets. Honi soit qui mal y pense: surely the public subsidies were not an instance of colonialist economic stimulus? In any case, the children keep dropping dead. Silently and without so much as a word or gesture. They wear the clothes of the Paris Communards who took bullets to the chest, stomach, and legs for the idea of equality. Might all these things somehow be connected? In this peculiar German history?
But time heals all wounds. And when time doesn’t, doctors will. They help the poor children, just as they helped the soldiers who were so traumatized when they came home from the bomb carpets of World War I that they kept shaking uncontrollably. Yet German doctors got them under control. Masters of the art of healing, they put the soldiers back on their feet and lined them up, ready for the next world war. And although we now live in peace, we need our doctors. To marshal the armies of the precariously self-employed, for instance. Teetering on the edge of burnout, always fearing the next rent increase, they keep their entrepreneurial lives going as long as the doctor has something for them and the shots are effective. It’s a model that has worked pretty well for us in this country.
When you think about it, we have every reason to be proud. A German passport opens doors. That’s why it isn’t cheap. It’s paid for with the lives of those who would like to have one too. This has been the way the world works since the days of Hegel, that German mastermind: Bourgeois society leaves some rich and others poor. And of course the poor, the riffraff, get pissed at the rich, which makes them the enemies of society. They are evil. The state, the police, and war are needed to hedge in evil, to secure peace and prosperity. Did Hegel know where this would lead? Because today, as bourgeois society is going global, evil, too, keeps spreading, flowing over our borders to return to its source. To us. That’s why we need to check passports, close borders, provide security.
And when it comes to security, Germany is a global leader. Providing security, that’s one of the roles Germany plays in the world. President Joachim Gauck said so, in 2014, on occasion of the Munich Security Conference. Representatives of the arms industry and the major business and strategy consulting firms took it to heart and their order books: Germany’s military alliances are based on values. They secure peace, human rights, and everyone’s security. With German values. And we have plenty of those: Kant, Hegel, Höcke, Siemens, Bertelsmann, Bild—where to start?
Let’s start with Bild, the country’s biggest newspaper. What would Germany be at night without Bild’s reporters, always ready to forgo sleep so the breaking news of the day is waiting when we wake up in the morning. In 1992, neo-Nazis were marching and refugee shelters were burning in Germany. Ever undaunted, the Chemnitz edition of Bild ran a headline that encapsulated what really mattered to people: “Asylum applicants now in schoolyards. Two more are coming every minute.” What’s there left to say? Alice Creischer unceremoniously gave the paper 150 kisses until it was so densely covered with red lipstick prints that it was almost illegible. “Kiss the fascists wherever you meet them!” the poet Kurt Tucholsky wrote in 1931. A few weeks ago, Creischer got back into the kissing game. Seehofer, Maaßen—one could kiss Germany all day and all night and still want more.
None of this can be adequately described in the terminology of critical art. Alice Creischer’s exhibition is a drily stated nightmare in the forms of political lyric poetry, wobbly sculpture, and more or less ephemeral gestures. It isn’t hortative, or harsh, or bitter, far from it. It is funny. At least humorous. Creischer’s works chart one way to handle the complex material that is society, of which her own life is very much part. And they’re endlessly spellbinding. Shots are fired, someone quotes Marx, a possibly supernatural authority speaks (His Master’s Voice, the exhibition’s title). In short, plenty of food for thought. And that’s good. Because “the thought is not a hypothesis. In other words, it has a purpose that is a matter of action.” (Alice Creischer)