Jörg Heiser: What is "appropriate"? Contemporary art and the Holocaust


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What is the appropriate way – using artistic means – to remember the Holocaust and demonstrate sympathy for its victims? Or are the ideas of "appropriateness" and "demonstration" part of the problem? If one does not wish to fall into the trap of the "melodramatic good story" about mass murder, which gives the public a false sense of catharsis (or a "voyeuristic kick"), then, as the consensus goes, two paths have been open thus far: either that of documentation (such as Claude Lanzmann's film  "Shoah") or that of visualization of trauma and absence (e.g. the buildings of Daniel Libeskind). Isn't there another path open to us? A line leads from pioneers like the filmmaker Lina Wertmuller to younger contemporary artists such as Wilhelm Sasnal, who directly refers to the comics of Art Spiegelman with his "Maus" series. These are examples of an experimental approach to depicting trauma using the tools of popular culture, even of kitsch and perversion, while avoiding getting stuck in the ingrained rituals of documentation and abstraction. 

Jörg Heiser is co-editor in chief of the international art magazine "frieze", editor of "frieze d/e" and a contributor to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", among other publications. He is presently a visiting professor at the Kunstuniversität Linz in Austria.