THE BAADER – MEINHOF’s STORY revisited by two LOS ANGELES ARTISTS
Daniel Martinez and Erin Cosgrove
DANIEL JOSEPH MARTINEZ : I AM ULRICHE MEINHOF, 2017
Roberts and Tilton Gallery, Los Angeles
“… the ink of reality stains the very fingers that put that reality in parenthesis.” (Emmanuel Levinas)
by Rosanna Albertini
Hello Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, as phantoms of my own past I prefer to keep you silent. Someone wrote that, if the future existed, maybe the past wouldn’t be so seductive. But the future is a figure of speech, “a specter of thought.” It was Nabokov.
After ’68, dreams of revolution in Europe were quickly replaced by symptoms of something else: a diffused, unpredictable violence for many years bringing bombs on trains, in banks, garbage cans, subway stations, department stores, kindergartens. Under the verbal umbrella of terrorism, the seventies and early eighties that I witnessed in Italy and in Paris were years of a familiar terror, following our daily steps like an invisible dog. In Paris attacks were shamelessly announced by the radio early in the morning. “Are you coming to work today?” my friend Dany Bloch on the phone from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. “A museum and the subway will be under attack.” “Of course I will come.” Southern fatalism kept me active. It wasn’t courage, I would call it a passive state of consent. The night before, the post office near my apartment had blown up. An unfamiliar landscape in Paris, les terrasses, the cafes’ tables and chairs, were empty.
Terrorism in Germany was no surprise, at least it had names, and faces. One more idealistic failure. People of my countries were too busy checking for abandoned bags or packages on trains and buses to dig into the reasons that built the RAF (Red Army Faction), the tragic death of most of the members. Ulrike Meinhof was one of the founders of the terrorist group in 1970. It was almost fifty years ago. Yet Daniel Joseph Martinez, today, declares “I am Ulrike Meinhof or (someone once told me time is a flat circle).” The art piece is a series of large b & w photographs. He brings back the young woman’s images printed on banners he carries vertical, holding the pole, during a long and solitary parade through Berlin. Astonished, I couldn’t stop looking at Ulrike’s face, and to the artist’s silent standing, looking distant and obedient, like a boy in a procession. Pictures are dark. Light would disturb the intimate hospitality each place offers to these two strangers who keep their presence at the edge of forgetfulness, extremely quite. If they think, they seem to listen to walls, dead leaves, trees or bricks on the pavement of the street, as if silently answering a hidden invitation, locked in a missing answer without wonder. Being there is all there is.
Why, what, meaning, history, the artist’s intentions, my curiosity, stumped by the power of these images. Don’t expect any criticism, or aesthetic descriptions. Look at them. From Arthur Rimbau to Daniel Martinez resonates “I is another.” “I am I because my little dog knows me.” (Gertrude Stein) Time to decipher. No jokes?
The artist is in Berlin. Maybe Martinez is there too drinking coffee in the morning, but his “I” is already the artist, a human stripped of name or language, a naked being who becomes “a site, a whole world, a hospitable place.” Not because he has a deep, inner generosity; I would say his presence unfolds a message that is simple and astonishing: a silent listening. THERE the artist is: having a sort of primordial intuition of a story unraveled by philosophers for at least two centuries. Not only discovering that “inner life” is only a beautiful fantasy, also disclosing the flower of real life only blooming in the world. Maybe the artist in Berlin -my fantasy- opens up enough to see himself in Ulrike Meinhof’s image, and her image in himself as an artist. He is vulnerable. He offers himself exposing his own sensitivity. Suffering for Ulrike’s suffering, showing himself as human. I forget history and thank him. But, even trying to put the facts in parenthesis, the tip of my fingers remains stained by the ink of reality. Emmanuel Levinas has been my accomplice. Without his pages I wouldn’t never have seen all the things that Daniel Martinez doesn’t not say.
ERIN COSGROVE : HISTORICAL, HYSTERICAL, HISTORECTOMIST
She wrote “The Baader -Meinhof Affair” 2002
…it is the past not the present which changes. We go on for a long time, taking the present as a constant, much as the self. At some point we raise our heads and are surprised at what lies behind us… DAVID ANTIN, 1972
Erin Cosgrove, A Heart Lies Beneath, 2004
By Rosanna Albertini
For a long time Erin Cosgrove, no less than Jim Shaw to be earnest, has been my antidote against frustrations and illusions nested in my previous academic life, the one I had in Europe before I became a video art promoter and affectionada. Although still guided by ghosts of dead philosophers, I was incurably starving for apparently nonsensical, surprising moving images. At the time, I was far from realizing that images and words had already started a new journey in the universe of artifacts. And right now, moving lightly over my first immersion into contemporary arts I try not “to sink into history” and “stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!” Nabokov again.
Words gave up their primary, indisputable voice. The term revolution has a strange taste on the tongue like licorice mixed with absinthe; heroes and visual symbols turned into ruins underneath the crumbled wall in Berlin. But disappointment, disapproval, disagreement, yes, colorless and washed out through the increasing insanity of our world, still have meanings, a variety of meanings in each place, in each language. I let the change take me in, having learned to enjoy uncertainty and displacement. Erin’s art, after all, with her provocative and satirical storytelling, isn’t more scandalous than many stories written by my old friends Fontenelle, Montesquieu, or Jean Jacques. They are also “conjectural” in the same way.
Erin Cosgrove grabbed a piece of yesterday and reshaped it today: by romancing, the Baader-Meinhof tragedy was transplanted from Germany into an American college collective game, as if growing the same tree in a different place: The Baader-Meinhof Affair, Printed Matter 2002. The new place alters leaves and colors. In 2004 the written story was transplanted one more time, into seven minutes of a live action and animated video: A Heart Lies Beneath. I would lie if I hide from you that I was shocked by the energy and the intelligence of these two art pieces. Damn serious as they are in their purpose and execution, they also threw in the air my memories -already nebulous- I was afraid they would splash on the floor like a defective aircraft. But I was wrong: the past has changed. So much of it was romance. It’s pinned on my sweater.
Erin Cosgrove is a scribe of contemporary disagreement about almost everything: religions, wars, global warming, social games, evolution, borders, political regimes, and family life. Wars and new agents of terror and hurricanes and droughts and epidemics and bankruptcies are heaped on our road. Cosgrove doesn’t stop harvesting meanings. From cold winters in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she learned flatness and silence. Late in the night a wolf waited for her outside of the art school’s door. Half frozen after standing for hours in front of the federal Building protesting the first Gulf War, she finally fainted into a big basket of candies at a nearby shopping center. She learned from Samuel Beckett that silence could be told if the voice springs from inside and stops two steps from the feet.
She is a calligraphy queen free from chronology, conventional cages, and high and low. In words and images her calligraphic characters wear the faces of Darwin, Diogenes, Jesus, Leon Trotsky, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Andreas Baader, and everyone else, including faces that are real, imagined, forgotten, or effaced by history. No shadows on the ground. People remember only symbols and play with them to the exhaustion of meaning. In Cosgrove’s mind, and in her art, stories melt into romance, drawings, tapestry, and animated films.
Only one condition for human survival: that we step outside of belief systems. The ones who believe do not see what’s around them, if they see at all. Instead Cosgrove believes in looking and earnestly says what she sees: the immense variety of artifacts whose logo could be “human made.” So much the better, I won’t call it “culture.” The more impersonal, the more popular and down to earth, the better signs and images function: they are an infinite number of alphabetic letters morphing themselves. But, as with any language, there is no exit: that’s why, maybe, Erin displays a meticulous and detailed encyclopedic style leading to didactic explanation. It doesn’t mean that the story is reasonable or reliable. It is what it is, not something to remember or to forget. It’s romance. A heart lies beneath.
Emmanuel Levinas, Humanisme de l’autre homme, 1972, Fata Morgana, Montpellier, France
Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1972
Gertrude Stein, The Geographical History of America, Random House, Inc., 1936
Erin Cosgrove, The Baader-Meinhof Affair, ©Erin Cogrove and Printed Matter, Inc., New York, 2002
A Hundred Flowers Have Bloomed, A Reader’s Guide to Erin Cosgrove’s The Baader-Meinhof Affair, 2004 Published by Carl Berg Gallery, Los Angeles
Catalogue of C.O.L.A. 2008 Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery Barnsdall Park