Text by KANG Hyoyeon
HAN Sungpil produces photographs through a subtle involvement and overlap of imaginary images. He has recently employed trompe-l’oeil, a technique creating an optical illusion in space by matching a large banner and photograph in a specific place or street, presenting an imaginary façade.
In four pieces including ‘Amor Fati!’ on display at the show, stories related to the statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels demolished due to the subway construction in Berlin are represented in diverse mediums such as sculpture, installation, photography, and video. ‘Amor Fati!’ is a video chronicling how the Marx and Engels’ statues were removed and moved. ‘Bindi Statues’ is a photograph of the statues set up in Marx-Engels Forum, Berlin. ‘Workers of All Lands Unite!’ is a black-and-white video documenting the process of the Marx and Engels’ being uprooted, measured, and placed in a new place by united workers. The title is borrowed from the epitaph of Karl Marx. ‘White Out’ is an instillation statue reproduced from the statues of Mark and Engels set up in the Marx-Engels Forum, the central area of Berlin, in the space of pure white room. Upon entering the white space one momentarily loses all sense of direction as if in a gravity-free state. The statues of these two great thinkers who started an age are now meaningless sculptural statues losing their direction by being placed in a white, placeless space.
The four ways of directions enable viewers to review our pending social, cultural, and political issues and the process of dislocation from diverse angles through the dramatic situation of moving ‘statues’.
Through these works we experience an expansion of placeness or what a site is, that is, the process of change in the meaning and features of a place. In other words, the artist addresses changes in the meaning of symbolic structures (Marx and Engels’ statues) made based on social, political, and ideological reasons caused by environmental factors in the region of Berlin. A process the statues of two thinkers and ideological proponents of communist states being moved from a key point in the plaza to another place due to subway construction refers to changes occurring in contemporary society’s thought.
Catalogue for the exhibition ‘Dislocation’ at the Daegu Art Museum, Korea. 20th Nov 2012 – 11th Feb 2013
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The Semantics of Bronze Castings
Text by Chin Jungkwon
'Marx-Engels Forum,’ located at the heart of Berlin – those who stroll down this square can see the Saint Mary Church where is housed, a fountain decorated with sculptures of Neptune, the red brick building of City Hall, and the twin steeples of St. Nikolai Church, the oldest church in Berlin. But the most striking sight of all is the 368m-high television tower. Under the reign of East Germany, the structure’s towering height was the visual proof of socialist productivity. The socialist ideals met their demise, but the TV tower still stands high and mighty as the symbol of Berlin, bridging the gaps between East and West after the fall of Berlin Wall.
Until recently, the statues of Marx and Engels looked down upon this architectonic wonder of East German socialism, their backs turned against West Germany. One might say they testify to the autism of a certain system, infatuated with itself and trying hard not to turn its eyes to its superior counterpart – the reality in West Germany. Speaking of counterparts, a woman’s statue stands on the West Berlin side, in stark yet uncanny contrast to those of these two men. This woman still holds her place, and calls out toward the Brandenburg Gate – the gateway to East Berlin - to “open the door.” The two fathers of communism remained with their backs turned against this woman’s outcry.
The statue of Marx and Engels is told to have been made by a sculptor called Ludwig Engelhardt (1924-2001) in 1985. Not much is known about the artist, except for that he went on to study at an art school and became a sculptor after having learned woodcraft. However, a few of his works, including (1961) and (1964), are still found in certain towns within the former East German territory. A trace of artistry can be detected in the moderately simplified forms, but the statues of these two revolutionists stay within the range of Social Realism, the official doctrine during the Socialist days.
The production of the sculpture followed the general procedures of building a wire frame, molding out the form by adding clay, and producing a plaster cast into which bronze is poured. An interesting side note is that a rather well-known photographer in East Germany named Sibylle Bergemann (1941-2010) recorded the production and installation process of the monument in black and white photographs. The unfinished statue, with the painted walls of the atelier as its backdrop, bestows a strange and surreal impression upon the viewer, as if gazing at Magritte’s paintings. Some of Sibylle’s photos portray the completed statue hanging from a crane, being installed at their current positions at the Marx-Engels Forum.
Monuments erected as propaganda tend to lose their reason for existence once the system is dismantled. Is it not dramatic, how Lenin’s once revered statue was pulled down by the hands of the angry mob and rendered scrap steel scattered among the debris on the streets? Despite the objections of those who harbor nostalgia for the past, symbols of the old system were often torn down in post-unification East Germany as well. Even these statues, having survived the fierce battle of symbolism, could not be exempt from the impacts of a subway construction plan laid out to pass right under the plaza. Last fall, the City of Berlin moved the statues to a more remote location in the park.
Location is not the only thing that had changed. The statue now gazes toward the West, its back turned against the TV tower. When I was visiting, the statue was trapped in a square fence, perhaps because the construction wasn’t yet complete. However, the more radical change must have occurred in terms of the invisible – Meaning. This monument, once a testimony to the greatness of Socialism, is now fated to become an attraction for hordes of tourists pouring out of the newly built subway station. The statue, besieged by steel railings, is now an equivalent to zoo animals sitting in cages as eye candy for our pleasure. One consolation is that bronze materials cannot suffer from this grave shame.
Han Sungpil produced two videos, and , portraying the entire process of moving the statue. The background music flowing through the scene in which Marx and Engels’ statue is transported by a crane in , Beethoven’s Symphony. No. 5, adds a parodic ring to the adverse fate of the statue. However, as the humanistic values the statue embodies is not one to be easily ridiculed, also appears to be celebrating the aesthetics of a heroic existence that silently bears all such scorn. The title may be referring to the realm of ambiguity where these two meanings intersect.
Han Sungpil’s work, inevitably, forms a pendant to that of the East German photographer Sibylle Bergemann. Whereas Bergemann recorded the event of the statue’s installation in black and white, Han Sungpil documented the statue’s transference (or, in fact, removal) in video and photography. A quarter of a century stands between these two works. The event of the statue’s transference leaves a strong impression in our minds; perhaps verging on the bemusement of a viewer who first witnesses Kinetic Art? Maybe even more powerful. Statues tend to be moved around for exhibitions, but they always belong to a specific corner of our minds.
The passive state of the statue, picked up and transported by a crane, has a certain ludicrousness to it. But from certain angles, the statue appears to be moving on without the aid of any external force, almost like Jehovah gliding along the surface of a still water, as if a spiritual being is wondering through the world. As a god, an idol, the statue holds certain grandeur. Was it Napoleon who said from the sublime to the ridiculous there is but a step? The contrast seen between two different portrayals of the scene could reflect the ironic feelings one must feel in witnessing the statue’s transference.
Up to now, the artist has focused on the issue of “the relationship between the virtual and the real.” In this light, the contextual position of his media work appears to be somewhat different from that of his past works. However, the ties between past and present remain unshaken. This exhibition will be presenting a copy of the statue in Berlin, in addition to his two video works. He calls this copy '3D Photography - Reverse Representation.’ Whereas photographs represent three dimensional objects on a flat plain, this piece revives the cubic qualities of a two dimensional photograph. Through this process, the artist’s ongoing inquiry into the virtual and the real attains another dimension of depth.
In a way, this can be seen as a translation of trompe-l ' oeil on a dust cover into an object in a three dimensional space. This copy of a statue diverges from its habitat and becomes isolated in the confines of the gallery, as does the uncanny and displaced advent of a trompe-l ' oeil on a dust cover. In a empty white space, the statue will encounter the viewers, appearing to be disoriented in vacuum. This coordinate-less “transference,” this “white-out” – what meanings could they generate? According to the artist, the work attests to the fact that “we live in an age of uncertainty, bereft of any sense of direction.”
When Sibylle Bergemann photographed the statue, it was still asserting the historical victory of Socialism. By the time Han Sungpil came to the scene, the statue was already being paraded in front of tourists as a captive of triumphant capitalism. However, the once-relentless reign of capitalism now appears to be waning since the occurrence of the financial crises that had recently struck the entire globe. In its new home, what new meaning would the statue of Marx and Engels obtain? We don’t know. As capitalism once jeered at them, they may stand to mock the chronic crisis capitalism had engendered. Meaning remains open, and history continues to unfold.
Postscript: Sibylle Bergemann passed away in November 2010, right after this statue was moved.
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Artist Statment - Workers of All Lands Unite & Amor Fati
In 2005, the BBC did a survey to determine the most famous and influential philosopher in the world. The leading vote getter was Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883), a philosopher, an economist, and a social revolutionist. It has been over 100 years since the death of Marx and his colleague, Fredrich Engels (1820-1895), who sharing his economical and philosophical ideas. A century later, their works, ‘Das Kapital,’ ‘Manifest der Kommunistichcen Parteir (The Communist Manifesto)’ and their ideology of ‘Marxism’ continue to hold sway.
Vladimir Lenin, the leader of Russian Revolution of October 1917, laid the foundation of Communism based on Marxism. The illusionary ideals and visions of Marx and Engels once adopted by or imposed upon nations, divided the World into the opposing ideologies of Capitalism and Communism leading to geopolitical divisions and an inevitable Cold War.
With the economic collapse of Russia and Eastern Europe in 1990s, the influence and appeal of Marxist Communism has waned.
On the contrary, the inevitable collapse of Capitalism as predicted by Marx, has yet to occur. While still flourishing, it is a far from perfect alternative. Despite attempts to harness and fine tune the Capitalist engine, the present worldwide financial crisis manages to illuminate the flaws within the system. Without a unified approach to regulating consumption, production, currency rates, employment levels, and debt, nations are experiencing a disruption throughout the social strata as the economic disparity between the rich and the poor increases. As nations fight to avoid falling into bankruptcy, World leaders attempting to regulate and course correct the global economy face significant challenges as they attempt to balance their national self-interest with the interests of others.
However, where does the Communism stand today, in this powerful capitalistic society?
Their predictions have proven wrong, as Capitalism has forged ahead.
In Germany, the motherland of Marx and Engles, particularly in Berlin, where their philosophical principal was initiated, there is a park called Marx-Engels-Forum.
The Marx-Engel-Forum, once included in East Germany, was constructed by the authorities of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) on 4 April 1986.
In the centre of a circular surface of 60 meters of diameters stands two sculptures of Ludwig Engelhardt. the bronze figures of both Karl Marx (height of 2,77 meters) and Friedrich Engels (height of 3,07 meters), weight each 2 tons, on a flat base.
Soon after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Federal Republic of Germany took a vote on an issue of existence of Marx and Engles statues. Due to many of Berliner’s assent to the existence, we still can see the original Marx and Engles statue from the East German period.
However, in Sep 2010, their fate was to move to a new position across the city because of a new subway construction, which caused the expansion of a city with urban planning. Such like the epitaph of Karl Marx reads ‘Workers of All Lands Unite’, all laborers united to dig, and measure the statue and stick spots on their forehead like Indians. Finally, the statues of Marx and Engles flew to the sky by crane and settled down in the new place.
In the past, they were looking East toward Alexanderplatz, which is surrounded by several notable structures during the GDR period, including the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), the second tallest structure in Europe. After moving into their new place, they are now looking toward the West, the symbol of the Capitalism.
If they were alive, what would they think of this twisted exchange or conception of their new position? Perhaps, one might take a look and study this situation?
Ludwig van Beethoven, composed Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, which I used in my video work ‘Amor Fati’. In speaking of the first four notes of the opening movement, Beethoven said, some time after he had finished the symphony: "So pocht das Schicksal an die Pforte" ("Thus Fate knocks at the door").
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, who said “God is Dead’, also said “Amor Fati (Love of your fate)”.
Mr. Marx and Engels,
Thus Fate knocks at the door! so Love of your Fate! Amor Fati!