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What is it with Germans, art and death?

From Time.com: Death be not Proud

Pondering German artist Gregor Schneider’s search for someone terminally ill to die in public as an art piece, Richard Lakayo writes of a related experience he had:

The single most powerful work I saw at the Venice Biennale last summer was a video that the French artist Sophie Calle made of her mother’s very peaceful death at home in bed. At some point during the 13-minute video her mother simply stops breathing, though it happens so gently you can’t tell just when that moment is. A wall card explained that Calle’s mother had consented to the taping.

I visited that piece twice, and on both visits people in the gallery were wiping their eyes. I was one of them. Who were were crying for, Calle’s mother, whom probably none of us knew personally, or ourselves? And did our tears validate our voyeurism — meaning, did our sympathetic response acquit us of the charge of ghoulish curiousity? Even better — could ghoulish curiousity have its morally beneficial side, by leading us to watch a video that impressed on us the power and mystery of death?

Then again, is that what the video did? Did it matter that most of us probably moved on from that gallery to whatever art we were going to look at next? This is what I did both times. What that might mean is that however tender our response to what we had seen, we still somehow weren’t according it the respect — would that be the word? — it deserved. Among the many spectacles of the Biennale, it had become one more.

I like the point made, that no matter how artworthy, art itself, that creator of the sacred can also be the diminisher of the same. Putting on a stage both elevates and trivializes at the same time. And yet, it is not just these sorts of things that should be on display? Even though Lakaya writes about then moving on to the next exhibit, he remembers this one and possibly always will.

And to carry on the German theme The Guardian posted a slide show Life before Death showing photographs by Walter Scheis of terminally ill patients just before death and soon after along with brief biographies. It both moves one, and meditates on the limitations of the art, that such a great change has so small a visual effect.

And then there is of course Gunther Von Hagens, the originator of plastination, where corpses are treated and then displayed, or these days toured. The man and a sample of his work.

gunther von hagens

To be fair, von Hagen probably doesn’t consider himself so much an artist as an educator.

But let us take a bit of a leap and consider Armin Meiwes, the Butcher of Rotenberg, the quiet man with an appetite for the other white meat, who advertised for someone willing to be eaten, and found someone who was game. The two jointly ate part of the man, and then later Meiwes dined alone.

Now this was consensual. But the law being what it is, Meiwes ended up in prison. What if, this had taken place within the confines of a gallery, and Meiwes a radical but established enfant terrible of the scene?

2 comments on “What is it with Germans, art and death?

  1. Actually what Dr.Gunther von Hagens is doing is looked down on in Germany. German law states the body must be buried. But, I think what he does is great. I hope that when I leave this world my body will go to him.

  2. […] Perhaps the ultimate expression of this is Gunther von Hagen’s plasticized humans (more). […]

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