Todesfuge

When visiting Munich last week I also went to DachauDachau concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners. It is located about 16 km northwest of Munich.

There have been several discussions after WW2 regarding the possibility – or even the legitimacy – of making art after Holocaust.

In “Commitment,” his 1963 essay, the philosopher Theodor Adorno remarked that writing poetry in the deadly wake of Auschwitz would be “barbaric.” Since then, “after the Holocaust, no poetry” has become a kind of overriding moral mantra, with “poetry” encompassing not writing alone but standing for art in general. 

But of course we didn’t stop making art. Because art and life is one, inseparable – and to some of us a life without art wouldn’t make sense at all.

But what about using Holocaust as material for art?

Visiting London earlier this summer I got to see several works by the French artist Eric Manigaud. In his series Portrait Clinique the artist has taken images from the State Care and Medical Facility in Weilmünster, in which physically and mentally ill Jewish patients were forcibly sterilized or starved under the Nazis, as motif. Through large drawings Eric Manigaud reproduce archival photographs on a scale proportionate to the artist’s body. Each image is minutely deciphered and copied in all its horrific detail.

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Portrait_Clinique_11

ERIC MANIGAUD, PORTRAIT CLINIQUE #11 (2010) PENCIL AND GRAPHITE ON PAPER, 179 X 144 CM © THE SAATCHI GALLERY 

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Through giant enlargements Manigaud brings the images and thereby also the history much closer than what we are used to. It gets, one might say, emotionally too close – I suddenly get a feeling of being there, together with the victims – or could it be, even worse, that I am the assailant?

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portrait_clinique_10jpg-1

Eric Manigaud, Portrait Clinique #10 (2010) PENCIL AND GRAPHITE ON PAPER, 179 X 134 CM ©  The Saatchi Gallery 

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“The writer’s function,” said Albert Camus in his 1957 acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature, “is not without arduous duties. By definition, he cannot serve those who make history; he must serve those who are subject to it.” It seems to me that this is a quite precise description of Manigaud’s position.

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ERIC MANIGAUD, born in 1971, lives and works in France. His hyper-realistic drawings reveal an unbelievable exquisite craftsmanship.

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7 comments on “Todesfuge

  1. Sub Rosa,
    You have identified an important, difficult duty of the artist/writer. Just as we as individuals must face our personal demons in order to defeat them, humanity must face its collective demons in order to defeat them. Thank you for pointing out that this task is difficult but one that the artist must take on in order to move through to a better self and a better world.
    Thank you,
    Jerry

  2. Did he go to the trouble of drawing rather than re-printing the photographs in order to more thoroughly engage with the material? The act would seem to re-humanise images that were achieved through mechanical processes in a situation where mechanisation was so closely implicated in dehumanising the perpetrators as much as the victims (think of Milgram’s famous experiment). Definitely drawings to look out for if they’re exhibited in one’s own country. Interesting to see that they’re in Munich. How was the show received?

      • Ah, yes, not sure where I got the Munich from. I think a friend of mine went to this show. He didn’t mention this artist. The aerial bombing drawings are almost banal geometry, yet the connotation is horrific. The opposition between the function of the original photography, its distance, and the intimacy of mark making is fascinating and clearly productive. Reminds me of some of Chad McCail’s work. Thanks for posting about these drawings.

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