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click opera - Is Jonathan Meese a fascist?
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Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 02:48 pm
Is Jonathan Meese a fascist?

Poison in the air: Why German artists should keep their hands off Hitler is an interesting article by Georg Diez which ran in English last week on cultureblog Sign and Sight after appearing, the week before, in German newspaper Die Zeit. It basically looks at a trend amongst "bad boy" German artists (and they are all boys) for invoking Hitler.



Painter and performance artist Jonathan Meese (born in Tokyo in 1970, but German) is the main culprit -- his MySpace page lists his friends as The Residents, Wagner, Pope Pius XII, Eva Braun and Divine, and his performances feature him throwing Hitler salutes and making wanking gestures. He likes to throw Hitler salutes at every opportunity, in fact -- check the Vernissage TV coverage of his opening at Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin last October; each time the camera approaches, Meese heils.

The man is clearly an enormous wanker, but that's sort of the point. This is what Claire Bishop, writing in the ArtForum Diary, calls "Teutonic abjection". Or as Meese himself puts it: "Everything has to come back up again stinking!"

"Images cannot be dispelled," Meese says, talking about Hitler. "If you want to be rid of certain images, you must give them the chance to fight themselves." In a way, this is a sort of culture-troll's take on the wishy-washy humanist sentiment that "we can never forget the holocaust". To put it another way, when the History Channel is allowed to invoke Hitler every two hours, why shouldn't contemporary art too?

Here's Bishop's description of a Meese performance at Tate Modern:

"The artist (made up like a geisha, but sporting his usual uniform of layered Adidas tops) was standing in a vast wrestling ring adorned with skeletons, photographs of himself, bells, plastic mannequins, and random piles of detritus. Massive painted screens flanked the wrestling ring, which stood before a video projection that relayed the live action, intercut with clips of Visconti’s The Damned, Meese in his studio, Noel Coward singing, and dozens of other films. Meese swigged a bottle of whiskey and stumbled around, apparently drunk and jetlagged from a trip to Tokyo. Wearing an impressive variety of headgear—from a safari-style helmet to crusader chainmail—he wailed and crooned a stock of phrases repetitively into the microphone around his neck: “Ree-chard Vag-ner” and “A-dolf Heet-ler” (accompanied by salutes and wanking gestures); “If you want to be huuu-man . . . you must watch 120 Days of Sodom by Pa-so-li-ni . . .” He threw around the furniture and skeletons like a spoiled child and clung to the ropes of the wrestling ring, apparently in psychotic meltdown."

Opinions at Tate Modern, says Bishop, were starkly divided:

"The girl next to me left in tears; my friends bolted to the bar. I stuck it out for an hour, submitting to the hypnotic effect of Meese’s psychotherapeutic self-humiliation and recurring musical loops (ominous chords, Irish jigs, Coward’s campy English ditties) and trying to make sense of the mélange. When the video and sound track stopped, Meese soldiered on unplugged until forcibly removed from atop his bronze cactus sculpture. The event polarized the audience: Some found it fabulously energizing (“London hasn’t seen anything like this before”), but, frankly, they were in the minority; most were bored and insulted (“I feel like I’ve been used like a nappy”)."

Michelle Dovey emailed the Stuckists: "The Jonathan Meese performance at the Tate Modern on Saturday had members of the audience unbelievably furious. Whilst the performance was rousing, such extreme hostility in the viewers seemed a little implausible at times and the convenient way in which it complemented the artwork leads my friends and I to question its authenticity."



Bishop locates Meese in a transgressive expressionist tradition which explores the repressed, the taboo and the abject, mentioning Hermann Nitsch, Paul McCarthy and Berliner John Bock. But how repressed is this stuff when everyone starts doing it, when certain taboos become tattoos, when everyone has the same one done? Isn't the repressed then, precisely, expressed?

As Diez says in Die Zeit, there's a lot of this stuff about just now. There's a fascination with totalitarianism, and a refusal to condemn it reflexively. Some of it is coming from Germany's most interesting cultural figures, people I would consider allies. American composer David Woodard, for instance, approached me earlier this year to incarnate one of four characters (Beethoven, Spengler, Nietzsche and Hitler) in a musical event called 56 Minutes. The original idea was for these four historical characters to be sucked to climax, live, while they improvised music. In the final performance, though -- somewhat disappointingly -- all that happened was that the music got performed politely in a gallery. (I'd opted out by this point.) All the abjection stuff was censored, the taboos swept back under the carpet. What remained was music played by men in suits.

One of those men was designer Rafael Horzon, whose design work I've endorsed in ID magazine. Horzon is fascinated by authoritarian-utopian standardization schemes, from the way months got renamed during the French Revolution to the DIN system of industrial quality measures. He's a friend of Woodard and writer Christian Kracht, also cited in Diez' Zeit article for his book celebrating North Korea -- a book whose launch I attended and whose purpose (celebrating the hidden beauty of a nation la pensee unique vilifies reflexively) I can appreciate.



At Horzon's satirical Wissenschaftsakademie Berlin last year you could hear (as well as a lecture by me about Miyazaki's architecture) an address by David Woodard, Christian Kracht and Christian von Borries on the subject of eugenics in Nueva Germania, a small town in Paraguay. Here, a century ago, a fanatical band of Wagner-inspired German exiles attempted to purify the teutonic race and found a vegan community. They were defeated eventually by malaria and other tropical diseases. Woodard visited Nueva Germania in 2003 and wrote a beautiful anthem for the town, as well as prevailing on the authorities (including, apparently, US Vice President Dick Cheney) to twin the town with his Californian hometown of Juniper Hills.

And there we have it, at last, the point of all this provocation. Fascism is not tidily consigned to some kind of sealed time capsule, to the History Channel or to a few "rogue states" in an "axis of evil". Fascism is alive and well. We can measure it in medical procedures. It is necessitating 3000 prosthetic limbs per year in Iraq. This weekend it had its pacemaker batteries replaced, last weekend five polpys were removed from its colon.

Everyone who reads the newspapers (right-thinking people, that is) knows that these polyps were not cancerous. The same right-thinking people know that when Jonathan Meese throws a Hitler salute he is a bad man, whereas when Bill Viola shows some videos made with Hollywood special effects, and says that he's expressing something about the human condition as it affects all people in all cultures, he is a good one.

I'm not so sure. I don't think Meese is a good artist, but I think that every amoralist is a secret moralist, and for that I'm grateful. I think that fascism is unlikely to be found in the most obvious places -- under a fascist salute, for instance, or a hat marked "Adolf", or a lecture on eugenics. That would be much too easy, too tidy, wouldn't it? If evil were as easily-identifiable as that we'd be living in a world which had reached a sort of moral End of History, in which all was for the best and all dangerous dragons had long ago been slayed.

I suspect a Hitler salute or an Adolf hat is something else -- cultural provocation, a desire for fame, a wish to talk about ethics, a satire on the media's kneejerk reflexes -- and that today's most dangerous fascism is rather to be found in harmless-sounding things: the things we all do, the things we all think, the things we all believe in, the wars and environmental damage we cause as a result of all doing, thinking, feeling, wearing, watching and consuming the same (mostly idiotic and superbland) things. Fascism is hiding between the lines of newspaper articles, built into the way right-thinking people think. In such a situation, to think "wrong" is almost a duty. It doesn't necessarily produce good art, though.

61CommentReplyShare

imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 01:24 pm (UTC)

I showed Hisae the photo of Meese wearing the Adolf hat and asked her "Do you think this guy is a fascist?" She didn't know who he was, and said "I don't think so, his eyes are too kind. Perhaps he would be successful as a wrestler."


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Mar. 18th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
RRReply :)

Hiiii

i like Meese so much
he is so so nice and so so playful
he is like a soulful baby
he is a fun toy
and he plays with himself
his paintings are so rich
his performance is the theater of good fear
he makes me feel warm about art
warm about making art
being a real person
total art
this is his totalitarianism
the dictatorship of art
no human power whatsoever
no no no
humans are too weak to impose power
so we should just live humbly
and allow art to be the only political party
art will be the dictator of art
and no humans will dictate what art is
only art can know what art is
but ones personal life is never art
no no no


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 01:27 pm (UTC)

I think artists appropriating the imagery of the "centre" right would be considered far more controversial and transgressive than those posing as outright fascists. Dressing up as Thatcher, expressing ever so slightly racist or just xenophobic opinions, praising the war on terror, advocating Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest economic policies...

The whole "Hey look! Nazi stuff!" schtick is as tired as hell.
But a really perceptive artist could use these centre-right tropes as a mirror, reminding us of our own inner yuppie, the greedy kid that wants more and doesn't care who gets less.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 01:31 pm (UTC)

Fascism was a product of modernism ... a style of government designed to be the perfection of form from the top and to spread throughout society, like government as a living work of art. There's a reason why post-modernism was obsessed with destroying any hint at anything final, perfect, absolute - it was a reaction against the Fascism inherent in modernism.

I don't think Hitler has much to do with that, nor this Meese character going all retro 70s "Hitler as daring art". Most visual artists these days aren't exactly educated all that well... they are the rock stars of the early 21st century, after all, so they just need to look good, generate hype and sales, etc. It's hard to expect artists to really know what exactly they're doing.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 01:39 pm (UTC)

That thought echoes Diez' last line in the Zeit article: "The idiocy of politicians is usually reactionary. But the idiocy of artists is sometimes visionary." I think it's a good point.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 01:37 pm (UTC)



FFS EVEN MY NAZIBOWIE ICONS MAKE MORE INTERESTING STATEMENTS.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 02:20 pm (UTC)

I don't know where you get off calling Paul McCartney's art abject and taboo. It was all very popular and mainstream. Red Rose Speedway, for example.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)

I pretty much agree with what Adrian Searle says about McCarthy's work here: that it is about abjection and taboo, that its power comes from its grossness, and that this brings with it a need for ever-greater shock because of the ever-diminishing returns that result from audience habituation.

It's also worth saying that what's transgressive for the mainstream becomes mainstream once you enter the topsy-turvy world of transgression. By the same token, the most shocking thing you can do in indie rock is copy mainstream sounds, a trick I've tried myself (it defines pretty much my whole strategy when I was on Creation).


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
no, YOU don´t feed the trolls

I´m sure you can guess what it means when you have to TELL people you´re not racist.

Also, you might like number 6:
http://wiki.fandomwank.com/index.php/Congratulations%2C_You%27ve_Just_Been_Wanked%21

You make up for it by posting that FoxNews thing, though <3 <3 I love it more every time I watch it. Poor clueless bastards.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
HAVE MY ICON TOO

I´m making a list of all the arsey things I could get away with saying to you if I only used my opposition to political correctness as an excuse. But unforunately I am not opposed to political correctness so you miss out.


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squidb0i
squidb0i
ENDIF
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 06:00 pm (UTC)
Sorry honkey; 'nigger' is never OK

The myth of 'politically correct' is spin used by wannabe proto-fascists to take the fangs out of any attempt to make hate speech culturally unacceptable... so yeah, I think you actually are racist, whether you accept it or not:


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diesel_pioneer
diesel_pioneer
michael (lowercase M)
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
Re: My Little Pony My Little Pony My Little Pony DONT FEED THE TROLLS My Little Pony My Little Pony

He saw the word nigger, gave me a semi-serious "OH NO YOU DIDNT" look and proceeded to scribble out the word nigger and reply back, occasionally looking up at the black guy standing a few feet away from us to make sure he couldn't see what had been written.

Yah but that you don't get my sense of humour is a given, m'dear.

And also, I didn't see the black guy of which you speak. I did occasionally look around to see if there were any miscellaneous bearded hotties wandering around, possibly called Louis so that I could stay out past my bedtime, but there were none.

PS, you neglected to mention I censored the swastika by writing 'My Little Pony' under it.

to paraphrase chris-
FAQ:
Q: Are you being sarcastic or weird
A: I don't know


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)

meese and kracht are not visionary "wrong" thinkers, but carreer provos who know perfectly well what they are doing, in playing the hollywood typecast role for germans, the decadent nazi/fascist (kracht is of swiss origins, but can be taken as a german). so, their "provocation" is a commodity, a fancy routine for the part of the "art world", where such amusement is highly valued, as is the fashion celebrity glamour a dull proto fascist like hedi slimane brings in as a "curator", who said in an interview that he always uses thin young men as models, because they are "uncathegorized", unlike "rich fat golf playing old men". while fat young men just don't exist, i guess, or fat old poor card playing men ...

anyway, i don't believe a campy hitler fanclub can provide any alternative thoughts of value to oppose "bush" fascism.

(btw i don't get what is "provocative" in a performance that shows beethoven, spengler, nietzsche and hiltler - hihihi! - getting a blow job - hahaha! - "fo' rill", as in, like, "authentic". as in, maybe, "authentically moronic macho performance")


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 04:10 pm (UTC)

i don't believe a campy hitler fanclub can provide any alternative thoughts of value to oppose "bush" fascism.

Isn't it a virtue in and of itself to be outside la pensee unique? I'd give Meese the same value as someone like Zizek, when he advocates letting the Iranians acquire nuclear weapons. In a world where la pensee unique thinks it's reasonable to solve the problems of the Middle East by selling $20 billion worth of arms to the Saudis, we need precisely such "crazy talk".


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 04:31 pm (UTC)

yes, but aren't quite a few people opposed to this policy, which is the u. s. policy, but i'd rather call it "corporate policy"? zizeks provocative idea is actually thought provoking (while it is quite clear that he's not living in israel. that would make his idea somewhat more honest and less gratuitous), which meese's concept of a totalitarianism of the artist, to me, is not. what i get from the "sound bites" he utters, he thinks the artist has to impersonate the state, be a "state artist", and, at the same time, be worshipped as a "god" by "all people", all inferior non-artist beings, and they should sacrifice them "everything". according to him, there are at most ten "true artist" in the whole world, he himself, of course, is one of them, as are a couple other germans - we are god-country! funny, but doesn't really wake my tiny little brain. there is inspired "crazy talk", and there is just babble. so, i'm searching for thoughts outside la pensee unique, but not just anything, but rather elevating ones, and not by alternative fascist, whose main virtue is not to be in charge right now.


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)

there are claims that the meese myspace page wasn't done by him.


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anicca_anicca
anicca_anicca
As I go along
Mon, Aug. 6th, 2007 09:48 pm (UTC)
claims that the meese myspace page wasn't done by him

It wasn't. I know Jonathan Meese through work and remember him saying that he'd heard that someone's running a myspace site in his name but that he had nothing to do with it.

Personally, I don't care much for his work. I'm not into his kind of imagery. I'm rather convinced that he is not a Nazi but I don't share his fascination with the subject.

But as a person, he is probably the most fascinating character I've ever met. Maybe, with him, it's also a Jekyll/Hyde phenomenon. I'm actually quite a misanthropist and I know it sounds silly and cheesy but I think he's truly a beautiful soul. He's such a crazy child, with a lot of insight and in no way naive, but incredibly sweet. Not mwah-mwah-friendliness, but genuine openness for fellow human beings. I've never met anyone like him and I know quite a few people feel that way about him.

Having said that, I think an artist should be judged by his work and not his personality. Picasso must have been a royal arsehole to have around the house but that doesn't make him less of an artist.


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lapsedmodernist
lapsedmodernist
trust the hours
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)

I'd never heard of Nueva Germania before. I wonder if it had (partially?) inspired Stanislaw Lem's "Gruppenfuhrer Louis XVI" where a Nazi who fled to Argentina sets up French royal court in the jungle.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 03:44 pm (UTC)

I'm afraid this is completely off-topic. Just discovered Oh! Mikey, thanks to Swifty's Blog. Thought it might be of interest:


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)

Ha, someone embedded an Oh Mikey episode the other day here and I linked back to the Click Opera entry last October about the series!


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)

American politicians and many american people are afraid to make the comparison between Hitler and Cheney/Bush. It may have something to do with religion. They really believe that Hitler was Satan.

Here in the U.S. we are much kinder to our genocidal heroes. Andrew Jackson is on the twenty dollar bill. If the fairness doctrine was to return and be applied to the US Mint then maybe there would be a depiction of The Trail of Tears on Jackson's backside.


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runawaytoday
runawaytoday
XX
Sun, Jul. 29th, 2007 06:37 pm (UTC)

oh please.
meese, though he's german, has no idea what the fuck the salute means.
i write poetry because i didn't live through the holocaust.
he's makin the big bucks and doing what he needs to do.
in 1000 years he'll be a name on an artifact that noone can comprehend or understand. if anyone is here.
meeses reeses pieces.


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arsonisnoway
arsonisnoway
Steve McLaughlin
Mon, Jul. 30th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)

that tate performance sounds like a klaus kinski "jesus" performance. maybe tapping into a similar element of the german mindset?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Aug. 2nd, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC)
... To pieces

Thanks for spotlighting this fool. I've been watching in amazement as he drunkenly breeches the walls of the international art world fortress. A leg up from from a coterie of Gen Z curators ... and ... he's in!

I suspect it's a generation wanting to claim its own "controversial" performance artists, just like mom and dad had in the '80s. Meese wraps it all up for them in one belching, harranguing pile of simulacra.

Wake me up when he has someone shoot him in the (Nazi saluting) arm.


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