A few notes on the works of Peter Lenk, Rainer Hachfeld and Anatol Mătăsaru
…to theorize that which has often remained submerged in the recent debate about modernity and post-modernity: the pervasive sense of political disillusionment… and the pained feeling of a lack of political and social alternatives… today.
/Andreas Huyssen, Foreword to “Critique of Cynical Reason”: The Return of Diogenes as Postmodern Intellectual/
1. Imperia The Great
A few days before the New Year’s Eve of 2016 I was sitting with a bunch of friends in Warsaw’s Bar Studio. We were drinking coffee and orange juice. Outside was pretty cold and windy, and the place was a cozy island of warmth that we were happy to have found. The place, for those of you who don’t know Warsaw well, is located on the ground floor of Palace of Culture and Science (PCAS). Technically, we were having our drinks in the very heart of the Capital of Poland.
This was the first time I met Ferdinand from Germany, visiting Warsaw and Poland for the first time. I knew next to nothing about him, that he was a jurist, specialized in business law and that a couple of months ago he got his Legum Magister from the University of Cambridge. Hold on, this is not a text addressed to snobs, mind you. It is just an important detail that is linked to what will follow.
Ferdinand knew that I was into arts, so partially because of that, and partially because he was being under the spell of the monumental sculptures and bas-reliefs surrounding the PCAS and the adjacent district of MDM that he just saw, he told me about a few works by Peter Lenk, a German sculptor that he liked, and who was a resident in Ferdinand’s home Bundesland – Baden-Württemberg.
Peter Lenk is also a creator of monumental works. However, he is much more into humor than realism. Ferdinand began by describing a sculpture of a courtesan, known as Imperia, located in the harbor city of Konstanz, sculpted in 1993. It was erected to commemorate the Council of Constance, that took place in the XVth century CE, which, was basically known for two things: the so-called “ending of the Western Schism” with the election of one single Pope of the Catholic Church, and, most unfortunately, the burning of Jan Hus. Imperia holds her hands up, holding in one the grotesque figure of Pope Martin the Vth and, respectively, in the other the figure of Emperor Sigismund, who called the Council. The statue turns around on an axle showing to the whole world the two bizarre humanoids. In the days of the Council there used to be more courtesans in Konstanz than priests and some of them would often visit the courtesans and take advantage of their services. It is quite possible that some of those courtesans had their share to say in some imperial decision taking processes, during the Council as well, and, at least, as Lenk seems to suggest (see also Balzac’s “Imperia”) and the inhabitants don’t seem to mind, there was a certain Imperia who was holding in her hands both the Emperor and the newly elected Pope of the time. Imperia would be one of those women higher than any contempt, in Sloterdijk words (see the “The Critics of Cynical Reason”).
Ferdinand might have also chosen to discuss Imperia, because there is a Polish twist to it as well, which resonates in an intriguing way with today’s current affairs.
As the story goes, one of the less important reasons the Council was called for was to ameliorate the ongoing military dispute between the Teutonic Knights and the Poles that was becoming a big pain. The position of the Poles was defended by Paweł Włodkowic, who challenged the legality of the Teutonic crusades against some Non-Christian dwellers from today’s Lithuania, arguing that a forced conversion of Non-Christians, which seems to have been a common practice in those days, was incompatible with free will, which was an essential component of a genuine conversion. One might be tempted today to understand under ‘conversion’ the so-called ‘naturalization of the expats’ but let us not digress. Włodkowic insisted that Non-Christians had certain rights which had to be respected, and neither the Pope nor the Holy Roman Emperor had the authority to violate them. He further stipulated that the Knights could only engage in war, if and only if the Non-Christians violated some natural rights of the Christians. One of Włodkowic’s opponents, a Dominican theologian, John of Falkenberg, insisted though, in his Liber de doctrina, “the Emperor has the right to slay peaceful Non-Christians simply because they are pagans.” We might think that we’ve evolved during the last couple of hundreds of years, as Steven Pinker argues in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature”. Pinker talks, for example, about German soldiers who being in international missions abroad would rather refuse in bartlebian fashion to participate in military operations that involved the possibility of injuring the opponent. Yet not much has changed at the level of leaders. German border police should use firearms against refugees, says leader of AfD party Frauke Petry in a recent statement. (Petry was citing a law UZWG and §8-§13 and no, I don’t know if the law has anything to do with the practices of the Teutonic Knights.) The statement was interpreted as ‘shooting’ by some journalists, which is probably not entirely wrong.
According to Wikipedia (bad source, I know, significant parts might have been lost in translations, but in this article in Wiki I trust!), Falkenberg also stated, that Christian Poles, or any other Christians for that matter, deserve death if they decide to defend Non-Christians, and should be exterminated even more than the Non-Christians themselves; they should be also deprived of their sovereignty and reduced to slavery.
The war between the Poles and the Knights went on for years to come, but the Poles did manage to ease the daily life of the so-called Samogitians and reduced the urge of their emigration from the Christian Knights’ holy anger by establishing a Samogitian Dioseceses. And, as I have learned from Ferdinand, after some hundreds of years the beautiful Imperia was installed.
I must admit, Ferdinand got straight to me. I put Lenk’s name on a piece of tissue paper and immediately asked for additional facts. I wanted to know, how come nobody was angry with a huge caricatural posture of a Pope, even a former one, installed in the public space? He said, some did get angry and that at one point, when they have actually installed a replica of the figure held by the Imperia in the city’s train station, it had to be removed because of various complaints, from the Catholic Church officials inclusively. But none, to his popular culture knowledge, ever questioned the Imperia statue itself. Neigburing city councils and art lover’s clubs are trying their best to convince Lenk to do some works for them as well. Besides, who cares about the reputation of a Pope who lived in the XVth century?
And that was all? No court cases? No prosecution of the artist or of the people who commissioned his work? He was not imprisoned? Not even for a day? Not even for 72 hours?
No. Lots of Germans actually like Lenk’s works a lot. They are funny. The sculpture became a must-see spot of the region. Apparently, high European officials really like it.
- “Critical Art” and Law in Moldova of 2015
Since he was a jurist, I told him that in Moldova the law seems to be treating some types of artistic expression with much, much more severity than it is in Germany. 2015 was particularly harsh from this point of view. Moldovan courts issued two arrest warrants – with two years’ probation, in the case of the authors of two famous artistic actions. One was for the actor and musician Sergiu Voloc, who was sentenced for literary slashing a couple of doors in the building of a court of law (he was acquitted in January, 2016) – an institutional camera nicely recorded this action – and the other one was for Anatol Mătăsaru, who was sentenced because in 2013 he had installed for a few minutes a penis-shaped object in front of the Prosecutors General Office. (The two artists actually met once in the court.) Mătăsaru entitled his object “Lupulu”, which was a pun that incorporated the Romanian word for ‘penis’ – pula – and the family name of the incumbent head of the Democratic Party (DP) of Moldova, Marian Lupu, whose picture had been also glued to the object Mătăsaru produced. “Lupulu” was installed on the National Day of the Prosecutors, together with another object, called after the famous painting of Courbet- “L’Origine du monde”. This second object represented a medium-size rectangular shape with margins covered with brown fur, with a elongated opening in the middle, where Mătăsaru placed photographs of the incumbent Prosecutor General, of the next-to come prosecutor general and of a couple of other prominents from DP, the party that was responsible for the election of the country’s Prosecutor General. (Follow the link to read more about this action.) In Mătăsaru’s words, the installation of those pretty fancifully constructed objects was a test for the authorities on the freedom of expression and free speech in Moldova, that the Moldovan authorities did not pass. “Lupulu” and the “L’Origine” were confiscated in a spectacular manner and later destroyed. The court, after considering the whole case for two years, sentenced Mătăsaru to two years’ with probation. The former DP chief, Marian Lupu, did not sue Mătăsaru. The prosecutors invoked laws from the penal code linked to outstanding acts of hooliganism and acts of impudence with great cynicism. Mătăsaru’s happening was interesting in many other ways. It showed, for example, how the new online medias are undergoing a self-imposed censuring process, which is quite faulty and ridiculous – the head of “Lupulu” was covered by a cloud on some news portals, but not the rest of the sculpture, and L’Origine, interestingly, was totally ignored and was left uncensored. In later releases of the images both objects were pixeled. Added to that, for the first time ever, people were seriously considering the possibility of a free art-market. An ad hoc online auction took place in which “Lupulu” was bought for a sum just a little above 200 euros. The person who supposedly bought it from Mătăsaru, a local journalist and activist, never pressed charges against the state authorities who had destroyed the work. Due to the fact that the prosecution, in their ignorance, suggested that the objects had nothing to do with the local culture and customs, a number of interesting art and literary works dealing with the lower half of the human body produced by classical local artists and writers came shortly into discussion – “The Fairy Tale of the Fairy Tales”, also known as “The Cock Tale” by Ion Creangă, – about a peasant who is cultivating penises on his land and Brîncuşi’s famous “Prinsess X”, to name the most famous ones. The word ‘pula’ in itself has an intriguing history as an institutionalized word of Romanian language. See for example the recent but wildly discussed Dan Caragea’s text – The tale of a shameful word.
Ferdinand was quick to add that Lenk himself is the author of a famous sculpture of a guy with a many-meters long penis! The relief is located on the front wall of the leftist Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung offices, or shortly taz, and the popular name for it is “The Cock of Berlin”. The sculpture emerged out of a lasting debate between taz’ editors and the editors of the conservative Bild magazine, whose offices are located on the other side of the street from taz, and who can see now the sculpture on a daily basis from their windows. It seems that Bild writers were having a superficial phallocentric obsession and that quite often they pre-fabricated scandalous news in which the protagonists’ genitals were at the core of all things. One day, in 2002, the editors of taz decided to go tit for tat, publishing a satirical article signed by Gerhard Henschelthat, in which it was claimed that the Bild’s editor-in-chief, Kai Diekmann, had gone through an unsuccessful penis enlargement procedure in a private clinic in Miami.
Bild’s lawyers immediately filed a law suit. However, they lost it, because the court held, that the claimant, in his function as editor-in-chief of Bild, had willingly decided to become an actor in a personal rights infringing affair, from which he was obviously profiting economically – the sales of both magazines increased greatly because of the scandal. Therefore, Diekmann would not be entitled to maximum protection against infringement of his own personal rights.
And this was not the end of it. Peter Lenk was invited to make a commemorative bas-relief to celebrate the whole affair. And this is how “The Cock of Berlin” came into life in 2009. It is on display to this day and nobody ever tried to attack it in a court of law.
The sculpture, like a caricature of a monumental size, as mentioned above, represents Diekmann with a five-floor-long stretched penis. The top floor inscription, “Peace Be With You” – the official title of the piece, refers to Friede Springer, publisher of Bild-Zeitung, who is depicted on the left-hand side of the fourth floor facade, performing the function of a snake-charmer – the penis head is like a cobra’s. The relief also displays sculptured caricatures of people who were involuntarily used in controversial penis-related headlines by Bild-Zeitung, with all the appropriate citations. “Peace Be With You” was also presented and talked about as an effective ‘therapeutic session for the sexual obsessions of the Bild newspaper’. It should be all about ‘pacification by evocation’.
- The Pig With a Human Face
As soon as I got home, I checked out Lenk’s works and it is impressive. His works were definitely the great discovery of 2015 for me. There is at least one fragment though, that appears in the “Peace Be With You” assemblage, that I find quite difficult to understand – a pig with a human face copulating with a bear. Initially, I thought that it might be somehow related to the famous court case of Bavarian Minister-President Dr. Franz Josef Strauss against caricaturist Rainer Hachfeld. Hauchfeld published in the magazine “Konkret” a caricature representing Strauss with a boar’s body having an intercourse with another pig with a human head wearing a traditional prosecutor’s hat. Strauss sued Hauchfeld. (It was 1987.) The case triggered a big discussion in the German press and courts of law on how should the court treat the insult and the ridicule in the image and weigh of the two conflicting fundamental human rights – the importance of artistic freedom and expression on one hand and the infringement of personal rights and severe impairment of honor on the other.
To make the story short, the District Court initially convicted Hachfeld, also because he kept producing similar images – he drew two more in a similar vein – when the process was on the roll, in other words it was considered to be a proof that the complainant had been acting with intent. (The complainant wrote to the editors of “Konkret”, expressing his dissatisfaction about the fact that he kept on having to draw more pigs pictures because the Bavarian Minister-President would not give him any rest.) This recidivism constituted a proof for a crime defined as a serious impairment of the honor and therefore no longer lay ‘in the context of artistic freedom’.
The caricaturist was sentenced to a total fine of 100 daily rates, although the judges agreed that it should not be overlooked that the representation of politicians as animals belongs to a frequently used stylistic device of caricature and that the representation of sexuality in satire in that period had been increasing considerably. They also seemed to have agreed that it is intrinsic to this artistic genre to work with exaggerations, distortions and alienation. However, the judges ruled that in this case that satirical critique representations far exceed the limit of what is reasonable. The Court of Appeal did not overrule the previous sentence.
Insofar as it relates to the freedom of art, the Court of Appeal had not denied that a balance of conflicting constitutional principles was in place. It also claimed that it did not base its decision on a fundamentally incorrect view of the importance of some hierarchy of rights, by putting some fundamental rights above others. In other words, satire and caricature was still thought to have a very special and important place in the public discourse. Although the three caricatures brought Hachfeld a considerable fine, they also fueled a heated discussion about what was critical art and how much freedom could an artist have in criticizing someone in public in Germany. They also seemed to have deeply penetrated the contemporary popular German culture. In 2002 the cartoonist went on to win the first prize in the National Political Caricature Award and he is very prolific to this day.
In Lenk’s relief, however, the image is quite different from those discussed above. There is a bear there and it doesn’t seem to be Strauss who is being represented as a pig. Bear, unlike what many Eastern Europeans would think, does not represent Russia in this case, but the city of Berlin. So we have somebody who is screwing the whole Capital City of Germany. This being said, one could speculate that the pig on the top of the bear is some kind of an official. It might be the former mayor of Berlin Eberhard Diepgen, who apparently wasn’t the best mayor the city ever had, as some of my German acquaintances suggested to me. I guess, I will never know the answer to that riddle.
It turns out that Lenk is a champion in visual provocations, even though he doesn’t consider himself to be one, claiming that the real instigators and provocateurs are the politicians and the business moguls who continuously produce countless scandals. He is very much aware of the power of his works and it has happened that he would even sign his own name under petitions, in which he would complain to the local authorities about his own works, and request their removal from the public space.
Ludwig’s Herritage is a project initiated in 2003 by the Bodman-Ludwigshafen’s Tourist Information Office under the working title “A Toilet Drama and Feudalism”. The ten by four meters big triptych relief in its final form was installed on one of the Bodman-Ludwigshafen’s town-hall’s walls in 2008. The work shows a number of important German politicians and CEOs naked, and not just that, but also caught, so to speak, in a position so unusual that this work was coined by many as ‘pornographic’. One can see, among others, the images of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the Baden-Württemberg Minister President Günther Oettinger, the former CSU leader Edmund Stoiber; as well as a number of top managers of famous German companies.
Lenk, however, insisted that his work, compared by some critics to the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, is a political criticism. He represented deliberately ‘the greedy people’ today in power, as the result of public elections. They are the producers of great scandals, so numerous that the media has to forget about the older ones in order to reflect upon the newer ones. If one relies only on the working memory of the public discourse, these scandals would be forgotten, but if they are immortalized as a monument, then they wouldn’t disappear from the public awareness for longer and therefore annoy in a sustainable and unequivocal way.
Lenk emphasized in an interview that with his piece he wanted to reflect on the bordering with obscene entanglements between power and money. Democracy, in his opinion, is weakening in Germany, and it is losing ground. Politics, generally speaking, is much more pornographic than any art. The sculptor went on to state, that he has rarely been so happy to see the politicians in the reality together. In Lenk’s opinion, the businessmen are a greater evil than politicians, “because the politicians are only the puppets of these gentlemen.”
“I don’t want to get upset about politicians, who lie straight in the face, and managers who cram their pockets. Instead, I decided to honor them by depicting them in a dignified monument.” said Lenk, in his typical mischievous nature, on the day of the unveiling ceremony.
- The Dance of The Naked Chancellors
The politicians were reported to be outraged, while the tourists flocked to see the relief. There were no court cases this time either. There was, however, a money issue. The procedure to finance the work was discussed quite widely not just in the offices of the ones in power, but also in articles and interviews dedicated to this enterprise. The Tourist Information Office and the group of art-lovers who wanted the municipality to sponsor the work offered the artist some 35.000 Euros, which covered the production costs for the middle fragment. Lenk had to wait two more years to get the money for the side pieces. According to the local laws, the municipality had two years to decide whether the work would stay in the town’s public space or not and whether the Town council would pay or not. Eventually, in 2010 they said they would keep the work and pay the artist 40.000 Euros for the two side fragments of the triptych. The work is on public display to this day. It took Lenk and his staff a year to complete and install the relief.
Lenk said, that one should talk openly about the issue of price. Indeed, pricing art is like a joke. On one hand he wanted certain managers and politicians to be criticized for their greediness, on the other hand, of course, he agrees to installments and the possibility to resell the piece. (There was a discussion on what to do with the piece if the local officials won’t buy it.) It is questionable, to do something for nothing, because it takes effort and resources, yet, art and culture are believed to be available for free.
Since the installation of the relief, the town’s Mayor, the non-affiliated Matthias Weckbach, hasn’t had a moment of peace. Tourists want to know whether the politicians represented on the relief really danced naked to the “Ringelpiez” (an English equivalent would be the “Ring a Ring o’ Roses”) on the city’s town-hall premises? Journalists have wondered about the ethics of covering the costs for art works from the taxpayers’ money. TV stations wanted to film the mayor in front of the relief and so on. And Lenk’s statements were not of a great help. Lenk said once, “I appreciate the local authorities of Baden-Württemberg. They are well suited for satire.”
One might wonder if it hasn’t become an honor to be caricatured by Lenk? To be in his work is a straight path into the minds of the future generations.
Lenk is constantly bombarded with letters, both of anger and praise, that pile up on the wooden table in his garden. He says, laughter helps. Especially against vituperation, which sometimes lead to open hatred. At some point he even received death threats.
“Ludwig’s Heritage” as well as other works by Lenk are very rich in detail and meaning. Often they are difficult to read, especially if, no surprise here, one is only partially familiar with the local context. There is always something new to discover or wonder about in them. For example, I have no idea if this particular work was linked to the name of Ludwig von Baden because of the homonymity or was it because Baden was a saboteur of the local authorities of his times, as Lenk is today, or because of something completely different. This is the reason why there is a letter of mine in that pile on Lenk’s table as well.
Some claim that Lenk is only an artisan and not a real artist. Many mock the subjects of his sculptures, as well as his burlesque characters, who, they snort, are caricatures rather than high art. Then, there is also another, the ironical if not cynical argument, that Lenk doesn’t live like an ‘artist’ “No coke, no feast, for 37 years married to the very same woman.” as an arts academy classmate of his has put it at an anniversary party. Lenk’s works, as well as Hachfeld’s, or Mătăsaru’s (who by the way did a number of works in which he used pigs), seem to fit exactly the certain practice of living known as kynicism reanimated by Peter Sloterdijk in his “The Critique of Cynical Reason”. Sloterdijk distinguishes between the kynical protest against mainstream culture and the cynical accommodation to the dominant culture. One could find its traces in the ancient Greek Philosophy (for example, Diogenes of Sinope, the dog, in Old Greek – kyon). Kynism is the tension, the urge of individuals to remain themselves as living beings in the face of the contortions and half-truths of their societies. It was maintained through opposition, laughter, refusal, and the call to reflect one’s complete nature – it is being as a confrontation. Kynicism and cynicism correspond to opposition and repression. Breasts, behinds, feces and genitals are all fields for the ex-pression of the kynical inspiration. Kynics made fun of their ‘serious’ contemporaries. These people were antiinstitutional, antitheoretical, antidogmatic, antischolastic. It is of little or no importance if one is an artist, as long as he or she is kynic. In fact, a number of more recent art theoreticians were defining Art in terms of kynicism. There are plenty of examples of this, a fact which is quite controversial in many ways, inclusively in realation to kynical position itself.
- The Future
Lenk’s and Hachfeld’s works argue that Otto Flake’s citation from 1912, with which Sloterdjik begins his “Critique of Cynical Reason”, “The greatest disability of the German minds is that they have no sense for irony, grotesque, contempt and banter” is no longer truth. (If it ever was, after all Luther was German, and it was him who said, “The Pope is the Devil’s sow”.) Also, it seems to me that one could easily replace the names of Lenk, Hachfeld and Mătăsaru with the name of Diogenes; and Athenes for German or, respectively, for Moldovan in Hegel’s, “The entire kynical mode of life adopted by Diogenes was nothing more or less than a product of Athenian social life, and what determined it was the way of thinking against which his whole manner protested. Hence it was not independent of social conditions but simply their result; it was itself a rude product of luxury.” (Elements of the Philosophy of Right, sec. 195).
There is plenty of subversive reason in Lenk’s and Hachfeld’s and in many other contemporary German authors’ works. There is less of it in the works of Moldovans, but it is not entirely absent. One can even literally follow its evolution in Germany, measured in the sense of irony, and grotesque, and contempt, and banter through the way in which the works of these two were accepted or judged by the large public, court officials included. Hachfeld was fined indeed, however, the discussion of his works lead to a higher degree of tolerance and eventually acceptance of the works of someone like Lenk. After all, it was a jurist who told me about him, talking, I believe, with bona fide sympathy and joy, as of ‘work that entertains’ (see Sloterdijk).
Germany is a country where there is a place for kynics, or in other words, where freedom of speech and a burlesque point of view is dear and of great importance. It must take lots of guts to be a politician, or a public figure over there since it implies to deal with a healthy but huge wave of critique through images, which is ubiquitous to the extent that it actually overflows from the pages of the papers and magazines into sculptures. Moldovan artists and activists, and not just them, can only envy German ones for that.
I wonder what would be Lenk’s next piece on? Would Frauke Petry get to be portrayed by him one day? Judging from her statements and the amount of caricatures already published online in the German Press, Lenk might consider her figure, although she still has a lengthy way to walk in order to reach Merkel’s mountain of whimsical representations. (The current counselor was portrayed more than once by Lenk.) Or, has it already happened?
Here I am, dreaming away of Lenk or of Hachfeld coming over to Chișinău and creating something there, may be even together with Mătăsaru, who, as it turns out, speaks German. I wonder whom would Lenk or Hachfeld choose to portray from the Moldovan Pantheon of politicians and business leaders and in what way? It is not as unrealistic as it might seem. Lenk is “cheaper” than many Moldovan sculptors. Besides, Chișinău became the city that it is now also thanks to a German mayor – Karl Schimdt!
- The Future II.
A month and a half has passed since I talked to Ferdinand. In the meantime, far away in Moldova, Mătăsaru was arrested again (January, 29). He sat on a toilet that he temporarily installed in front of the offices of the National Anti-corruption Center pretending to take a poo
(January, 28). The next day, some dozen of police officers took him from his home to a prison. He was released after three days of detention, yet many of his supporters worry that he might get imprisoned again due to his previous court record. Mătăsaru is going through a real ‘toilet drama’, in a country that many believe to be turning to feudalism.
On February, 11, during the regional court hearing in the “Loo” case, the prosecutor Mihail Proca, requested in the court, in the most cynical way, a sentence of 5 year imprisonment for Mătăsaru and a 30 day arrest for the time of the case proceedings. The court ruled this out, and for the time being Mătăsaru is free. The prosecutor appealed and the case will be considered by a higher court.
“In every one of us,”, writes Sloterdijk, “there was once a primitive dog and a primitive swine, beside which Diogenes is a pale imitation—but we, as well-behaved people, cannot for the life of us remember anything about it. It is not enough that this human primitive animal, as the educators say, ‘defecates’ and performs in front of everybody what we adults do there where only our conscience looks on. Not only does it piss in its diapers and against the wall; this being at times even develops an interest unworthy of a human being in its own excrement and does not even shrink from smearing the wall with it. That Diogenes did such things not even his enemies claimed. In all superfluity, this being likes to frequently hold those parts of the body for which adults only know the Latin names and shows in everything a reckless self-conceit, as if it personally and no one else were the center of its world.” All humans are the same under the sun. Lenk, Hachfeld, Mătăsaru are aware of that. Let us hope that the Moldovan prosecutors would become more aware of that as well and who knows, perhaps some of them decide to google the life of Diogenes, read about it and climb to a higher level of being.
Teodor Ajder, Ph.D.