Monday, July 10, 2017

The feel of history

In 1969 a young German artist visited a series of European nations that the Nazi military had invaded and occupied a few decades earlier. Anselm Kiefer carried a Wehrmacht uniform in his suitcase, and regularly donned it. He photographed his uniformed self in front of old memorials and the sea, and invariably gave the camera a stiff-armed salute. 

When Kiefer exhibited his self-portraits in a gallery, under the title Occupations, many of his countrymen were perturbed. He was accused of fascism, of irredentism, of anti-semitism. The artist defended himself by saying that he found the refusal of postwar German society to discuss the Nazi era intolerable. 

Kiefer explained that, when he dressed in a German uniform and gave a fascist salute, he was trying to understand history physiologically. Frustrated by academic history and by the cynical silence of his father's generation, he sought to enter into the past directly, by forcing his body into the materials and postures of the 1930s and '40s. 

And a series of influential survivors of Nazism came to the defence of the young artist. They considered his photographs less insulting than the reticence about the past that the political and cultural elites of West Germany affected. 

I thought Anselm Kiefer and his desire to experience the past physiologically on Saturday, when I joined a small group of Aucklanders who were walking down the Great South Road to remember the invasion of the Waikato Kingdom in 1863. When I joined them, the marchers were passing through Papatoetoe. They hoped to reach Drury by the end of Sunday, and then to push on to Pokeno, close to the border of the Kingdom, on Monday night, ready for the one hundred and fifty-fourth anniversary of the invasion on Tuesday. 
To walk over the same territory as the armies and refugees of 1863 is to seek a closer, more physical understanding of the past. Saturday's rain had made the berms of South Auckland muddy and rutted, like the road that Irish and Yorkshire soldiers struggled to build and defend. The way south through Papatoetoe and Manukau was punctuated by pubs and liquor shops, the descendants of the taverns and bootleggers' stills that promised exhausted and frightened troops relief. As I shivered through the rain I wondered at the toughness of the soldiers on both sides of the war, who marched through forests of punga fern during storms and slept on wet blankets in blockhouses and raupo whare. 

A broken-down Ford escort had stopped traffic on one of the Great South Road's tributaries. As smoke wafted from its bonnet, a tow truck driver waited and revved his engines. I imagined knife-wielding, opportunistic local farmers clearing the road of broken-legged carthorses, as soldiers and refugees waited in the mud of 1863. 
This year's walk was a largely unpublicised trial for what the group hopes will be a regular and well-attended jaunt. The Manukau Courier ran a report, and Paul Janman took the photographs reproduced here. 

6 Comments:

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7:11 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Good connection to Keifer. I didn't know his work. I may have seen some.

An interesting way to experience history (in Germany and NZ) and make a point. Thus the value of conceptual and or performance art etc....

11:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This guy is a troll. Loves Nazis and other hate mongers although he pretends not to. He makes fake history and his stuff is full of lies. Check for yourself. Gets other trolls to comment like Richard to make it look like people are interested.

7:36 am  
Blogger Richard said...

And who are you anonymous? The Three Billy Goats Gruff?

Please tell us more: we are all ears.

11:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

https://www.maoritelevision.com/news/regional/ihumatao-trespass-notice-said-be-repeating-past

10:17 pm  
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7:19 pm  

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