Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cogs lately, 10: Entartete Kunst edition

Two days after splintering my radius, I was unexpectedly back on the Luther campus, warming up in the Union before walking over to the regular Shakespeare sonnet event and then to teach on Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Unexpectedly there because I anticipated having surgery that day, but my wrist-area was still too swollen.

With the pain-management medication taking the edge off, I walked into the Union gallery to check out the latest student exhibition: Entartete Kunst by Cassandra Bormann. Among the first of this intaglio collection was a piece called “Martin Bormann Diptych.” The right panel is a man in a fedora from the neck up; the left panel is a perplexing conglomeration of cogwheels inside a black haze of ink so clotted thick it seems I can smell its seductive, toxic perfume.

As the collection continues, there are other pieces featuring similar assemblages of cogwheels, without humans. All titled “Untitled.” As if the cogwheels exceed or perhaps elude the verbal.

In addition to this repression of the verbal element, what fascinates me in these images is the dreamlike disorganization of the cogwheel machines. Does disgust at the Nazis manifest in a desire to represent them as mechanical (constructivist) rational state apparatus, but as an imperfect, flawed machine? If so, does this critical representation hold onto a desire for, perhaps fetishization of, efficient, good machines? Similar to the way our laughter at a Rube Goldberg cartoon actually reinforces an appreciation of efficient machines—we don’t laugh at the embranglement of machines and human beings so much as at any human beings who sufficiently miss the point of the machine to invent the wonky contraptions illustrated by Goldberg.

Bormann’s intaglio collection is quite an outstanding work.

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