9 November 1988
GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN, Ninth November Night, Catalogue
Reinhold Mißelbeck, Curator for Photography and new media, Museum Ludwig cologne
NINTH NOVEMBER NIGHT
Childrens' faces are to be seen on seventeen pictures, each one measuring 4x2
metres, finished using the scannachrome process. Next to these, in small format,
a black and white table showing the differences between the
Aryan and the inferior races by way of their posture when seated and foot prints - obviously in the framework of scientific treatment.
What we see are average faces, identical to hundreds of others that we could meet on the street: children between the ages of six and seven, whose faces are slightly toned white with make-up. Indeed their facial expressions are passive in a way which is difficult to describe: sometimes the eyes are half closed, sometimes the head is photographed slightly from below or just off centre. The portraits are irritating, since the children are portrayed in a way in which children generally would not be photographed. There is no good cheer, no childlike innocence, no sparkle in the eyes. We imagine pictures of children to be different. It is the subtle alterations in the facial expression and posture that cause us to be disturbed by these images. As soon as one rids oneself of the emotional impression and attempts to sober appraisal, it becomes obvious that these are wholly normal, thoroughly average childrens' faces.
It is exactly this effect which Gottfried Helnwein aimed to achieve in his work. He wanted to shock, but at the same time he also wanted to make it clear that there is really no reason for such shock, that all that we see is completely normal.
In this manner he achieves an impact which is principally comparable to the
effect of National Socialist propaganda. Even the Jews were, when considered
lucidly, and if one cast aside the image created by the National
Socialist campaign, ordinary people like you and I, neighbours whom one had known for many years, the doctor who had treated the children or the shopkeeper living opposite. Those people had not changed, only their public image. The study of this paragraph in our history brings clearly to light that it is enough merely to alter the way an image appears to the public in order to achieve the reevaluation of a system of values handed down through generations.
Something similar is induced by Gottfried Helnwein's portraits, which cause the sight of completely normal children to be shocking and make their faces appear ill and strange…
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