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Andreas Mühe 安德里亚斯·穆埃

Pathos as Distance / By Diana d’Arenberg Parmanand /

Shown at Whitestone Gallery in Hong Kong, Pathos as Distance by Andreas Mühe is a survey of the artist’s work, comprising 30 photographs taken from 2004 to 2018.

The East German-born photographer, who grew up in the last decade of the Cold War in a still divided Germany, creates images that portray the present through the lens of history using temporal distance to invoke pathos in a contemporary society suffering from historical amnesia. Mühe displays a fascination with power, pomp and grandeur, photographing monumental buildings, politicians, celebrities and rock stars, and even the German chancellor Angela Merkel. But he also dives into his country’s own history, subverting the totalitarian aesthetics and discourses of power that he draws on.

The first photographs encountered in the exhibition are four self-portraits of the artist from the series Mühe Kopf (2018). Resembling album covers by German rock band Rammstein, with whom the artist has worked, the white, sculpted clay faces stare at the viewer with piercing blue, ceramic eyes. They are a form of vanitas, a contemplation of his own mortality and the vulnerability of the human body. Reconstructing his own image out of clay, the artist stages his decay: the faces are cracked and broken, like porcelain dolls. Given the context of many of his works, those blue eyes – the only colour in the portraits – immediately call to mind an ideal characteristic of the supposedly superior Aryan race as defined by Nazi ideology. But the cracked, deteriorating, weeping faces also evoke the slow decay of an ideology built around the supremacy of toxic white masculinity – one which, although exposed and fragile, is still all too frighteningly familiar today.

Sport by Andreas Mühe, 159.3 x 129.7 x 4.5 cm, 2004. 
Courtesy the artist and Whitestone Gallery.

Illusion and decay are underlying common threads to much of Mühe’s work, as he examines the construction of reality and power. He understands the propaganda power of cinematography, quoting Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, propaganda art and Hollywood films. A nearby photo depicts three blond, chiselled, handsome young men flexing their biceps while two of them hold a towel over their own heads (Sport, 2004). Dressed in black, white and red gym gear – colours associated with the Nazi German flag – these men too represent the Aryan male ideal, embodying a youthful, healthy, strong, hard-edged athleticism, the type often depicted in Nazi propaganda posters and art (Riefenstahl’s 1936 Olympian series featured modern Olympians in heroic, idealised poses), and even communist propaganda posters from East Germany, revealing an aesthetic that connects authoritarian regimes. The men have arms raised, echoing the pose of power or victory, or perhaps caught in the middle of a sporting activity, except the towel held up by two of the men is more fitting for a sweaty sauna frolick.

American writer Susan Sontag discusses the overlap of the fascist male ideal and that of gay male gym culture in her article Fascinating Fascism (1974), remarking that “Painters and sculptors under the Nazis often depicted the nude, but they were forbidden to show any bodily imperfections. Their nudes look like pictures in male health magazines: pinups which are both sanctimoniously asexual and (in a technical sense) pornographic, for they have the perfection of a fantasy.” There’s a hint of camp and the homoerotic in Sport, a fetishisation of the idealised male body. By revealing this overlap, Mühe subverts the power structure he’s referencing. And in the careful staging and posing of the models, the artist also exposes the propagandist intent behind the choreographed images he’s referencing – which were meant to convey purity, masculinity, superiority – emoving the aggression and violence inherent in the iconography.

Beside this hangs a black-and-white photo of a man dressed in a leather trench coat and flat cap, looking like he’s on the set of a spy film, standing before a wall graffitied with the word “Heimat” (Heimat, 2004). The German word, which translates as home or homeland, but is also a very specific German word to describe a love of homeland, a national identity, a feeling of belonging and a sense of place carried in the soul, references Mühe’s roots. The wall on which the graffiti is sprayed immediately calls to mind the Berlin Wall dividing the city during the Cold War, but the image straddles political ideology. It brings together two histories, and the visual language of fascism and communism, connected by an anaesthetic of megalomania – masculine, threatening, powerful – which built big walls and big monuments to itself.

Exhibition view of Pathos as Distance at Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong, 2020.
Courtesy the artist and Whitestone Gallery.

Veering away from the masculine projection of power is A M Eine Deutschlandreise (2013), a series which recreates his tour photographing Angela Merkel during her election campaign across Germany. For security reasons Mühe was not allowed to photograph the chancellor in her car on her tour, so he recreated the experience using his own mother as the model for Merkel. In a series of portraits of the back of this faux Merkel’s head, we see her looking out of her armoured car window at fragments of landscapes and scenes tied to German identity: a statue of Karl Marx in Chemnitz, the Lorelei rock on the Rhine, a shipping port, children waving German flags. This series has a voyeuristic feel to it, but like much of Mühe’s work the photographs are staged, blurring the line between reality and artifice. Incidentally, Mühe became prominent when at 29 years old he shot the portrait for Angela Merkel’s election campaign, which earned him the title of the chancellor’s photographer – a title he later lost when he released Obersalzberg, a provocative photography series set at Hitler’s mountainside retreat, mocking old Nazi photos.

A series of landscape portraits, Rammstein USA und Kanada Tour (2012), features members of the band, again shot from behind, with each band member standing nude and alone amid an American landscape on an airstrip, cliff top or riverbank. It is fitting that Mühe photographed the band; they share not just East German roots but also a similar sensibility, featuring a love of roleplay and humour. For years the band courted controversy; their live sets are monumental and mocking spectacles of authoritarian theatrics, a cabaret of the grotesque subversively flirting with Nazi iconography and symbolism. In this series they embrace the socialist spirit in these inspired images by Freikörperkultur or free body culture, a form social nudism that was popular in East Germany. The photos are a display of masculinity, free, uninhibited and unconstrained by social mores, despite the fact that public nudity is largely illegal in the US. But the photos are also a little absurd and comical, as these men – known for their menacing, aggressive heavy-rock image – are stripped bare and vulnerable. In Flake am Colorado River Texas am 24.Mai 2012 ca. 12.30 Uhr, 2012 (2012), keyboardist Christian Lorenz sports only a plaster on his back as he stands naked by a river. A moody landscape of a cliff against a sunset-bruised sky fuses the grandeur of nature presented in Riefenstahl’s film work with the romanticism of a Caspar David Friedrich landscape painting – except the subject here, silhouetted against the dusk sky, looks like he’s taking a piss off the cliff, recalling the artist’s earlier Rückenfiguren series (2010–11) of pissing Nazis shot from behind.

Mühe grew up with actor and theatre director parents. The artist demonstrates a flair for staging and a mastery of symbolism that he has employed to great effect in creating disruptive works that examine and deconstruct the visual language of power, often tied to masculinity, with a subversive, dark humour and irony.

Exhibition view of Pathos as Distance at Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong, 2020.
Courtesy the artist and Whitestone Gallery.

作為距離的悲憫

安德里亞斯.穆埃(Andreas Mühe)在香港白石畫廊展出的「作為距離的悲憫」是藝術家的個展,涵蓋2004年至2018年間拍攝的30張照片。

這位出生於東德的攝影師在冷戰的最後十年成長於一個仍然分裂的德國。他創造的影像通過歷史的角度描繪當下的現實,並利用時間距離,在遺忘了歷史的當代社會喚起悲痛。穆埃展現了對權力、壯麗和浮誇的著迷,拍攝宏偉的建築、政客、名人和搖滾明星,甚至是德國總理安格拉.默克爾(Angela Merkel)。但是他也探討了自己國家的歷史,用嶄新的方法表達,顛覆了他所引用的獨裁體制美學和有關權力的論述。

展覽中遇到的第一批照片是藝術家《Mühe Kopf》(2018年)系列的四個自畫像,與藝術家合作過的德國搖滾樂隊Rammstein的專輯封面相似。白色粘土雕塑面孔中藍色陶瓷眼睛以尖銳的眼神凝視著觀眾,是對他自己的死亡和人體脆弱之處的一種沉思。藝術家用黏土重建了自己的形象,然後刻意讓它們衰變;面孔像瓷娃娃一樣破裂。考慮到他許多作品的背景,那些藍眼睛(肖像中唯一有顏色的地方)立即讓人們想到了納粹意識形態所定義的雅利安人種高人一等的理想特徵。但是,破裂、衰敗和流淚的面孔也喚起了這個建基於崇尚有害的白人大男人主義的意識形態的緩慢衰落。雖然這種意識形態不再隱藏,而且愈見脆弱,但今天仍然處處可見,令人心寒。

幻覺和腐朽是穆埃大部分作品的共同主線;他研究現實和權力的建構。他了解電影的政治宣傳力量,參考了納粹電影製片人蘭妮.萊芬斯坦(Leni Riefen-stahl)、文宣藝術和荷李活電影。附近的一張照片描繪了三個金髮英俊的年輕人彎曲二頭肌,而其中兩個則用毛巾擦著自己的頭(《Sport》,2004年)。這些人身穿與納粹德國國旗顏色相關的黑色、白色和紅色的運動服,–也代表了理想中的雅利安人男性,體現了年輕、健康、強壯和運動型的象徵。這種風格經常出現在納粹宣傳海報和藝術作品中(萊芬斯坦1936年的《Olympian》系列呈現了現代奧運運動員英雄主義、理想化的姿勢),以及東德的共產主義宣傳海報,全都展示了獨裁體制的美學。這些人舉起雙臂,呼應權力或勝利的姿勢,或者在運動途中的動作,只不過兩個人舉起的毛巾更適合令人汗流浹背的桑拿浴使用。

美國作家蘇珊.桑塔格(Susan Sontag)在她的《迷人的法西斯主義》(《Fascinating Fascism》,1974年)中討論了法西斯主義的男性理想與男同性戀體育文化的重疊,並指出「納粹的畫家和雕塑家經常描繪裸體,但他們不會在身體上展示任何瑕疵。他們的裸體像男性健康雜誌上的照片一樣:角色偽善地假裝非色情,但因為它們具有幻想的完美令他顯得色情。」《Sport》中帶有同性戀色情的特徵,對理想化的男性身體的迷戀。通過揭示這種重疊,穆埃對他所引用的權力結構重新演繹。在模特兒的精心佈置和擺姿勢的過程中,藝術家還展示了他所引用的精心設計圖像背後的宣傳意圖;這些意圖旨在傳達純正、陽剛、高人一等的主義,並消除了肖像學中固有的侵略性和暴力。

在這旁邊,掛了一張黑白照片,當中一個男人穿著長皮褸和平頂帽,看上去就像是在間諜電影的片場上,站在牆上貼著「Heimat」一詞的牆壁前面(《Heimat》,2004年)。這個德語單詞翻譯成「家園」或「國家」,但它也是一個非常特殊的德語單詞,用於描述對國家的熱愛、民族身份、歸屬感和靈魂中所處的位置感,是穆埃的身份背景。噴上塗鴉的牆壁讓人立即想起冷戰期間將城市分隔的柏林圍牆,但該圖像跨越了政治意識形態。它匯集了兩種歷史,以及法西斯主義和共產主義的視覺語言,通過陽剛、威脅、強大的狂妄的麻醉劑聯繫在一起,從而為其自身建造了巨大的牆和紀念碑。

《A M Eine Deutschlandreise》(2013年)與突顯男性的權力的目的有所不同,該系列重現了他在拍攝安格拉.默克爾在德國大選期間的旅程。出於安全原因,穆埃在旅途中不可在汽車上拍攝總理的照片,因此他以自己的母親作為默克爾的模特兒重新創建了這段經歷。在一系列仿製默克爾頭部後部的肖像中,我們看到她從裝甲車窗向外看與德國身份相關的風景和景象:開姆尼茨的卡爾.馬克思雕像、萊茵河上的羅蕾萊岩石、港口和孩子們揮舞著德國國旗。這個系列具有偷窺的感覺,但是像穆埃的許多作品一樣,這些照片都是刻意重演的,令現實與技巧之間的界線變得模糊。穆埃在29歲時為默克爾的競選活動拍攝肖像而成名,為他贏得了總理攝影師的頭銜;後來,他發佈以希特拉山邊別墅作背景的挑釁性攝影作品《Obersalzberg》嘲笑納粹舊照片後,失去了這個頭銜。

《Rammstein USA und Kanada Tour》(2012年)系列風景肖像展示了也是從背後拍攝的樂隊成員。每位樂隊成員裸體站立,獨自站在美國不同的地方,如飛機跑道、懸崖頂或河岸上。穆埃給樂隊拍照是很合適的;他們不僅擁有東德人的血統,而且具有相似的感性,喜歡角色扮演和幽默。多年來,樂隊一直引起爭議。他們的現場佈景充滿戲劇性,以歌舞表演展示了獨裁主義的風格,同時顛覆了納粹的肖像和象徵意義。在這個系列中,他們受天體文化(一種在東德很流行的社會裸體主義)的圖像啟發,擁戴著社會主義的精神。這些照片展現出男子氣慨、自由、不受約束和不受社會風氣的束縛,儘管在美國,在公眾地方裸露身體在很大程度上是違法的。但是這些照片也有點荒謬和可笑,因為這些男人以其險惡、具有侵略性的重搖滾形象而聞名,但是在照片裡他們被剝光了衣服,展示脆弱一面。在《Flake am Colorado River Texas am 24.Mai 2012 ca. 12.30 Uhr, 2012》(2012年),鍵盤手克里斯蒂安.洛倫茲(Christian Lorenz)在河邊赤裸身體時背上只貼著膠布。一幅陰沈的風景畫[展示著懸崖峭壁映襯在夕陽瀰漫的天空,將萊芬斯坦的電影作品所展現的自然宏偉與卡斯巴.大衛.佛烈德利赫山水畫的浪漫主義融合在一起。只是,映襯在黃昏的天空下的主角,彷彿要從懸崖上撒尿,令人回想起藝術家較早從背後拍攝的撒尿納粹成員的《Rückenfiguren》系列(2010-11年)。

穆埃的父母是演員和劇院導演。這位藝術家展示了他對舞台佈置的天份和對象徵的精通,對他在創作具反叛色彩的作品時發揮了巨大作用,讓他以黑色幽默和諷刺來探討和解構通常與男子氣慨相關的權力的視覺語言。

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