RAILING OPINIONby Hans Haacke
I just found the article by Timothy Francis Barry about documenta 14 in the July/August issue of the Brooklyn Rail.
Apparently, due to the author’s misunderstanding of an explanation he was given, he stated that I had adopted a neo-Nazi slogan for the banners and posters I designed for display in Kassel (and in Athens).
“Wir sind das Volk” (We are the people) was the slogan with which East Germans rebelled against the self-proclaimed GDR (German Democratic Republic) in 1989, a repressive regime which called its parliament “Volkskammer,” its police “Volkspolizei,” and its army “Volksarmee.” Eventually the 1989 uprising led to the demise of the GDR, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
Some 10 years later, this very slogan was adopted by right-wing, xenophobic groups in Germany, particularly in the former GDR—with a very different meaning.
In 2003, when I was invited to make a proposal for the commemoration of the 1989 uprising that originated at the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicolas Church) in Leipzig, I felt it was necessary to specify who “the people” are, whom I was ready to celebrate, namely everyone, irrespective of their national or ethnic background. I therefore proposed to project onto the church: “Wir (alle) sind das Volk” [We (all) are the people].
At documenta 14 in Athens and in Kassel, this slogan is displayed not only in the respective language of the two countries and the languages understood by most foreign documenta visitors, but also in the languages of the migrants and refugees who have come in recent years to Greece and to Germany and are exposed to xenophobic aggression in both countries. Among the languages are Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, Farsi (as spoken in Afghanistan), and the language of refugees from Eritrea.
The column of twelve languages on the banners and posters are flanked, left and right, by rainbow colors, stand on black bases and are topped by white capitals—colors referring to ethnicity and sexual identification.
In Kassel and in Athens, I was assisted by people sympathetic to or actively caring for migrants and refugees.