Sue de Beer
Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn
Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed
Erik van Lieshout
Stephen G. Rhodes
Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch
Martin Dammann’s works are largely based on war photographs from both world wars, which he has collected from private albums and archives. His nearly obsessive focus upon the wars reflects his need to connect the past with the present under the assumption that the past can tell us something about today.
Dammann’s Soldier Studies (2007) shows German soldiers who compensate for the absence of women resulting from the war by adopting the roles of both genders—soldiers are shown dancing together in their uniforms, dressing in women’s clothes, and performing accomplished drag shows. However, rather than displaying full-fledged homoerotic scenes or obviously homosexual couples, the photographs merely suggest the soldiers’ desire to retreat into some semblance of normality, however bourgeois and stuffy that concept of normality may be. The reality of the war, with its redefinition of friend, lover, husband, and employee into soldier, starkly contrasts with the men’s desire to withdraw into the private sphere.
This observation would allow us to conclude that the soldiers did not identify strongly with their German “fatherland.” In other words, the overidentification that accompanied the stylization of the “Aryan” could be seen, among others things, as an indication of the fundamental insecurity of these soldiers’ own (national) identity along with various inferiority and guilt complexes.
Notwithstanding the extreme simplification of these complex interrelationships, which is necessitated here for practical purposes, it is widely known that the Nazis’ success was a result of their effort to transform the German identity from that of the loser of World War I, suffering under the humiliation of the “Schmachfrieden vor Versailles” (Dishonoring Peace Treaty of Versailles), to that of the “master race.” However, because these ersatz arguments only manage to cover up the underlying lack rather than dissolve it, the stagings in Dammann’s work that compensate for the absence of women simply by means of professional costumes and makeup techniques can be interpreted as a uniquely German negation of the reality of the war and also, consequently, as a refusal to recognize or acknowledge its causes. It is no coincidence that scenes from Dammann’s images cannot be found in either American or British photo archives.
Dammann’s fascination with the German past and his decision to abstain from creating his own, professional images, choosing instead to refurbish old, amateur photographs and thereby reinterpret them, indicate that the subject’s constraints in its respective world and its necessity to act within it have a great relevance for the artist. He seems to want to point out that the effects of such determining experiences never stop leaving their mark in our present. We can perceive Dammann’s interaction with old photographs steeped in memories and history, by which the artist searches for the “tiny spark of chance” with which “reality has scorched through the image character, as it were” (Walter Benjamin), as an indication that he is aware of the impossibility of a consistent concept of reality in which man has a fixed place, because the techniques Dammann uses—like the repeated display or enlargement of the image—are means of distantiation.
In his work, the artist nevertheless asks about exactly that place, namely, because the self-awareness of a German today is just as fragmented and problematic as it has been for the past sixty years (and more). This burdened history makes the search for the self and the exhaustion that results from this search—in short, depression (on this, see Alain Ehrenberg)—an important theme.
Dammann clings to the possibility of an identity-generating sense of belonging by tracing the stories of the images with great sincerity; he is no cynic. However, he is aware that identity and identification cannot be generalized and permanently inscribed. He also knows that he must repeatedly confront reality in all of its instability and unforeseeability if he wants to avoid the kind of withdrawal into the private sphere that is so evident in the photographs with which he works.
Lives and works in Berlin
|2006||Collecting Militaria Gives You Something to Talk About, Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin|
|2005||Vanishing Point, Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna|
|1998||Transmission, Espace des Arts, Chalon sur Soâne, France |
BlitzLicht, Kunstruimte, Berlin
|2007||Galerie in SITU, Paris|
|2006||Berlin Tendenzen, La Capella—Instituto de Cultura de Barcelona, Spain|
|2001||Pandaemonium, The Lux Centre, London|
|2000||ExperimentalProjects, (touring) P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin|
|1998||Between, Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art, Florida, USA|
Berlin Tendenzen, exh. cat. La Capella—Instituto de Cultura de Barcelona (Barcelona, 2006).
Ellen Blumenstein, “Le fantasme de Berlin,” in: Artpress (August–October 2006).
Rosemary Burgstaller, “Vanishing Point—Martin Dammann,” in: Eikon, no. 52 (December 2005).
Petra Henninger, “Das Eigenleben der Bilder,” in: Artnet Magazin (June 6, 2005).
Friedrich Meschede, et al. “Zu den Arbeiten ‘Eagle’ von Martin Dammann,” in: Einsiedler—Vorübergehend, ed. Necmi Sönmez, exh. cat. Museum Folkwang (Essen, 2001).