6 April – 25 May 2014
Renner, Sdun (Cézanne)
The comparability of apples and hands (or perhaps rather gestures) is open to debate.
On the one hand, photographs by Volker Renner – extracts from a job photographing the 2011 Eurovision Grand Prix – on the other hand, drawings and watercolors by Cézanne: In her text piece, Nora Sdun explores a certain idée fixe that grew out of these components.
Volker Renner / Cézanne / Hohenlockstedt
These photographs of raised hands were made during rehearsals for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. A blogger with a penchant for insanity had hired photographer Volker Renner to photograph the rehearsals for the main event. Upon completing the job, Renner isolated the photograph details that are on view here today, as well as in a monograph that must be laying around here somewhere for sale. These images thus depart from the confines of the work-for-hire. This is not simply a recycling of already existing material, but likely also a technique for mastering the traumatic reality of such a mass hysteria “song contest” event.
“Expression undermines the power of the impulse” Adorno once wrote. And it is true, thousands of people squeal at these song contest concerts and throw their hands up in the air. This gesture, immediate and difficult to control in moments of genuine empathy, is routinely employed with every measure of control in showbiz as self-evident but entirely vacuous sign language for “enthusiasm”. For all its gaping emptiness, it works. Still.
Rehearsals are underway. An unforgiving choreography of spread fingers, angled wrists and all the obligatory arm and shoulder posturings has to be paraded out. Here, the expressive palette extends from the militantly raised fist, over the victory V, a mixed bag of secret signs, the far less secret “hang loose”, devil’s horns, all the way to Balinese temple dancing. In pop contexts, the raised fist – known in some corners as the “communist fist” - is typically inserted when lyrics address freedom or justice. Devil’s horns are usually deployed when (heavy) metal groups grace the stage … What can I say? I’m not particularly knowledgeable on this topic. The key factor is that the singer(s) – either individually or in unison – are complicit in the gesticulation, such that no one in the team heaves a raging resistance fist when someone else is about to launch into an elegiac swan song.
It is remarkable how spirited the hands in these image details appear to be at first glance – imbued with meaning somehow, inspired. (They say Schiller put rotten apples in his desk drawer to get inspired by the odor.) … So, the hands look spirited, although we know that 1) it’s just a rehearsal (as mentioned, Volker Renner didn’t photograph the decisive competitive event, but rather before it) and 2) these are intentional, controlled gestures essentially required to satisfy theatrical criteria.
Forced expression reigns.
It’s not enough to just sing and anyway, that doesn’t make for interesting images.
So: Powerful expression is on demand. It should be executed in penetrating and aggressive style – yet is, in fact, singularly deliberate and calculating. But where have we seen all this before? In mannerist works of art throughout history.
Artistic mannerism assembles a complete menagerie of paradoxes. The simultaneous expression of rigidity and a longing for something transfused with spirit is but one of these contradictions – and can safely be insinuated of those participating in the Song Contest. The single hands prove it perhaps better than any long shot of the star body ever could have.
To aim at some concocted kind of fulfillment and worldly certitude, while at the same time trying to make a career in an eternally unchanging, phenomenally profit-oriented machine where apparently the only worthwhile strategy is to be as stereotypical as possible: That is of course poignantly contradictory.
A letter Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to his wife Clara Rilke in 1907 conveys a similar poignance. In it, he describes how he thought Cézanne must have worked:
This consuming of love in anonymous work, out of which such pure things arise, no one perhaps has so fully achieved as this old man; his inner nature, which had become mistrustful and sullen, supported him in this. He would certainly never again have shown his love to any human being, if he had had to love; but with this disposition, which had been fully developed through his isolated eccentricity, he now turned to Nature too and knew how to repress his love for each single apple and to store it in a painted apple forever.
(Translation source: https://archive.org/stream/lettersofrainerm030932mbp/lettersofrainerm030932mbp_djvu.txt )
Imagine a grumpy man grown unfit for social participation, who doesn’t even seem to value nature or inanimate things. And this man now sets out to to deposit all the love he has not yet expended in painting, preferably in paintings of apples. Cézanne died of a cold he caught working outdoors during a storm.
In the hands as well as in the apples, we are dealing with two variations of mannerist art – not interested in simple, or should we say obvious development processes.
This shouldn’t get overcomplicated: I’d like to keep it just confusing – so I’m going to attach a loose series of images and stories in which hands and apples play a significant role. They lend themselves to the observation of the two specific components that come together in such a peculiar way in this show.
Basically, it’s simple: Hands reach for apples, it doesn’t matter if those apples are hanging in a tree or laying around at the supermarket. It is a very simple and very common procedure.
So, first we have the fall in the garden through original sin and the creation of Adam.
In Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”, we see a naked man with a clearly distinct Adam’s apple. Michelangelo doesn’t stick to the true order of events here: At the time of his creation, Adam did not yet have an Adam’s apple. The good man didn’t acquire this accessory until later, and that was shortly before being expelled from Eden in the company and at the insistence of Eve, who offered him the apple from the tree of knowledge that proceeded to get stuck in his throat.
So it is that every Adam’s apple to this very day reminds us of the fall in the garden. It can be seen as God’s final correction to the creation and design of humankind, perhaps a sort of cheeky signature.
Human history has hands with spread fingers on record even before the biblical story in the form of cave paintings. These handprints are approximately 40,000 years old and quite likely represent signatures as well.
Whether the forbidden fruit in the garden was even an apple or not is the subject of divisive debate amongst experts. But that is completely irrelevant to our discussion, because the apple has established itself as the motif in art history.
The structure of this fruit inspired Paraclesus to form an analogy between the apple, man and the universe, and Rudolf Steiner was as happy to take up that analogy as several other pedagogues were, which is probably why the apple makes an appearance in every godforsaken children’s book, from “Snow White” to “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” - incidentally Show White replicates Adam’s problem, I mean the part where he chokes on the forbidden fruit.
In quite a few Mary with Child images, the baby is depicted with an apple in hand. It’s a positive indication that this little one will overcome original sin, not just for faithful Christians but for everyone.
Then there is the myth of Paris (I’m switching the cultural vantage point) and its more or less familiar golden “apple of discord”. The story goes like this: All the Greek gods have been invited to a marriage. That is, all except for Eris, the “goddess of discord”. The insulted goddess tosses a golden apple bearing the single word kallistá (meaning: “to the fairest one”) amongst the party. The next scene features a quarrel between Aphrodite, Pallas Athena and Hera as to the intended recipient of the apple. Zeus chooses the mortal youth Paris as referee. In various attempts to win Paris over, each of the goddesses bribes him. Hera promises him world domination and Athena promises wisdom, while Aphrodite guarantees him the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth. With a reward such as this, Aphrodite can hardly fail. However, this most beautiful mortal, a woman named Helena, is already married to Menelaus, King of Sparta. This guarantee and the abduction of Helena necessary for its fulfillment is said to have catalyzed the Trojan War.
This beauty contest amongst the goddesses is not at all dissimilar to contemporary contests, such as the Song Contest.
Cézanne also painted a sort of “Judgement of Paris” - but this particular image never became as famous as his apples. Throughout the history of painting, the three ladies in dispute over the apple arrive for the judgement in increasingly scanty clothing – culminating in full nudity, from which one might easily deduce that the golden apple will go to the most sparingly covered body. Consequently, the reader may observe that certain imagery is interesting insofar as nudes can be represented and not because it promises mind-blowing revelations or the like.
In Goethe’s “Faust”, apples are quite clearly associated with the female breast, completely without pretense and playfully quoting the fall in the garden through original sin.
THE FAIR ONE
Apples have been desired by you,
Since first in Paradise they grew;
And I am moved with joy, to know
That such within my garden grow.
(translation source: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/14591/pg14591.txt)
In the “Song of Songs” of Salomon, the apple tree and its fruit have to second similar autonomic/vegetative needs.
And then there are the apples of the Hesperides. They were stolen by Hercules (actually by Atlas, but the story is too long) – in either case, the apples were quickly returned to their original home in the garden of the Hesperides, and they probably weren’t apples but some citrus fruit, at any rate gold, and impart or imparted eternal youth to the gods.
Eternal youth is of course very important for the Song Contest, and because this eternal youth is factually unattainable, it might also be one of the many punishments plaguing us all for and since the illicit consumption of that apple from the tree of knowledge – perhaps not quite so hysterically as at the Song Contest, but still noticeably.
That apples must necessarily be stolen, i.e. are forbidden still echoes today in the refrain of Hamburg’s city song (I’m not proficient in the local dialect, so I’m quoting it wrong): Steal, steal, we wanna steal apples, quick quick over the fence, not every one is made for that, you gotta be from Hamburg.
The imperial apple is a symbol of power. To summarize, it is a globe with a cross. On festive occasions, this apple is carried in the hand of the ruler, and so it leads to my final association.
It’s one of the best vocabularies for the combination of imagery currently under examination, gestures and apples: The “hand apple” (Handapfel, referenced by the Brothers Grimm in their German Dictionary). Here, one has to imagine the entire expanse of heaven as the hand of God: “An immeasurably large, high and round hand apple.” It’s an image that makes the performative emotionality in these photographs seem downright modest.