Installation on the Carnival of the cultures, Berlin, 17.-20.5.2002
After September 11th, once the dust cloud over Lowe Manhattan had settled, the Bush administration’s paralyses gave way to a firm resolve: the Pentagon immediately began to draft plans for a military response, which it dubbed “Infinite Justice”. This initial name was soon replaced by the more moderate but no less patriotic “Enduring Freedom”. The decision to moderate the name of the counter-strike followed outcries in the Islamic world. Nevertheless, “Infinite Justice” is a symbol of America’s first reaction, namely jumping into a “crusading” stance, demanding unbounded redress. The European perspective on the new American-led “crusade” against terrorism was highly ambivalent. Of course, we were supposedly all Americans on September 11th, but at the same time, we advocated caution. While some of us were eager to help, others were highly critical and unwilling to believe any of Washington’s rhetoric. Instead, we saw a complex situation, diagnosing our own mediated ills and looking Eastward with understanding, pity and fear. Categories like good or bad were impossible to apply, especially if we considered the many meanings (and horrors) of our own “crusading” past.
Nina and Torsten Roemer’s “Infinite Justice” cycle approaches the ambivalences of this new crusade. Beginning in late 2001, the cycle uses a diverse palette of media, including painting, digital print, performance, photography and film. Its connective iconography clearly reflects the cultural location of the artists. Working and living together in Berlin, the Russian-German artist couple Torsten and Nina Roemer attempt to find a symbolic-aesthetic language for the tensions and ambivalences of their position. Beginning with a series of paintings in late 2001/early 2002, they begin to combine symbols in elaborate, nearly ornamental interweaves. The ambivalences of German identity (German military “Iron” cross), European-American unity (the Nato wind-rose), and the inscrutable Other of the Orient are combined to produce projective surfaces. If these paintings are an aesthetic exploration of Torsten and Nina’s joint self, their performances are attempts to identify with the Other, at least in play. Dressing in burkas made together with the German fashion designer Susanne Pruemm, they become veiled Muslim women, provoking the stares or the indifference of audiences and anonymous crowds. By photographing and filming their costume-performances at the Duesseldorf Art Academy (February), the Turin Biennial (April), or at a gallery opening in the “Haus am Luetzowplatz” in Berlin, Torsten and Nina both capitalize and hide their identity. They adopt the position of the unknown Other in serious play. Finally, the anonymity of these performances is lifted in their most recent serious of digital prints: against the backdrop of symbolic interweaves, Nina and Torsten themselves appear in idealized, nearly artificial color, with naked torsi, waiting for resolution or infinite justice, almost like pop-stars or aliens.
Perhaps one of the most refreshing things about “Infinite Justice” is that it reacts to the situation after September 11th without drawing upon the onslaught of apocalyptic images from the skyscraper canyons of Lower Manhattan or the mountain fortress of Afghanistan. Nina and Torsten are far more concerned with the problems of contemporary painting, performance-dramaturgy and the position of the author than with the inflated visual genres of the media (e.g. video, video-still, text). The resulting idiom may not share the media’s universal-factual appeal, but it is highly differentiated in terms of emotion and aesthetics: their pictures and performances are expressive, punky and poppy, classical, tragic and symbolic, ornamental, optical, knowing and naïve. But even more importantly: Torsten and Nina are still capable of playfulness and humour in spite of the depressing situation that the American government’s call for “Infinite Justice” entails.
Translation: David Riff