"The Strange Case of East German Monuments: Iconoclasm, Iconoclash, and the Rest" by Kristine Nielsen

This thesis will look at the destruction of Communist monuments in East Berlin and the survival of images after the Fall of the Wall and the semi-iconoclastic gesture performed by the Western government on the monuments of the East. I will also look at other images besides official monuments, such as the removed East-German traffic symbols as well as pieces of the Wall that have now become highly desirable fetishes and totems. I rather enjoyed Bruno Latour’s essay "A Few Steps Toward an Anthropology of the Iconoclastic Gesture" and his "What is Iconoclash? Or is There a World Beyond the Image Wars?" and there may be some anthropological investigation to be done in regard to the afterlife of these monuments. After the hammer of the iconoclast has hit, the iconoclast turns toward fixing the broken fragments, says Latour. How did, and is, this fixing taking place? Some interesting things were done with the sculptural remains in the GDR: the fragments of the Lenin monument, for example, were buried in a forest outside Berlin, a gesture that seems to beg a future uncovering—being displaced, but placed not too far away, hidden from sight, but not completely out of reach, preserved under ground. Alternatively, it may be viewed as the burial of a piece of humanity, an object not fully inanimate. Some museological approaches were proposed as well: one politician suggested a Disneyland of East-Berlin monuments outside Berlin. (Note the importance of the monuments being positioned "outside." There must be more to say about this.) Also, the Marx-Engels monument turned into an idol with a voice announcing their innocence ("Wir Sind Unschuldig") in the Communist tyranny that warranted the iconoclasm. At that moment, the monument turned into a Thing, a highly ambiguous being evoking highly ambivalent sentiments.

A certain level of humor takes part in the iconoclastic events. Before the dismantling of the Lenin monument, the artist Krzysztof Wodiczko projected an image of a Polish shopper with a shopping cart as if Lenin/the Polish shopper were out buying cheap electronic products in West Berlin. Wodiczko’s new image was a critique of the image of Lenin as well as the image of a capitalist West. Several other artists made iconoclashic interventions into the acts of the iconoclasts, one of these was the French conceptualist artist Sophie Calle. Her project is equally and effectively ambivalent, showing the indifference of citizens, that the monuments have no surplus value to them whatsoever, and yet that this deficit in value provokes a need to strike back, which further animates the image which was thought to be nothing.

Selected bibliography: Dario Gamboni, The Destruction of Art; Bill Brown, "Thing Theory"; W.J.T. Mitchell, "The Surplus Value of Images"; Bruno Latour, "A Few Steps Toward an Anthropology of the Iconoclastic Gesture"; Latour, "What is Iconoclash? Or is There a World Beyond the Image Wars?" Freud, "The Uncanny."