The Crisis Artist

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Still from Hangmen Also Die! (Fritz Lang, 1943)

Per-Oskar Leu's Crisis and Critique consists of a video of trial scenes selected from German films from the 1930s and '40s, leather coats hung over speakers sometimes playing Bertolt Brecht's 1947 testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and four mattressed seating areas with the German words for locked up, night, your ears, and misfortune printed on them. Presented in a curtained-off room, the installation at 155 Freeman Street was accompanied by a newly translated essay by Otto Freundlich entitled "The Artist and the Economic Crisis."  The sum of these parts might make for an ominous, harrowing piece, which by its content, it is. It's also an insightful and engaging installation on the role of the artist and art in the whole mixed-layered world at large.  

'At large' is apt as Leu, in the show's press release, cites an investigation of Verfremdungseffekt—distancing effect—in relation to the experiences of Bertolt Brecht. The video of trials in German cinema demonstrate how the format of a trial flattens the dimensions of an individual, with the defendent often used as a tool to prove a political point or create legal precedence. The transcript and audio recording of Brecht's testimony before the Committee is rich with content, displaying the State’s fear of insurgence, problems with translation and misinterpretation, and a reminder of art’s ability to incite. Brecht's words in songs and poems, the primary reason for his appearance in Washington, D.C., were quoted to him (in poor translations, he stated to comic effect) during his testimony. His appearance, along with those of so many artists and others during the McCarthy years, serves as a reminder that critical thought can be powerful and dangerous. Poets, writers and ...

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