Monday, 27 July 2009


National Memorial for the Homosexual Victims of the Nazi Regime

In 2003, the German Reichstag (parliament) voted in favor of commissioning a monument to commemorate the homosexual victims of the Nazi regime. Following an international competition in 2006, Berlin-based artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset's proposal was selected for realization.

Elmgreen & Dragset have related the aesthetics of the monument to the Holocaust memorial, which is located directly opposite, on the other side of the street. While Peter Eisenmann’s Holocaust memorial consists of 2711 concrete stelae (cubic slabs), Elmgreen & Dragset have opted for just one single slab, using the same material, color and proportions as Eisenmann's, but enlarging it slightly in its overall size to take on the character of a pavilion. Whilst the concrete 'pavilion' lacks any exits or entrances, the visitor will - through a small, square window - be able to watch an endless film loop of two men embracing in a kiss.

The appropriation of elements borrowed from the Holocaust memorial underlines the similarities in experience of persecution and suffering between the different victim groups, whereas the intimacy of the film loop insists on an identity of its own. Situated on the other side of the street, the work seems to say: 'We are the same, but we are also different.'

The film is shot by cinematographer Robby Müller (Down by Law; Paris, Texas; Dancer in the Dark; Coffee and Cigarettes) and directed by the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (who’s film Festen (Celebration) won the Jury Prize in Cannes, 1998). The kissing scene is shot on 35mm black and white film at the actual location of the memorial before it was erected. Watching the film through the window, one may recognize that the background to the two kissing men is identical to the backdrop of the pavilion itself, with one subtle difference: the change of seasons that will indicate the passage of time.

The memorial seeks in various ways to exchange the monumental with the intimate, aiming to confront the public on a personal level rather than constitute a general spectacle. The tiny window carved out into the concrete block allows only a couple of people to experience the film clip at one time.The viewers will find themselves face to face with the poetic, emotional moment of the two men kissing. The clarity of the scene and the direct depiction that the viewer is met with is crucial to an understanding of the memorial. The acceptance of other sexual orientations is not only a question of obtaining legal rights but also one of acceptance on the street level and in everyday situations.

Every second year for a period of ten years the film clip will be exchanged with other artists’ filmic interpretations of a homosexual intimate encounter. Through this regenerative element, Elmgreen & Dragset's memorial will renew its character over and over again and provide material for ongoing discussions on identity and representational issues.

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