Kraft / Petz
"War" was the theme title for the "Austrian Triennale of Photography 1993", to which Verena Kraft and Kurt Petz were invited. The two artists set about developing an exhibition contribution based on the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, which was almost totally destroyed in the Spanish Civil War by the German Luftwaffe summoned by General Franco to lend air support there.
Convinced that Picasso in his painting "Guernica" had not expressed everything relevant, the couple created a totally different work both in form and content. To depict violence and war – as the history of art clearly shows – there exists a variety of possibilities. As religious figures, or symbols of Fate, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Mars, the God of War, are portents of the incalculability of the catastrophies of war. Examples from Dürer and Rubens depict a vast amount of similarly linked concepts and thoughts. Artists since the time of Callot and Goya accost and accuse the spectator through shocking presentation of truly concrete horrors. Picasso emphasizes the individual emotional impact with his picture. Yet, even so, with horse and bull, he still cannot, despite the emotional reference to the real event, actually clarify it any better than other artists before him could with Greek mythology. Verena Kraft and Kurt Petz, using artistic means and methods, questioned the unique circumstances of the war crime committed against the Basque town of Guernica.
On the 26th April 1937, aircraft of the German Legion Condor flew in from the North. The bombers destroyed, with their deployed bombs, large areas of the sacred town of the Basques. Since it was a market day – and also because many refugees from recently bombed neighbouring Basque towns thronged Guernica seeking protection – the attack resulted in a very significant number of people killed.
Amazingly, the Parliament and the sacred oak-tree, beneath which, in former times, the Kings of Spain pledged their oath to recognize the upholding of the special rights and privileges of the Basques, both remained undamaged. A small bridge giving access to the place, likewise remained intact. People, who were walking nearby, were shot from the low-flying aircraft. Such deliberate military operations in the North of Spain were designed to demoralize the Basques, who supported the legal Spanish Popular Front government in the Civil War. Some British journalists, who happened to be in the region, produced immediate topical and detailed reports on the bombing of Guernica. After their victory, Franco and his generals reckoned with this crime being forgotten, using as defence that it was a defence against out-dated social structures. For this reason, Guernica, against the will of its town councillors, was rebuilt in the old style. History, however, cannot really be rendered invisible. This was the starting point for Verena Kraft and Kurt Petz. Petz travelled to Guernica and photographed the surrounding areas, totally devoid of human life or activity, that encircled the locality: vistas to the North, East, South and West.
In Graz in 1993, they covered the developed photographs (which measured 125 x 200 cm in size) with templates super-imposed to leave visible just the silhouettes of the German planes used in the Spanish Civil War. Subjected to strong light exposure the unprotected areas gradually changed colour. The contours of the fighters, Heinkel 59 and Messerschmidt 109, likewise of the bombers, Heinkel 111 and the Junkers 52, appeared now as white silhouettes or faded colour forms in the landscape. This procedure carried out for the Graz exhibition has a dual significance. In one sense it symbolizes the acts of destruction that violated the Basque country in 1937. In another sense, the contours of the individual planes in the photographed landscapes provide a comparison for the influence of the past on the present. And while the traces of the actual wartime events become blurred in memory, the actual fact of the violent event will never disappear from memory. This four-part work, planned in the studio, continued in the actual former war arena, completed and realized in the exhibition hall, takes a stand for a decided position vis-à-vis the theory of art. In the discussion as to whether art may plausibly signify direct involvement or whether a generalized statement is going to convey too little significant content, Verena Kraft and Kurt Petz offer their solution. They reverse the procedure of subsuming the uniquely special into a generalized formulation. The principle of never allowing guilt to be forgotten, they convey by representing the very concrete elements of a real event. Simply "Bleaching" is what Verena Kraft and Kurt Petz call their process, which they invented and have used before as an artistic process. In 1991, with their "Homage à Lucio Fontana", they introduced their series of photographic monochromes, which were covered almost completely except for a slit left free, which they then altered in colour by exposure to artificial light bombardment. "In 1998/1999, in their work series "Goethe's Journey around the World", they chose a super-imposed version of Stiehler's famous Goethe portrait transferred onto diverse monochrome photo-prints and then let exposure to the sun conjure up varying portraits in cities such as Bombay, Cairo and Athens". In these works too, the conscious manipulation of a natural event creates the artistic content itself.
Shortly after their completion, the four photographic works of "Guernica" by Verena Kraft and Kurt Petz were shown in Paris (1994) and Verdun (1995). Exhibitions of their "Guernica" photo-creation in Gasteig in Munich (1995) and in Berlin (1997) were linked with attendant discussions and lectures about the bombing of the town and the historical context. The artists constantly referred their work back to its origins. In 2002, "Guernica", with assistance from the Goethe Institute in Madrid, was exhibited in the Cultural Centre in Guernica-Lumo. Its Director, Ricardo Abaunza, in the exhibition catalogue describes by name the landscape areas around Guernica actually pictured in the photographs as – "in the North Forua, in the East the plain of Arene, in the South the plain of Aranjiz and in the West Lumo". These words signify how this work by Verena Kraft and Kurt Petz, created for the Basques, has found acceptance by the target audience. The concluding words by Abaunza read like a confirmation of this: "They airbrushed out a part of our heavens, now, salved by the (healing) passage of time, the reality of that is gradually being linked into our memory."
Translation: Claire Kristahn/Don Bagley