Opening Remarks by Hendrik Ehlers at the Vernissage of danger.Art gallery and launch of Lize Ehler’s album “Change”
Ladies & Gentlemen, there was an unofficial small opening some two weeks ago and I gave a one-sentence speech. It was: “Instead of discussing with you what this is all about – I had better explain it to a dead hare.” There is a bit more to this dead hare: A war pilot from my home area was shot down over Russia and was found heavily injured by some Tartar tribesmen. They covered him in grease, rolled him up in felt blankets and slowly he healed, near to a dung-fire inside a felt tent. He came home around the same time as my father returned as a POW from Siberia and worked as a farm hand. His name was Joseph Beuys. I grew up in a post-war scenario with partially still bombed–out cities and was surrounded by traumatized people. I did not experience war myself so I did not know the cause, but the consequences were everywhere. Re-building Germany and remaining silent was the general way to deal with it, but I was fortunate to also experience art as a way to overcome this horrendous situation which had cost the lives of millions people.
I was born in Krefeld. The city has two former private residences built by Mies van der Rohe which later served as museums. Part of our art classes at school was to go there and listen to the mad man, Beuys. One of his performances was about how to explain a painting to a dead hare. He and I speak the same singing dialect typical for the lower Rhine area. Unfortunately Joseph Goebbels did so, too.
People first noted Beuys’ unusual drawings and then began listening to his surreal explanations of the world. He created an endless circle of installations around the topic of the healing powers of art, using grease (or fat, or honey – as you like), felt (or coffee filter paper) and band- aids. In 1974 he lived for some days together with a wild coyote in the window of a New York art gallery. Joseph Beuys became one of the most discussed and influential artists of the second half of the twentieth century. His revolution accumulated in the phrase: “Every human is an artist”. His work lives on in the movement of communication as social sculpture. I am a very proud father knowing that my eldest daughter Moya is studying art in Berlin, and that communication as social sculpture is her topic. On the 24/7 monitor in the gallery window you might see, amongst others, a film about his great exhibi- tion at the Guggenheim Museum in 1981. As a grown up, after some global deviations, I came here and I learned mass trauma the hard way. I first-hand experienced the Angolan civil war. And then again I saw the consequences of the mass trauma caused by landmines, bombing, genocide, atrocities, refugees and uniquely ugly: apartheid. Here in my next station, the gallery, we again can see and hear – and hopefully feel – the healing powers of art. So my journey went from post-war and art through danger: landmines and post-war, to danger: art – only. My life in one sentence.
This here is a little galaxy of its own, worth exploring in depth, but if we do a very swift glance just once around, you will see a poster to a movie by Richard Pakleppa about the roots of the struggle. It leads via the work of freeborn rookies and matured painters like Gerdis Staedler proudly saying “yes” to life, to Tony Figueira and John Liebenberg who both documented the early days of Namibia – and its horrors – like nobody else. They are met by a tableau showing mini-posters of Guy Tillim’s work. Then we jump into the bouquet of Nicky Marais, her art liberated from convention and leading to freedom of expression and beauty. There is Nicola Brandt and her striking take on the Herero and Nama genocide. There are Lize Ehlers’ emotions on canvas on topics like the destruction of informal settlements in Zimbabwe. We see Inatu Indongo’s work honed through her experience in the Angolan exile with doubt, pain, torture and self-reflection. We see a group of Mozambican painters bathing in colour. If you thought that our neighboring countries during their socialist phases were kind of grey, you were right – they were. They were, because they did not have easy access to certain pigments and chemicals. With the end of the cold war, color came. With every peace accorded in Angola (I personally have witnessed four) came a wave of fresh paint flooding the country. On we go to the sculptures of Alpheus Mvula expressing the key things of our life – our body, our bodies and, for many, equally important – a Head of Cattle.
The journey continues to the masterpieces of Amy Schoeman and then we have Mr. Shikongeni who is also the man of the music in Paths To Freedom. Many of these works have to do with the past, many show the way to go. And I am grateful that some have to do with nothing but the joy of being alive.
The wonderful thing about this art garage is you can choose a piece and take it home or make it a gift to somebody. We also have some books and some strange objects like Elvis in decay. We have more films and more visual art to come, and also we have music. How many people pass by and come in with a big question mark in their faces: Is this really Abdullah Ibrahim from a vinyl record? Yes, it is.
Why this concoction? I guess I’d better explain that to a dead hare.
A last word on music: The music of my extraordinary wife, Lize. Her childhood in Apartheid Mariental has left deep scars – just as has the early loss of her parents. She makes music to heal herself, to heal others. And the title of her latest album could not be chosen better to define the state of the world, the state of our nation and the state of us as family and individuals. The name is: CHANGE. I want to thank everybody involved in this mad and wonderful one-year project. Welcome and Enjoy.