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A "cousin" of Michelle Pfeiffer’s "flew over the Nazi's nest"

10 February 2011 / 16:02:22  GRReporter
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Zdravka Mihaylova

Exclusively for GRReporter

At the end of January 2011 a painting exhibition from the Prinzhorn collection titled ‘Cause of Death: Euthanasia’ was opened at the New Benaki museum in Athens, (Pireos 138) under the aegis of the Greek president of Greece. This is the first occasion that particularly significant visual artworks from the internationally renowned Prinzhorn Collection of the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Heidelberg are shown in Greece. The 96 works on display were created by 18 artists who were mental patients and victims of the Nazis euthanasia programme in 1939-1944. Doctor and historian Hans Prinzhorn (1886-1933), gathered works from various psychiatric clinics and created the collection. Prinzhorn was fascinated by the topics investigated by cultural anthropology, such as the source of the artistic impulse, and sought to get a grip on the “schizophrenic sense of existence” as this was recorded in expressionist art during his lifetime. Following World War I, he gathered works from various psychiatric clinics and created a unique collection at Heidelberg. His greatest contribution lies in that by offering a positive re-evaluation to the marginalized “mad” art and its creators, he facilitated a recognition of the talent of psychiatric patients and a re-evaluation of such patients by society. The paintings bring history, art and psychiatry together, reflecting the destructive power of society, which under certain circumstances where politics turn extreme, creates new perilous traps for its weaker though nonetheless driven by creative energy members. 

Whoever attended the symposium on ’Creativity and Madness’ - a parallel event at the Benaki following the opening of this powerful exhibit, could see the striking art work of a modern German artist – not a mental patient – Klaus Pfeiffer who lives and works on the island of Naxos. His installation ‘The Death Book Talks’ was ‘inspired’ by the statistical archives of medical experiments and their lethal results, kept at the Nazi concentration camps. With the advance of the Allied Forces in WWII most of these archives were destroyed. Pfeiffer’s installation draws the curtain for what lies behind the bright colours and the hallucinogenic drawings the visitor sees at the exhibit and unveils experiments with luminal, mustard gas, freezing, sulfonamide, poison, sea water. A sane artist penetrating the unfathomable depth of madness, brutality and inhumanity. The artist Klaus Pfeiffer speaks to Zdravka Mihaylova exclusively for GRReporter.

QUESTION: In your artwork you’re using the powerful metaphor of flying, it’s the benchmark of your website Overcoming gravity is one of mankind’s oldest daring dreams, from Icarus through Leonardo’s experiments to the modern day novel “Birdy” by William Wharton and the Alan Parker Grand Prize (1985) of the Cannes Film Festival Jury  award-winning film based on it. You yourself are becoming an installation in your flying experiments on Naxos. What does a human being need to make it fly?

PFEIFFER: For sure no artificial wings as wrongly told by Ovid in his ‘Metamorphoses’. In 1971 I already discussed this erroneous version with Peter Greenaway at the occasion of his exhibition entitled ‘Flying over water’. It is the Roman Ovid who had misunderstood everything. All older Greek sources, such as Plutarch, Homer, Phanodikos and Pausanias, but especially Hesiod, do not talk of ‘wings’, but of ‘sails’. To quote Hesiod: “They were the first to build ships, curved on both ends, and they first put up sails, the wings of a seagoing ship” So, „πτερά”= wing “ιστία” = sail. In ancient Greek it is even more clear: you “fly” as in Alan Parker’s film “Birdy” and as I did in Lithuania 2001 on occasion of the international Symposium “On the Edges – Japan and the Eastern culture in discussion with the West”, actually the “First Humanpowered Flight in the History of Lithuania” for Emmett Williams.
a) Length of the strides on the dune: 2,20 m each.
b) Depth of the hole where taking off: 0,50 m
c) Trajectory: 4,00 m
d) Height: 1,50 m
e) In 1,2 sec
Northwesterly winds 6-7 Beaufort, Overcast - Rain, Visibility 600-700 m
Flight assistant: Francisco Felipe, Spain
Camerateam: Yoshiko Maruyama, Japan, Diana Radaviciute, Lithuania
Nida, Lithuania - June 22, 2001

In comparison a migrating duck flies in a speed of v = 29 m/sec. It was a “fluxus performance” initiated by Ayo, my good friend from Japan and one of the torchbearers of the “fluxus movement”. This all sounds very serious but actually it is all a big joke and a lot of fun. Dangerous as well as one may know from the noted American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, the French writer and pilot Saint-Exupery, the German pioneer of human aviation Otto Lilienthal who became known as the Glider King, The Tailor from Ulm who invented a flying machine similar to a hang-glider – and don’t forget the law of gravity by Isaac Newton! I never understand why a B747 can take off and fly, because as we learned in school “Everything heavier than air can’t fly”! But as Leonardo da Vinci once said: “When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes skyward, for there you have been and there you will always long to return”.”

Tags: Klaus PfeifferPrinzhornthe island of NaxosNazisMental patientsVisual arts
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