Omnipotent Flesh

In a photograph titled Stephan I (2012) a clean-cut blond-haired man with alabaster skin stares directly through pale eyes into the camera’s lens, posed in front of a velvet curtain in the manner of a formal studio portrait. The angular lines of his face are congruent with the severe lines of his German army Waffenrock, or military overcoat. Unbekannt 43 I (2012) shows another man similarly decked in the field-grey Waffenrock, this time photographed from above. His posture is even more austere; with slick-backed hair, downcast eyes, trousers tightly tucked into calf-high marching boots and arms bracing his side as if ready for command. Dramatic spotlighting semi-silhouettes the figure, carving it into sharp outlines and making it appear as rigid as a window mannequin. A third photograph, SSMann am Scharitzkehl (2011), depicts a uniformed officer in a snow-covered valley, his figure miniaturised by the surrounding icy mountains.

These men are not sporting the standard jackboots or dress uniforms introduced by the Prussian army in the 1840s and adopted as general military regalia for more than a century, but the formfitting military coats and blackened leather boots worn by officers of the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of Nazi Germany. In Unbekannt 43 I it’s just possible to discern the infamous Nazi breast eagle gleaming on the figure’s chest. Stephan I displays the affiliation much more explicitly, his uniform a riot of Nazi insignia: breast patch with the National Socialist German Workers’ Party emblem of the eagle and swastika embroidered in white silk on bottle-green fabric; the silver Waffenfarbe shoulder boards (indicating the rank of major); the matching Litzen collar; and, most conspicuously of all, the Iron Cross with a tiny black swastika nestling in its centre.

 

Image: Andreas Muhe, SSMann am Scharitzkehl, 2011. C-print, framed. Courtesy the artist and Konig Galerie.

 

This is a preview of 'Omnipotent Flesh'. The full article can be found in Art + Australia Issue Five.

Sophie Knezic is a writer, scholar and visual artist who works between practice and theory. Her critical writing on contemporary art has been published in journals including Evental Aesthetics and Invisible Culture, and she is a regular contributor to Frieze, Memo Review, Art Monthly Australasia and Australian Book Review. She lectures in the Critical and Theoretical Studies Department at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, and in the Art History and Theory Department at RMIT University.

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