Friday, November 30, 2007

Operation Snowball

“A Little Snow” had brought Ulrike Kuschel great fame and envy amongst her friends. Although the idea was simple enough to provoke a knee-jerk “I could have done that” in a crowd of “never would have done that” amateur critics, “A Little Snow,” after appearing on the front cover of Artforum, was a succès de scandale. Neither heaps nor the shoddy after-effects of a blizzard that had swept over Berlin, it was thought that Kuschel had faked these spartan winter landscapes with the help of a computer, or the know-how of an environmental architect. It was thought that Kuschel might have manipulated her viewer into believing that they were seeing a harmless bit of snow in a harmless environment, when they were actually seeing a harmless bit of snow in a not-so-harmless environment (the site of a massacre, the last cigarette kiosk before Sachsenhausen), or that Kuschel had manipulated her viewer into believing that this harmless bit of snow was actually chemically infested and quite purposely placed on the ground in seemingly anonymous places, that this snow was actually the evidence of a governmental plot against its own unemployed citizens, or one of the more absurd side-effects of the unpopular employment-creation measure. No one could believe that they were seeing actual snow, the wee bit, part of mother nature’s B-side, in actual places, with no specific rhyme or reason.

The success came as no surprise. After all, Ulrike Kuschel, e pluribus unum, was one of a group of ladies who lunch in East Berlin nearby the offices of the Ministry of Leisure. There were several agents at the Ministry who had a nodding acquaintance with her work, but it was I who was given the order to explore in depth the possible dangers to our society of workers and farmers. The fruits of my espionage were summarized by my supervisor Mr Rainbow in a few bullet points. Her photographs indicated (in no particular chronology or order):

* Uncovering seditious interiors via the exposure of prosaic exteriors (conspiracy plots to bring the Superpower under the rule of the unknown Sub-Power)
*Uncanny situations in familiar settings (man with a rake in a garden)
*Subversive celebrations of economic apartheid on the 2nd of May

The dirty work Mr Rainbow had later requested of me was performed quite naturally by my fellow citizens one day as I was watching her take photographs on Walhallastrasse. Eavesdropping on her with my trusty directive laser microphone, I could hardly believe my ears:

Can I see your identity card?
You are photographing every house, I saw you! You simply cannot photograph all of these houses. Who are you photographing for? I’m going to call the police….

My fellow citizen’s attempt to use these naïve interrogative scare-tactics on Kuschel were in vain, for she remained completely unfazed and continued to shoot. The crux of the matter, however, was the Ministy’s desire to understand the hubbub surrounding a series of subjective notations on archival images from German history. Ulrike Kuschel, you see, had been recently denounced by the Party of Professionals for a violation of ordinance no. 2789462, which everyone and his brother knew as shorthand for the “defecting from the law of what you see is not what you see.” The rule was a tried and true one in the sector of art production – and the art apparatchiki were heavy-handed in their enforcement of the regulation meant to encourage labor and craft. Indeed, it was an ordinance meant to eliminate unnecessary time spent on poesy and accidental intention.

But just as it seemed that her suffering could grow no worse – the doctors diagnosed an acute phase of cultural combat fatigue – Kuschel’s troubles were lifted like an iron curtain when a private patroness (known for allocating the bulk of her inheritance into the Trust for Anarchic Meaning) took to collecting her work. But that was after the Wall and before the Invisible Fence. Nonetheless, Kuschel had made no request for transfer, and continued to assiduously amass a body of work undecipherable to the nobs at the Ministry whose fire and fury revolved around perpetuating a past and the flurry of Operation Snowball.

– April Elizabeth Lamm

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