Irony of Fate
2016 / height: 530 cm, width: 810 cm, length: 1550 cm, MiG, Cadillac,
Oldsmobile, TV screens
With his enormous multimedia installation entitled Ironie des Schicksals (2016), Cologne artist Bernd Reiter comments on the looming escalation of a new Cold War between the superpowers of Russia and the United States. In this work, two systems, two worlds and two ideologies collide. The scrapped yet menacing-looking Russian MiG-21 jet and the two jet-black, vintage American limousines, with their striking tail fins, have literally collided – catapulted into the here and now by a veritable swarm of flickering monitors with videos from regions in crisis today all over the world. A haunting memorial that not only references past grievances but is also growing more topical, lately in particular.
Bernd Reiter is firmly rooted in the tradition of avant-garde artists who feel a sense of responsibility and an obligation to society – in the same vein as a Joseph Beuys, who in one of his programmatic works in 1972 called on fellow artists and fellow citizens to take an active role: ‘Die Revolution sind wir.’ [‘The Revolution Is Us.’]. Reiter incorporates TV monitors into his brutal blend of portentous readymades to forge a linkage between art and life. For him, art is inseparable from life and life inseparable from art. Yet Reiter is not content to hold a mirror up to society. Instead, he uses his art, uses provocation, agitation, to foster lasting change in society – his society.
On the numerous monitors of Reiter’s memorial-like installation, the viewer sees images of horror – not simulated or exaggerated through digital interventions or the like, but simply downloaded from the daily news on television and the Internet and compiled into seemingly endless sequences of images. Like razor-sharp shrapnel, a number of black flatscreens have sliced their way into the fuselage of the Soviet interceptor and the two American road cruisers, while other monitors are left as old-fashioned box TVs, lying on the floor like a pile of rubble together with scrap from the decommissioned aeroplane and old life vests. Unlike Anselm Kiefer, whose leaden aircraft reference mythological and historical figures, for Reiter the sole aim is to present the here and now: the dangers to which not only past and current war heroes but also countless innocent displaced persons and refugees are exposed, day after day, also in the manner of an endless loop.
The American luxury cars and the Russian fighter highlight not only the Cold War between the two superpowers, between East and West, between communism and democracy – a conflict that was thought to have been long settled – but also real proxy wars, such as the conflict in Syria, which is still camouflaged as a civil war, daily claiming civilian casualties totalling into the thousands. What is known as the ‘refugee crisis’ takes the wars and conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the numerous human rights violations and famines in the Middle East and Africa, and quite literally drops them at our own doorstep. And, as is well-known, one must sweep in front of one’s own front as well – and this is precisely what Bernd Reiter does with his work as an Artist.
After all, the ‘Irony of Fate’ that provides the title for this work points not only to the others but to us as well – particularly in Europe, particularly in Germany, which experienced a mass migration and refugee crisis of its own after the Second World War and today stands as one of the world’s leading political and economic powers. So the irony of fate also means that we should take a good look at ourselves, too. This forms the basis of Reiter’s sense of responsibility, but also of his complaint.
As with Beuys, then, Bernd Reiter’s installation must be understood not as mere provocation but rather as a ‘call for alternatives’. An emphatic statement by Reiter reads as follows: ‘I see my works as objections, protests, warnings and above all as question marks.’ To him, art is not some lofty commodity or cultural trophy, but rather an essential means with which to shape society, and to rouse his fellows, prompting them to think and moving them to act.