(schein)heilig Bernd Reiter, 2018
7 church pews and 40 television Monitors (2018), length: 710 cm, width: 700 cm, height: 570 cm
The painter, sculptor and installation artist Bernd Reiter was born in Cologne in 1948, where he still lives and works today. Professionally, in addition to his art he has been a successful entrepreneur with his extraordinary buildings for over 35 years. He attaches particular importance to an emerging Mainstream, unusual architectural language that draws its inspiration from Deconstructivism. Thinking in unorthodox formats and large dimensions is therefore very familiar to him.
Bernd Reiter has also been working as an artist for over 40 years. Creativity plays an important role in his life on many levels. In particular, his large installations of recent years are characterized by their social explosiveness and high visual and content intensity. What drives him in his artistic practice he once formulated: "My art is intense. It is Being. I can "materialize" my thoughts into materials based on my talent and so achieve a result that expresses something, transcends a feeling, makes a vision come alive." He thereby often speaks to the sensitivities of other people on an emotional or intellectual level.
Bernd Reiter is true to this credo. In 2016 and 2017 he attracted a lot of attention with his installation "Irony of Fate". He presented the elaborate and material-rich work at the two art fairs ART.FAIR, the fair for modern and contemporary art in Cologne, and at ART Karlsruhe. It consists of two black painted American street cruisers, an Oldsmobile and a Cadillac, both voluminous models with huge, chrome-plated bumpers which were also used in recent decades as government vehicles. Crashed into these historic limousines, so to speak, is a Russian interceptor of the MiG 21 series. Red stars on the wings and the tail leave no doubt about the origin of the machine. Recalled here is the so-called "Cold War that shaped the tense relationship between East and West. For decades the communist countries were under the leadership of the Soviet Union and the "Free West" under the leadership of the United States. For Bernd Reiter, this latent conflict persists. He sees his work therefore as a "memorial for a threatening clash of world powers in proxy wars". Numerous TV monitors, seemingly shrapnel-like in the installation depict war scenes, as they are recognized from the evening news and other broadcast programs. Bernd Reiter explicitly refers to the conflict in Syria in this work. Therefore he also added a metaphorical element in the form of a yellow life raft in which old-fashioned CRT televisions with identical image sequences of migrants are embedded in all screens, pointing to the fleeing human waves triggered by this type of conflict, the effects of which are also noticeable by us here in Europe.
Bernd Reiter sums up the content of his work; "In principle, I have been dealing with crimes against humanity in my work for many years". He wishes great visibility for his work. This is why he is attracted to highly frequented exhibition venues such as art fairs, which can attract up to 60,000 visitors in three days.
The Installation (schein)heilig, now shown in Venice, was completed in 2018. It originated as numerous cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church appeared on the horizon. The work consists of seven pews and 40 TV screens. The installation is about 7 meters long and wide. Its height is around 6 meters. Bernd Reiter acquired semi-circular pews from a secular church in 2006 for this installation. The Cologne architect and Pritzker Prize winner Gottfried Böhm (* 1920) had completed building the modern church in 1956. These are benches that, if you like, are loaded with 60 years of history and / or passion. Sets of wooden benches rise vertically towards the ceiling skyward, and thus form a dome-like, sacral-looking space, which can also be interpreted as an open mouth from which penetrates "the cry of the abused" (Bernd Reiter). Other benches are placed in front of it and invite you to sit down, watch and reflect. TV screens are embedded in the aforementioned dome roof. You can see a flood of images on them with scenes, reports and pictures from church history. Bernd Reiter can change the contents on the screens at any time to reflect current developments and changed situations. The Installation (schein)heilig can therefore be considered a work in progress. Hidden terms such as "abuse", "trust" or "ethics" refer to the great theme of the Installation (schein)heilig: Bernd Reiter sharply denounces the cover-ups of the child abuse scandals during the past decades in the Catholic Church. By strongly exaggerating visual and linguistic elements, he creates a highly explosive, emotionally charged perceptual situation that the observer can hardly escape. In doing so, he reveals to the beholder that the church, as a self-proclaimed moral authority is at least partially fallible and, despite all efforts, has failed to fully reappraise the bitter truth and bring it to light.
Then he reveals that a rethinking, a process of reflection has been set in motion, and that the church is seeking solutions and seeking enlightenment. Bernd Reiter clearly positions himself in this and other works as a socially critical artist, who wants to draw attention to social ills, and the apparent morality and arbitrariness of the powerful with attention grabbing, imposing installations having eye-catching qualities. His practice sometimes goes far beyond mere protest and finds itself in zones of artistic-political interference, which can certainly also be expressed in terms such as activism or agitation. He is thus in a tradition that, starting from the Vietnam War and the 1968 movement about 50 years ago in the US and Western Europe, postulated the necessity of a socially relevant art.
Bernd Reiter creates an art of urgency that critically reflects on social phenomena and abuses, but also on the mechanisms of their media processing, especially in the medium of television. The use of spectacular readymade objects taken from everyday life are heavily visually coded such as the sedans mentioned at the beginning, and the extreme compression of video images make his installations zones of explosiveness and inevitability. The trend that has been observed for quite some time in contemporary art to remove the traditional distance between image and viewer by making the viewer an integral part of the work is referred to in modern art historical terms as Immersive Art. This new quality of artistic practice also characterizes - at least for a while - Bernd Reiters works, for example, in that the recipients of the work (schein) heilig sit down on the pews.
Bernd Reiter's contribution fits perfectly into the overall context of the exhibition GENEALOGIES, especially in terms of the genealogy of morality, as interpreted quite differently by Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault at different times. The progressive-critical method of Foucault certainly is much better suited to the classification of this work.
Nevertheless, there is a short passage from Friedrich Nietzsche's work "Zur Genealogie der Moral”. The philosopher, with his own verve and relentlessness is quoted on the profession of the priest: “It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kind of hatred.”
Nicole Büsing & Heiko Klaas