|No Man is an Island
Entire of itself
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less …
(John Donne, Meditations, 1624)
|Mutual fear brings peace
Till the selfish loves increase
Then cruelty knits a snare
And spreads its baits with care
(William Blake, The Human Abstract)
DIETER LÖCHLE — HARTLEPOOL REMEMBERED — WARSHIPS INTO FRIENDSHIPS
When Hartlepool Borough Council invited Gavin Mayhew and myself to take part in this year’s Reconciliation Festival, commemorating the bombardement of December 1914, it was in recognition of a special artist relationship and friendship that had originally grown from a twintown contact 23 years ago: By creating such specific links between towns or areas — in this case Durham County and my hometown Tübingen, such encounters had a chance to flourish inside a modest network of say — institutionalized good will: towards your European neighbour, who was once your enemy, and now offers you a chance to get to know him.
Our art exhibiton WARSHIPS INTO FRIENDSHIPS held at Hartlepool Art Gallery this summer showed two contemporary positions in painting and sculpture — from England and from Germany, including a retrospective section of the various stages and highlights of this collaboration. But no specific “task” to reflect the somber background of the occasion. Still, as the preparations went on, I decided after all to include some works designed to reflect the naval attack on Hartlepool and my position as “the German”, one hundered years later. And it was in this context that I first met Theresa in her Newcastle studio and that we decided on a joint visit to the Heugh Battery in Hartlepool. What followed so far are steps towards a quite different kind of collaboration — a complementary one in the line of approach to the subject matter World War I — a prospective one in the realm of the promise it helds for further work visits in Germany and in England. So getting to know one another and sharing the communicative impulse inherent in art was already an important step.
Growing up in Germany after World War II, when travelling abroad I often felt the weight of being of the party of the aggressors and losers, although, born in 1952, I had no personal share in it. Coming to Hartlepool I found Theresa’s approach of working with the minute particulars of the trench realities and diverse other objects of everyday war reality, a kind of relief from the abstract, ideological weight of my German war heritage. So, following William Blake’s dictum “to generalize is to be an idiot” I tried my way with “minute particulars” …
As a boy I was — like many boys — fascinated by military aircraft and warships and often drew combat scenes. And when I heard the names of the battle cruisers that had “done it” in Hartlepool in December 1914, the “Blücher”, the “Moltke”, the “Seydlitz”, I still knew these names from my boyhood days. Facing the task of being the representative of the German side in this event, I began to remember my way of drawing these battleships and made them resurface in my lines of today. I started my sort of excavation. And as you can see the warships that came up did this in a strangely metamorphosed way: gun towers seem to look at you, armour goes strangely soft, but remains somehow menacing … some of them smile even … can one do this? Warships into friendships, literally?
On my last stay in London I visited HMS Belfast and watched two boys enthusiastically mimicking sea war on the bridge of this ship. Standing inside the gun towers, I felt a strange thrill resurge myself. So, what is this? Certainly a display of latent power. When reflecting on the English expression “man of war” I visualized these ships like huge knights, holding up to two thousand men, dressed to kill or to be killed. I thought about how it must feel to be locked inside one these gun towers during these duels, how it must feel to hunt others or be hunted … and of the “heroic” discriptions that try to sum up these events afterwards.
I also thought about the strange irony that these mighty ships that had been a major cause for the growing tensions between Britain and Germany before World War I are still sitting on the ground in Scapa Flow. Enormous underwater sculptures sunk by their own masters. So my work “good ships — bad ships — sad ships — glad ships” shows one battleship “in doubt”: Viewed from the distance, they look pretty much the same, and it needs the little flag on top that makes all the difference and which tells wether you are a winner or a loser, a “good ship” or a “bad ship”.
Obviously the cynical attack on Hartlepool, killing and injuring hundreds, mostly civilians, strikes a completely different note.
What reconciliatory gift of artistic means could I bring to Hartlepool?
Standing outside the Heugh Battery, looking at the green green English lawn at the site where the first men where killed on British soil, imagining how this green turf would have been literally blown to bits by the impact of the German grenades, I decided on bringing balls, old basketballs, turned inside out, filled with Tübingen turf from my garden by the river. Hence the “stray balls” series.
When it comes to remember and value the sacrifices and efforts of the past, to hold up a tradition of respect and gratitude for those who gave their lifes — or were forced to so — England stands — in a general perspective — a lot more sure of itself than Germany.
If one could argue that — moving towards the outbreak of World War I — many parties concerned seemed to be hypnotized by the felt necessity of measuring forces, or “acting” while there was still time — measuring and distribution of “guilt” is not easily done. Quite differently with World War II and the Nazi dictatorship: Here Germany’s utterly negative role stands out as the power of evil. Confronted with this abyss as a young person, the vision of a unified Europe, with all its diversity and cultural riches seemed an ideal counterweight and positive orientation for the future and to me it still is.
So in time of growing Euro scepticism — Brussel sprouts — I would still speak up in favour of this European vision! Inside this concert of nations, I see the chance of a truly special relationship between Britain and Germany, due to affinities I could sense and experience over many years. It needs the appetite, the curiosity, to get to know the others ….
Fotos: Dieter Löchle und Martin Frech Fotografie
(Ich weiß, die Werbung hier unten nervt. Und ich kann nicht einmal entscheiden, was hier gezeigt wird.)