Hearing Bertolt Brecht
Moss Gallery, 3 October – 27 November, 2010
Derek Hampson, Peter Hofer, Peter Suchin
On October 30th 1947 in Washington DC, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) interrogated the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, then resident in the USA, regarding his alleged links with the Communist Party. The examination was conducted in front of a large audience, one mainly comprised of newspaper, radio and newsreel journalists, whose job it was to record and report on the event unfolding before them.
To mark its 63rd anniversary Hearing Bertolt Brecht restages this politically charged judicial exchange. Taking as its point of departure material generated by the American media, as well as official government documentation, the show considers the complex layering of values, meanings and “rhetorics” generated through this superficially polite encounter, a blend and clash of voices in which established notions of authenticity, complicity and cooperation are cleverly and critically reframed.
Focusing upon issues of translation and transmission, the exhibition explores the roles of speaking and listening within political and artistic discourse. Derek Hampson has curated this project. His work presents modified sound recordings of Brecht’s interrogation as radio transmissions in the gallery. Against this aural background Hampson displays a number of visual works that draw upon a variety of pictorial conventions, including comicbook illustration of the period, to bring Brecht and his interrogators face to face for the first time since 1947.
Peter Hofer’s Listening and Speaking – a Visual Likeness (2010) is a sculptural representation of the distribution and reception of sound, its conical plaster structure offering an analogy for the physical materiality of this most intangible of mediums. This work also echoes the related visual forms of a hunting horn and the tympanum of the human ear.
In the 1930s Brecht was involved, together with Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, in a highly influential discussion around issues pertaining to art’s political efficacy within an increasingly oppressive Capitalist culture. Brecht’s didactic theatrical practice was contrasted with Benjamin’s support for new technologies of artistic reproduction, and with Adorno’s championing of abstract art. By including in the gallery actual and reproduced abstract paintings, index cards, and wall-mounted texts Peter Suchin directly alludes to this seminal and arguably still pertinent debate.
Hearing Bertolt Brecht should be regarded not so much as a documentary restaging of two key moments in Brecht’s biography, but as a provocative presentation of one of Modernism’s most salient and lasting features.