In her current photography exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Regina Schmeken perspicuously references the Nazi ideology, Blut und Boden, in her title ‘Bloody Soil. Scenes of NSU Crimes’. The series of photographs are bathed in allusions to the history of fascism, the suspect nature surrounding a series of racially-motivated murders, and their implications on the broader spectrum of Germany’s political climate.
In 2013, the prolific German photographer set out to revisit and photograph each crime scene where the murders carried out by the National Socialist Underground took place. The NSU are a neo-Nazi terrorist organization who murdered 10 individuals, mainly from immigrant communities, in numerous German cities between 1998 and 2011: eight male victims of Turkish origin, one Greek male and a German policewoman. They also orchestrated three bomb attacks and 15 bank robberies and were not discovered by law enforcement until November 4, 2011.
Regina Schmeken captures the once-harrowing scenes of injustice, now juxtaposed against the locations’ current normality. Everyday passersby are pictured tending to their errands, speaking with their children or staring mindlessly into their contemporary moment, with seemingly no knowledge of what occurred beneath or beside them. The portrayed scenes urge the eye to frantically investigate the photograph further. Searching for the focal point, a myriad of possible violent imagery and voices schizophrenically swaddle the mind.
The series of large format black and white prints are chronologically ordered with a commemorative title of the name, date, and city of each murder victim. The work confronts the viewer with public spaces that do not appear violent, therefore asking us to take a moment to reflect deeply, and commemorate what occurred and what is occurring here. Appealing to us to consider what these murders mean in the future of day-to-day social life, the artist is attempting to divulge a case that demands attention and assess the skepticism and indifference that surrounds it. The NSU’s xenophobic crimes and current court case are alarmingly relevant as Germany approaches federal elections, and considering the country’s rise in right-wing populism as a response to the current refugee crisis.
Attacks on foreigners living in Germany have increased by a third, and curiously there has also been a surge in reported criminal cases by refugees. But this is not being truthfully reflected nor reported in the media. Steffen Krüger’s recent article confronts this national issue. It informs us of the web page, Hoax Map, created by ethnologist Karolin Schwarz in 2016. Schwarz began embedding locations in Google Maps to reconcile all the false reports, stories, and articles that are circulating online of crimes involving refugees. There have been 450 cases thus far and the falsity of accusations and the depiction they intend to make are disturbing. Like ‘Bloody Soil’, they inform us of the ethnocentrism that is alive and kicking in Germany.
Delicately curated, ‘Bloody Soil. Scenes of NSU Crimes’ is spaced between two dark, echoing rooms. It demands time and a circular journey, one that begins and ends with one stark white photograph-distinct in contrast to the other darker-hued ones. The first and final image, a sterilized looking white door, depicts the entrance of the courtroom where Beate Zschäpe, an accomplice in the NSU murders, awaits conviction in Munich. The photograph of the courtroom door—curated to be passed on entering and once again on exiting—in its obstinance cries out for justice, to address crimes that the artist believes went too long without visibility and dialogue. The NSU case has been referred to as one of the biggest failures of modern German law enforcement, the secret service, politicians and the mainstream media.
‘The Bloody Soil. Scenes of NSU Crimes’ series not only begs some relevant questions for the future of politics in Germany, but also for those within contemporary art and the unfolding role of art institutions. The work, being rather investigative in nature, and an advocate for truth-seeking, is not dissimilar to the message behind the artwork at this year’s documenta 14 by Forensic Architecture. Also relating to the NSU murders and current trial, presented in the Neue Neue Galerie, the video work ‘77sqm_9:26min’ depicts the results of a forensic investigation into the 9th NSU murder of Halit Yozgat in Kassel in 2006. The video reenactment was conducted by Forensic Architecture, a London research initiative, in collaboration with The Society of Friends of Halit. The video work, like Schmeken’s series, is both informative and commemorative. The title relates to the size of the internet cafe where Yozgat was murdered and the amount of time that it was the subject of police investigation. There is a public outcry around this, as the murder initially thought to have only one witness, in fact had numerous and a lot more evidence and material than was utilized in its inquiry.
Architect Eyal Weizman of Forensic Architecture deliberates on the project, the intersection of contemporary art, forensics, truth, and beauty in a recent article by Hili Perlson: “Art has been very good in the last decades in problematizing the notion of truth, insisting that narratives are more complex than we’re told, that art is about doubt. We want to show another possibility of art—one that can confront doubt, and uses aesthetic techniques in order to interrogate.”
At this tense contemporary moment, both Schmeken’s series and the work of Forensic Architecture encourage us to investigate, look closely and ask our own questions. Further questioning the role of contemporary art and that of art institutions, these works uphold the value of art’s dissemination of knowledge and truth.