When in Germany books are collected for a public destruction this cannot be made without creating association to the historical event of the “Bücherverbrennung” (Nazi books Burning). Even when the Nazis didn't invent the public staging of destruction of books, throughout history since the times written texts and books have been invented, despots used the destruction of books as an extraordinarily sign of power. Already before Christi the Chinese King Qin Shihuangdi burned all non-conformist books, in 1988 the muslims burned down Salman Rushdi, even “Harry Potter” was burned down by some radical Christians in the US: the “Harvest Assembly of God” church in Pittsburgh.
In 1920-ies during the “War of Independence” the “Burning of Kork” took place: when the British forces set fire to the Carnegie Library in Kork, Ireland. I took this phenomenon and made an art installation with multi-projection with fire, books and libraries. The Irish visitors reacted open-minded and interested. What was for me as a German an historical impact on my present reality, for the Irish seemed to be a completed event of the past. The loss of cultural heritage, the destruction of books implies the loss of historical traces and cultural identity. Micha Ullman's installation on the Bebelplatz, empty shelves in commemoration of the Nazi book burnings, emphasizes that aspect of the lack.
So in Germany the official destruction/recycling of books as a shame of our history, even if they are not burned like by the Nazis, is still a challenge. Zet's “Deutschland schafft es ab” installation cannot be planned or discussed without being seen not primarily related to its political context. The official press reflects that, journalists are scandalized. Martin Zet said in a sat3 interview (1) he was surprised and shocked by the reaction of the German public. Can that be believed? If yes, he seems just to be ingenuous. And this doesn't make so much sense, also because the 7th Berlin Biennale Curator Arthur Zmijewsky invited him, especially because he wanted political statements to be present in his Biennale projects.
My personal impression is, that provoking a political scandal is actually what Zet was looking for. To set a racist book in the historical relation to the Nazi book burnings by the majority of society here, shows how short-handed the contradiction between the support of racist ideas is while at the same time the confrontation with the German history of Nazism is still a taboo. That's a political statement and the main point of this art action.
To concentrate the discussion of this art action just with references within arts like in the text above doesn't quite hit the point. Zmijewski wants to redefine the role of the artist in politics and this can only be made if we consider arts within the framework of historical events, the related contemporary phenomena with attention to the political context each particular work refers to.
By Peggy Sylopp
(1) http://www.3sat.de/mediathek/mediathek.php?obj=28881&mode=play&nw=true , jan 17th 2012