Friday, June 10, 2011

Fernando Bryce: El Mundo en Llamas

Alexander and Bonin Gallery is hosting the exhibition of two new works by Fernando Bryce—marking the first solo presentation of his work in the United States. Bryce’s drawings systematically re-examine how historical events are represented and reconstructed in real time through the media. Describing his work as “mimetic analysis,” Bryce culls archives for advertisements, newspaper articles, leaflets, comics, and other print materials focusing on specific political currents. He then reproduces these original documents in ink on standard paper formats. Representing Bryce in this show are his two respective—and most recent—works, “El Mundo en Llamas” and “Das Reich / Der Aufbau.” Up through June 18, 2011, both focus on representations of World War II in the popular press.

Panoptic in scope, Fernando Bryce’s painstaking work is the result of collecting historical documents, images from media, and illustrations, which are then combined and translated into large ink drawings. Poetically, he breathes life into these images by reimagining and reinterpreting them into various formative contexts.

Translated as “The World in Flames,” “El Mundo en Llamas” is an expansive set of 92 drawings in which headlines from major world newspapers are juxtaposed against advertisements for Hollywood film as they were rebranded at the time for a Peruvian audience. As with many of his installations, mainstream political coverage is weighed against the spectre of cultural imperialism: News of military maneuvers is followed by celluloid depictions of heroic pilots and femme fatales dubbed in Spanish. Spanning the period from 1939-1945, included are full-page spreads of “The New York Times,” Communist Party organ “L'Humanité” ("Humanity"), “Berliner Zeitung am Mittag,” “The Washington Post.” and the Peruvian “El Comercio.” Bryce’s juxtaposition of World War II news with events in Peru is ironic for one major reason: One of the only active roles played by that South American nation during that conflict was the rounding up of Peruvians of Japanese ancestry—with the connivance of the U.S. State Department—and the expropriation of property and other assets of these hapless people by Peru. [Only 79 Japanese-Peruvian citizens returned to Peru after the war, and 400 remained in the United States as "stateless" refugees.]

In “El Mundo,” as in his other works, Bryce has acted as a para-historian—revisiting and highlighting remnants of various historical perspectives. The artist opened a window through which historical events—anchored by significant military turning points of World War II—could be discerned and examined. Bryce searches newspaper archives on key dates—selecting and editing those pages whose graphic and ideological content he finds most compelling and emblematic. Bryce’s drawings embody unique views on history’s mediation.

Problematic examples of the period include the war reportage of the collaborationist Paris newspaper “Le Matin,” which emphasized anti-Soviet discourse. The days of “Le Matin” were numbered: Published from 1883, the once advanced periodical that had questioned the dubious charges against Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) had been reduced to anti-parliamentary vitriol and a pro-Nazi line before disappearing in August 1944 after the liberation of the City of Light. By comparison, “L'Humanité”—the daily linked to the French Communist Party and founded in 1904 by Jean Jaurès—continues to this day as the last French national newspaper of the left, despite the foundering of its parent party. In contrast to most French newspapers, the readership of “L'Humanité” has actually increased. Its pages heralded the Popular Front of Léon Blum in 1936: Despite its being banned during World War II, it published clandestinely until liberation of Paris from German occupation.

For “Das Reich / Der Aufbau,” Bryce has reproduced in full 14 covers of two periodicals—the German-language Jewish journal, Aufbau, then published then in New York, and Das Reich—spanning the months from July to October 1944. This period, after the liberation in July of the Majdanek concentration camp by the Soviet Army and the liberation of Paris in August by the forces of the “United Nation,” marks the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. By presenting the two publications together the viewer is able to compare the topics covered and how they might fit the ideology of the given publication. In hindsight Das Reich’s headlines (“The Utmost Effort,” “Full Display of Force,” etc.) read like fantasies of increasing power in the face of impending collapse. The differing style and formatting of these publications are also telling. Das Reich, for instance, sports a neo-classical, serifed masthead followed by one central headline. Aufbau’s masthead, by contrast, is modern, fat and angular and its multiple headlines are dispersed, and printed in different fonts. Design decisions such as these reiterate larger ideological constructs: Das Reich (and National Socialism) being Teutonic and monolithic whereas Aufbau (and the “United Nations” forces) modern and cosmopolitan.

Literally meaning “The [German] Empire,” “Das Reich” was a weekly newspaper founded by Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in May 1940. Primarily the creation of Rudolf Sparing, Rolf Rienhardt, and Max Amann, Goebbels was not involved with “Das Reich,” other than having founded it and apart from contributing a weekly editorial. Except for Herr Goebbels very delusional editorials, “Das Reich”—with its foreign contributors, book reviews, essays, and news reports—did not share the tone of other evermore barbarous and strident Nazi publications such as “Der Angriff” ("The Attack"), the pornographic “Der Stürmer” ("The Attacker"), “Völkischer Beobachter” ("Völkisch Observer"), and “Das Schwarze Korps” (“ The Black Corps”). In the other part of the show, Bryce even included a 1942 issue of “BZ am Mittag”—by then a droning facsimile of the lively, urbane tabloid it had been when owned by the House of Ullstein prior to the Nazi takeover and the resultant “Aryanization” of that august publishing house. The latter was “put out of its misery” when it ceased publication in February 1943 in compliance with measures for the “Total War.”

“Aufbau”—including such names on its masthead as Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, and Hannah Arendt—was an important source of news about the war for those fortunate German-speaking Jewish émigrés who managed to avoid the Nazi dragnet. The very first newspaper to report on the murder of European Jewry in gas chambers, its reprinted deportation lists were used in evidence at the Nuremberg trials. From September 1, 1944 through September 27, 1946, it printed numerous lists of Jewish Holocaust survivors located in Europe, as well as a few lists of victims. Lists published in “Aufbau” were prepared by many different sources, such as Jewish relief organizations or officials in displaced persons’ camps. The vast majority of these lists are survivors. The only victims' lists give the names of persons who perished in the Shanghai ghetto. After the war, “Aufbau” helped those trying to relocate family and friends by running notices in its “searching for” and “saved” columns.

Other of Bryce’s series include: “Walter Benjamin’ (2002), “Trotsky” (2003), “Spanish War “(2003), and “Revolución” (2004). The first two are personal tributes to two intellectuals caught up in tragic maelstroms. In all of Bryce’s works, the past is ruthlessly un-romanticized as he addresses the tragic banality of historic sources.

Fernando Bryce was born in Lima in 1965 and now divides his time between Lima and Berlin, where he moved in the late 1980s. His work has been included in Manifesta in Frankfurt-am-Main (2002), the 8th International Istanbul Biennial (2003), the 26th Biennial of São Paulo (2004), and the 54th Carnegie International in Pittsburgh (2006). This year, his work is the subject of a survey exhibition organized by the Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI).

“El Mundo en Llamas”
Fernando Bryce
Through June 18, 2011
132 Tenth Avenue NYC 10011

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