Saturday, October 13, 2007

Scandal at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Once upon a time there was (and still is) a Catalonian artist named Joan Fontcuberta. Among other techniques, he has discovered a software that allows one to collect images through Google searches, and use them to create mosaic-style pictures. And so he began to create pictures using other relevant pictures as mosaic stones: say, a picture of the Sagrade Familia cathedral in Barcelona (he's Catalonian, remember), pasted together from 10,000 images of families. Except that would be too banal, and he's a politically engaged bloke who wants us to observe his art (assuming it's art, a subject I cannot comment on) and come away with some message. So he used the software to create a picture of an Arab man, recognizable by his keffiya, which most Palestinian men don't wear, in the shadow of the bad Israeli wall. The mosaic stones? Tens of thousands of images culled by Google using a long series of Nazi concentration camp names. You get the idea. The picture's size, by the way, is apparently 1X1.5 meters.

OK, so the man has extreme bad taste. But that's only the beginning of the story. Back in 2005, some committee at the Frankfurt Book Fair (by far the world's most important book fair) was looking for a country to honor in 2007, and they chose Catalonia (which isn't a country, but perhaps that doesn't matter). Here you can peruse a brochure they printed explaining their decision:
On 24th February, 2005, the Executive Committee of the Frankfurt Book Fair decided that the guest of honour for 2007 should be Catalan culture. In the letter of notification regarding this decision and dated 1st March 2005, the Fair states that all aspects of Catalan culture and literature will be received with huge national and international interest. Almost immediately, work began on a profile for the presence of Catalan culture at one of the main cultural events of the year.
The objectives of the programme Catalan culture, guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2007 are:
• To bring the pioneering force and leading role of the publishing industry in Catalonia into the limelight.
• To increase universal recognition of Catalan literature and promote its translation into other languages
• To promote the process of internationalisation of the Catalan culture in all its forms.
So far so reasonable, no? They want to sell books, so this year they're pumping Catalonian books. Money makes the world go round, as Liza Minelli taught us. One of the organizations given space was the FFI, which stands for Fotografie Forum Internationale, who put together an exhibit and brochure titled »NOU-NOW. Contemporary Catalan Photography« .

And guess what? Fontcuberta's obscenity (which if you ask me isn't photography at all) is the centerpiece, and it's on the front of the brochure. And the technique and keywords used in its creation are explained quite clearly, lest anyone not catch the subtlety.

And that's still not the end of the story. When Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, a journalist, called up one Ms. Celina Lunsford, apparently the FFI person responsible for the decision, she wasn't inclined to talk, but did manage to tell him that there was no antisemitism involved, merely an attempt to encourage discussion, and the journalist's ire was unfathomable to her. After all, she assured him, the FFI does not engage in Holocaust denial.

The TAZ, a rather free-wheeling alternative newspaper in Berlin has picked up the story, but apparently not many other media outlets. The only mention of it I could find in English comes from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles: they're insisting the picture be taken down, but as yet it hasn't been.

(hat tip: Leonard Zelig)

1 comment:

Lydia McGrew said...

I find the "they don't engage in Holocaust denial" comment oddly telling. It seems to me that the bar is being pushed in some direction here--should I say "lower" or "higher"?--for how bad something has to be before it's regarded as out of bounds.

Oxford has now invited a Holocaust denier to speak to the debating society:

Their excuse? Hey, Columbia University had Amadinejad.

Or, for example, if I suggest to friends from some of their comments that perhaps they are anti-Israel, I have received the response, "I'm not anti-Israel. I support Israel's right to exist." Well, thanks very much.

In other words, it's gotta be crazy-bad to be considered bad at all. And sometimes not even then.