I am struck by the drawings included in our current exhibition FOCUS: Ralf Ziervogel. Most of the drawings are quite disturbing, depicting in graphic detail the violent actions of sex-crazed maniacs, including bestiality, infanticide, and racist stereotypes. Viewing these works for the first time was a truly visceral experience. Yet the drawings stayed with me after that initial viewing, ruminating in my mind. I had to grapple with the images, to make sense of them. Yet, how can sense be made of such wanton violence?
Then I watched the evening news. And read the daily newspaper. Sensational violence is prevalent in my everyday life, yet it seems I’ve become immune to the horrific actions that take place on a daily basis both in my community and around the world. Of course the violence doesn’t make sense, but it exists and has to be addressed. The nauseating brutality rendered in Ziervogel’s drawings is nothing new, it is just the regurgitation of what the artist sees around him, but amplified to an extreme level so that viewers are once again able to have that raw, emotional reaction of repulsion and disgust.
The desire to induce such reactions has been explored by other artists as well for a variety of reasons. In Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1505-1510, Hieronymus Bosch explored the grotesque fate humans could expect to face in Hell if they did not lead good lives. Edvard Munch’s The Scream, 1893 confronts viewers with a skeletal figure against a blood-red sky to depict the lonely angst of modern life. Ziervogel is simply updating the tradition by rooting his shocking figures firmly in the present day, adorning them with such popular consumer products as Adidas clothing, Apple laptops, and BMW car keys. I watched the evening news again. In between the reports of gruesome murders, rapes, and child molestation were advertisements for products just like those the figures are wearing. The rampant consumerism in the drawings is connected to the rampant violence because that is how we experience them in real life.
Yet Ziervogel is adamant about emphasizing the fictitious nature of his work. They are not real; they are only drawings. No one is actually being killed or sodomized. Rather, the drawings provide a safe way to address the violence prevalent in our culture without doing any actual harm to anyone.
The installation of the pieces also contributes to the thoughtful consideration of the content. For example, Insollich, 2005 is installed in an intimate space at the end of a narrow corridor. The artist has thus provided a semi-private area for viewers to encounter the work, to have that initial visceral reaction, yet it also reinforces the reflective contemplation the work demands.