EAST GERMAN GOTHIC STUDIES is a study of gothic culture, which in East Germany was characterised above all by severe economic deprivation, limited access to information, music carriers and political and social repression. From 1987 onwards, there are increasing notes in Stasi files on self-organised youth groups who put on make-up, toupee their hair, wear necklaces and have a fascination for cemeteries. Politically, they remained misunderstood by state security personnel, which increased the sceptical observation of this youth culture. This is a continuation of my work on the longing and crying of goths in the GDR.
First, I would like to present a work that was part of the group show UNMONUMENTAL MOMENTS at the Jena Kunstverein, 2022:
Untitled (East German Gothic Studies), 2022
Archival material, weathered latex on glass, steel, 86.5 x 40 x 20 cm
The installation by Fabian Reetz consists of two rectangular steel bodies, whose fronts are each closed by a pane of glass. The artist has covered them with latex and exposed them to direct sunlight and the effects of the weather over a long period of time. The material, which is opaque and impermeable to air in its original state, becomes an irregularly structured, translucent surface that bears witness to tensions and cracks as a result of this artificially produced ageing process. This semipermeable filter partially and restrictedly reveals another component of the installation: a picture of the band “The Cure”. This is part of a fan calendar that – among others – had a permanent place in his parents’ kitchen in the 1990s.
With this installation, which connects the private with the public, Fabian Reetz reflects on changes in systems of reference over time. In doing so, he creates minimalist objects that on the one hand pick up on the cult of idols, and on the other ask about their temporality.
“Being a fan, living one’s own life through someone else, fulfilling one’s own desires through someone else’s career – these were mechanisms of escapism for young people in the GDR. In the 90s, the Wave Gothic Treffen emerged from this subculture. Part of the founding myth is “The Cure” concert on Leipzig’s Festwiese, for which large numbers of starving goths from all corners of the defunct GDR made the pilgrimage, only to be beaten up by skinheads afterwards.
2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the 30th anniversary of the festival, the protagonists of the time are writing books and an institutionalised classification of the youth movement of the time is beginning. At the same time, there are newer fan groups around bands like “The Cure” and “Depeche Mode”, networked via forums and social media, in which the focus is on queerness, sexuality and playing with the gender roles of these bands. Agendas shift, while the projection screen in the form of Robert Smith’s lipstick and cobwebby hair is still onstage after decades.”
(Excerpt from the exhibition text by Michaela Mai, 2022)
CONCEPT SKETCHES FOR A NEW INSTALLATION
The following is an immersive spatial installation that deepens my preoccupation with goth culture.
In southern Thuringia, there has been a slate quarrying area near Lehesten since the 13th century, which is a source of identity for the surrounding villages. Most of the houses here are clad in slate. Since industrialisation, the region has been in a productive but socio-economically precarious position. During the GDR, mining was dominated by the planned economy, the economic situation deteriorated visibly, and in the 1990s mining came to an end. Outside the small village centres, there are mainly two-storey, simple single-family houses covered with slate. After the end of quarrying, the material became more expensive and since then there have been hardly any new building projects with slate. The cultural and economic history of this milieu in southern Thuringia can be traced on the basis of the material. The roofing of the houses works by nailing the uniform shingles to the outer façade of the house. Contrary to this traditional procedure, I would like to knot slate tiles with decorative chains.
Self-dyed shrouds and self-made jewellery are an integral part of goth fashion during the GDR. Due to the lack of appropriate clothing, an inventive dedication to a gothic outfit was necessary, which was picked up via West German television and through magazines. Often this went hand in hand with resistance to conservative parents and was an intense act as a moment of demarcation in a restrictive state. For me, slate bricks linked by jewellery chains carry the lifeworld of goths in East Germany, as they combine the tension of one’s own parental home with breaking out through individualised, self-made looks.
While at the end of the 1980s the goth scene mainly found its place in youth clubs and sometimes in cemeteries and private cellars, in the 1990s it was places like the Moritzbastei or the Darkflower in Leipzig that were central to the scene. Old vaulted cellars are often venues for goth clubs, inspired by the iconic Batcave in London.
The installation consists of funnel-shaped, thin steel scaffolding to which slate panels are tied – creating individual columns. The slate plates are knotted together by jewellery chains, which on the one hand refer to Gothic jewellery, such as the chains by Robert Smith (see appendix). On the other hand, it is important to me to understand the handling of the slate as fashion. The funnel-shaped objects are in turn attached by wire ropes and jewellery chains either to the beams, or to the walls of the interior by eyebolts. As can be seen in the sketches, the columns with wire ropes arched by tension are reminiscent of vaulted Gothic clubs. With the columns, the material that is normally used for exterior façades is also brought into the interior and re-evaluated. Above the bar, I want to hang a plain slate-clad Schlid that quotes the Batcave’s iconic coffin-shaped logo. (see sketches).