April 27 – June 5, 2021
From April 27 to June 5, 2021 Crone Wien presents the solo exhibition Claims by the French-German artist Emmanuel Bornstein. On view are 14 new paintings in which the artist refers directly to his biography, his family and his Jewish origins. The writer Deborah Feldman reviews the exhibition in her following essay.
The final duty was death, said Jean Amery, therefore those who lived had failed in this duty, and it is this failure that would haunt them and the generations to follow. This is the crime of having leapt up, as Imre Kertesz wrote: ich sprang doch auf, indeed I’m still here although I don’t know why,” echoing the phrase in Miklos Radnoti’s poem:
I fell beside him and his corpse turned over, tight already as a snapping string. Shot in the neck - And that’s how you’ll end too - I whispered to myself; lie still, no moving.
Now patience flowers in death. Then I could hear Der springt noch auf - above and very near. Blood mixed with mud was drying on my ear.
Der springt noch auf. This seems to be the awful offense, the guilt inherent in that inexorable human urge toward life, which even Kertesz acknowledges in his decision not to procreate so as to prevent the “awful shame” attached to the survivor from being passed on.
Der springt noch auf. A new generation leaps up, yes, still the human spirit leaps reflexively from the mud, coated in the guilt and shame passed on by the fathers just as a child emerges swathed in the literal fruit of its mother. But this mud can never be cleansed, it is inextricable from the body itself, it has penetrated into the depths of the spirit.
And what of the third generation, for whom this inheritance of “blood mixed with mud” is in such dispute? A burden has been offered to those who remain uncertain of their right to carry it, whose relationship to this guilt is one of guilt itself, whose shame has been rendered illegitimate and discredited. And yet those that leapt up find that even as their own entitlement is in question, the past does not rest its case.
Emmanuel Bornstein enacts this powerful reckoning between ancestors and descendents, even as he acknowleges that it is impossible to trace the origins of what sometimes seems like an embrace, and others a death grip. Past and present seem locked in a struggle older then themselves, essential to their existence; it is a primitive, unyielding contest in which the opponents cannot capitulate for fear that doing so will result in the destruction of them both.
Those that were selected for death have been cleansed of the mud, but those culled from death are both claimants and respondents at once. And as the following generations have been culled from the mud to breathe the shame of life, they find themselves breaking under the burden, splitting into two selves: one which lays claim to an inheritance of suffering, and one which rejects this inheritance. In the pair of self portraits Culled I and Culled II this duel is internalized, its dichotomy becomes the danger which later generations will grapple with, if the matter is not finally settled. In I, the artist exists in a space through which light cannot penetrate, his back is to its source, his spirit frozen between times, his gaze met only by the mud from which he sprang, yet cannot escape. In II, the artist employs an uncharacteristically saturated technique, building layers upon layers of tangible, quivering red, behind which the figure is only a shadow, grieving the sacrifice of his life essence for a painful and lonely freedom. Nevertheless it is the beating heart of a series otherwise primarily focused on the ghosts of hidden realms, an intimate and passionate acknowledgment of life even from a distance which seems impossible to overcome.
How to choose between these selves, when choosing might mean betrayal of those ghosts which emerged from a space between worlds, spirits both angelic and demonic who gave the artist the gift of human love - but who also taught him the language of oblivion, who trained his eyes to see in darkness, who breathed the fumes of death into his soul? To cleanse himself of mud is to turn his back on those who brought him to writhing, agonizing, intoxicating life.
The artist reaches instead for those who sank dutifully into the mud, he grasps for the spirits who are free of the stain of shame, he plunges his fingers into the seam between the worlds, and thereby between his two selves, and he demands that the dead stand with the living, he challenges them to leap up as well, if not from the mud, then from oblivion. Springt auf, he says, and there they are, as if born again from and through him, and they make no claims on him, and he too rests his case.
Emmanuel Bornstein was born in Toulouse, France in 1986 and has lived in Berlin since 2009. He first studied painting at the Ecole National Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris, and later at the University of the Arts in Berlin. His works are in numerous private and institutional collections in New York, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid and Istanbul. The Musée Départemental de la Résistance in Toulouse is currently showing his solo exhibition "Three Letters", in July 2021 a large overview of his works will follow in the Château Laréole in Toulouse and in February 2022 a solo exhibition in the Kunsthalle Rostock.
Deborah Feldman was born in New York in 1986 and has lived in Berlin since 2014. Her autobiographical debut novel "Unorthodox" was published in 2012 and became a bestseller worldwide. In 2020, it was adapted for a Netflix series that over 200 million people have seen so far. In 2015 her novel "Exodus: A Memoire" was published, in 2018 she was the protagonist of the documentary "#Female Pleasure".
Emmanuel Bornstein | Claims
Guided Tour with Deborah Feldman