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Jimmie Durham

Mistakes and Plans (2011)

Sculptor and poet, Jimmie Durham insistently interrogates questions of national identity, narrative and architecture / monuments. For the biennial Jimmie Durham has created a new work based on stories about the so-called »Hitler stones«, the granite blocks from Bohuslän in Sweden that were ordered by Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich for a victory monument in Berlin, in the midst of the Second World War. For historical reasons, the stones were never delivered. 

Extract from a conversation between Jimmie Durham and Gertrud 

Sanqvist, professor at the Malmö Art Academy and co-curator of Pandemonium – Art in a Time of Creativity Fever. 

Gertrud Sandqvist When did you first hear about the »Hitler stones«?

Jimmie Durham Gallerist Claes Nordenhake took me to the quarry his brother Björn owns, and I saw these massively big stones. Björn told me the story. I felt I needed to do something with it. Next year, in 1998, I had the Berlin DAAD grant, and thought I could make a film; taking the stones into the Baltic as though they were on the way to Berlin, but instead of arriving they would sink into the sea. But this turned out to be completely impractical – you can't just allow huge stones to sink into the Baltic, with all cables and things down there.

Then I found a drawing by Hitler, showing how he imagined these victory monuments, and I realized how much stone he actually ordered from Sweden, and Norway. He could have built ten Pantheons with them – it was such a massive project. And I have nothing to say about all these stone workers that he kept busy. It had been at least ten years of severe depression, so they had no money. I don't want to think too much about the workers or the quarry owners. They needed a job, so they took the job. Some say they spit on the There is this Flemish painting, I think it is by Carel Fabritius, it's a 17th century painting showing the beheading of S:t John the baptist. Salome is a Flemish Matron, and the beheader is quite simply the local butcher! I find it most beautiful. The butcher shows the matron the head, as if he is saying »I've done your dirty work, and here it is«. I like it very much. It's both an illustration and a political work of art. Supposedly political art is a new invention. But all these artists were in fact political.

GS Tell me about your work for the biennial! 

JD I have a room, with smooth walls. Outside there is a copy of Percy Shelleys poem Ozymandias, where the statue of this fallen king says: »Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!« and the poem goes on »Nothing beside remains. Rond the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.« Inside, there is Hitler's stupid drawing, 3 meter wide, and a lot of quotations from Hitler. It will be the least monumental I can do – yet really attacking monuments.

Particularly in Europe, anti-monumentalism is my main engine. I think of Europe as monumental. The architectural impulse is monumental. Someone like the architect Philip Johnson joined the Nazi party. Architects need politicians who like monumentalism. Stone in Europe has a triple weight. There is such a heavy metaphoric weight stuck in the stone – from the obelisks to God's laws written in stone. I like to work with stones as a tool instead of as a monument. 

Biografi Born 1940 in USA, lives and works in Italy. Jimmie Durham is a Cherokee, born in Arkansas in. He is a visual artist, a political activist for the American Indian Movement and an essayist. He has participated in several international exhibitions, such as Documenta IX and the 50th Venice Biennial, the Whitney Biennial and at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) in London.

Photo: Hendrik Zeitler