COLLIER SCHORR in conversation with THOMAS DEMAND
When living in the States, more than when living in Britain, I always had the feeling that I would never get behind the references used in daily life, despite the fact that there might be none, or that they might be extremely trivial once I found them out. I recognized myself as the equivalent of the American at Oktoberfest, who sees the lederhosen and funny hats, but who certainly gets something out of it. But I wonder if he’ll just get his own preconceptions illustrated or if he’ll ever get close to the facets of this event, which aren’t the obvious ones.
To be American and see militarized Americans walking around might be akin to a German looking at a pastiche of a German. At some point, one does recognize that essential tie to reality. I think, as a tourist, one gravitates towards the clichés and stereotypes as a way to navigate a space one has little control over. Every day, the visitor compares what is real or viewable to what is known or referenced. As a Jew of Eastern European descent, some things were familiar to me – some words, for instance. So there is a strange sense of “Heimlich-ness” (a perfect example of my bastardized thinking) – a positive and nostalgic pull towards this picture of Germany before the War. But being in Berlin is so different than being in Schwäbisch Gmünd.
Who was it that first introduced the innocuous image that foreshadowed death or suffering? I’m not much of an art historian. Géricault?
COLLIER SCHORR: Oh, right. Well, to be honest, I don’t trust painting any more than I trust make-believe. Whenever photographers deal with history they have to deal with the obvious critique of staging. That has been an issue for me: how can one make a kind of document of the past in photography without inviting the theatrical? In painting, it is always fiction/paint, so the painter is already playing fast and loose. Also, paint makes nostalgia too palatable. The lack of specificity merged with icons disturbs me as much as it attracts me. Whenever I see satellite dishes in Germany I think of Tuymans’ paintings. Is that weird? I guess I see some of those types of washy, gauzy paintings as the basis of communications, but sorely missing the specific communiqués. I love to look at his work sometimes, but … I feel something of a guilty feeling. What about you?
One last word on Berlin; you came briefly and got sick. No trust in doctors here? What made you feel uneasy? Do you think Berlin is to Schwäbisch Gmünd what New York City is to Wyoming or do both places feel like Hoboken West and Hoboken Central?
Ha! But you know I was always very conflicted about leaving Schwabisch Gmünd and thereby breaking the spell that I am from that town. To leave would reveal that I was a stranger, an Ausländer. But seriously, getting sick in Berlin was perfect in a way. Maybe I have been altogether too comfortable in Germany all these years. To be sick in a city that wears its pain so plainly is to keep it company in its misery. I did see a German dentist as I had a root canal in addition to the gripe. It reminded me of a scene from Marathon Man, where Lawrence Olivier plays that crazy dentist digging around in Dustin Hoffman’s mouth. Which reminds me that Olivier is the perfect example for me of a historical play-acting confluence – playing both a Dr. Mengele character in The Boys From Brazil and a Nazi-hunting Jew in The Simon Wiesenthal Story. That is me in a nutshell.