Liberation project 2012
After a 24 year residency in the US, I returned to Austria in 1997. My American experience seems distant now and I have elbowed out a space on the path toward art here in Austria. Certain American images and habits have remained and certainly guide me through my daily agenda.
It was then that I noticed a title page story in the Virginia Pilot newspaper about a German submarine crew who had abandoned their sinking ship and were subsequently killed. Their remains were buried in Newport News at Newport National Cemetery.
After I read this story, I visited the burial site and found a cemetery for thousand of Americans and among them twenty-nine Nazi mariners. I was astonished and moved and thought „what dignity and compassion to bury the enemy soldier next to America’s fallen“. This image has never left me. It has grown faint over the years, but recently taken on focus again.
I now live in a small house in the eastern region of Austria, The day starts with a look out the kitchen window to watch the sun rise over the Wiesberg/Poellau elevation. In June 1944 a USAAF bomber exploded on that spot and threw its mechanical intestines and crew all about the Nazi dominated country side. In the same year 2 more US bombers crashed in the immediate vicinity. By the end of the war the total number of American bombers downed in the region of Styria numbered about 460. None the less, the Allies did bring an end to the Nazi regime and liberty to Austria.
No word of dignity, no word of beauty fair adorns the crash sites of 1944/45 today. No police records of the time mention the crew members of the „Ramp Tramp“, no county registrars‘ page makes a reference to the „Texarkana Hussy“ aircraft burning high in the sky. Instead a great lament can be heard across the province to this day, commenting on how great the sacrifice for the Nazi effort was.
As I stand in Pöllau, at the local monument to the losses of World War II, one can read off local names, soldiers sacrificed while marching under false hopes, for some one else’s fatherland on the plains of the Ukraine – or in the waters off the coast of North Carolina.
The names of the people who resisted and fell, the names of the deported and murdered and the names of the fallen allied soldiers who liberated this soiled land – they have gone unmentioned.
Thus I suggested to the mayor of the town, that the monument should receive a note of contrast, not directly upon the walls of the monument, but in safe distance and still on the premises. It may be somewhat late to initiate such a search for names now, but still they can be found. To start with, for example, the names of American allied fliers who vanished in the valley in 1944.
In the following is a chronological listing of events in reference to the „Liberation“ project.
2001: The initial „Liberation Project“ description and sketches (one and two)
were submitted to the mayor of Poellau.
2002: Since there was no response, the request was submitted for a second time.
2003: A modified description and sketch was submitted, the mayor opposed the new
image as being too bloody.
2004: The image again is modified and submitted. This time the historical society
replied : „The historic society is in opposition, since the object distorts the
idyllic order of the premises“.
2007: The painting „On this Foreign Field – Liberator Harry Moore“ was started.
Upon its completion it was submitted together with a dedication as a gift to the town under certain conditions. This time the mayor noted: The legislative body could possibly consider a temporary display of the painting for the duration of two weeks.
This being unacceptable led me to withdraw my offer.
2008: Independent of the mayoral office an art object was constructed by the
students of the Hauptschule Kaindorf was positioned on the actual crash site
Harry Moores‘ plane at Rabenwald.
The design stems from the US scupltor Douglas Hoagg.
In the same year, the Styrian conservative coaltion party OEVP purchased the painting „Liberator
Harry Moore“ for their permanent art collection.
The sale was realized under the condition that the American Air Force veteran Dr. Robert Otto, who survived the crash of a B-24 in Pöllau in 1944, would be invited to Austria. Dr. Robert Otto visited us in October of 2008.
2009: A change of guard and leadership in the mayoral house of Pöllau took
place. I sized upon the opportunity and deposited a request for the allocation
of a public space enabling the placement of a newly designed „Liberation“
marker. This time we were given a verbal agreement from the major that such
an object could be in place by 2011.
2010: In April another change in the house of local politics took place, this time
the OEVP Christian Conservatives won the mayoral seat and announced that
all commitments towards the Liberation-Project made by their political
predecessors were to be considered as null and void.
2010: Despite the proclamation from the newly elected mayor, the Liberation project
received national support and proceeded.
Four graduates of MICA completed and positioned the „Liberation“ art object on public grounds in the town of Poellau. The artists are:
Josef Schuetzenhofer – MBA-class of 1987
Douglas Hoagg – MBA-class of 1987
William Contino – MBA-class of 1988
Emily Hines – BA-class of 2011
Together with Dr. Klaus Zeyringer, a professor of German literature and local resident, the project was realized.
The local authorities refused to support the project, or to even give consent for an appropriate site for the art object. After numerous attempts to work together with the town council representatives failed, the decision was made not only to carry on independently, but also to endow the project with an international participation which reflects the allied involvement.
A petition was started to apply pressure on the Poellau town representatives. The petition was initiated by Dr. Klaus Zeyringer and Gerhard Ruiss of the IG Autorinnen Autoren in Vienna and was signed by hundreds of leading Austrian authors, artists, musicians, entertainers, SPORTLER, UNTERNEHMER, UNIPROFS etc – including the Nobel Prize winning author, Elfriede Jelinek, the Ukrainian author Juri Andruchowytsch, the Slovenian writers Drago Jančar and Aleš Šteger, the US-author John Wray, the Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann, the Jazz-musician Wolfgang Puschnig …
The project was „adopted“ and supported by the Styrian Cultural Initiative under the direction of Mr. Herbert Nichols-Schweiger. The Styrian Cultural Initiative is a state funded organization which works with public space artwork. Without the intervention of this initiative, a site in town would not have been approved.
The artists arrived the last week in June, and the object was built and installed within a 10 day session of creative and stressful labour and with the assistance of numerous other local residents. Approximately 200 persons attended the lecture and unveiling of the art object on its temporary spot in the town park.
The art object was designed to reflect the shape of the rudder of a B24 WWII aircraft. The 4 painted images represent the 4 downed U.S. Air Force planes which crashed in the local area during the war. Two silkscreened historic images are printed on one side – one of the Texarkana Hussy USAAF crew and the other is of the first Russian Liberators arriving at the wars‘ end in Poellau. The names of the airmen who lost their lives in these crashes are listed on the object [AUCH DIE ÜBERLEBENDEN!].
18 June 2011, the Liberation Object was installed.
4. August, the object was vandalized, the names of the US fliers and the nose-art image of Emily Hines was sprayed over with enamel paint.
6. Aug, the object was vandalized again, two support cables were torn and an attempt was made topple the sculpture. The object stands now at a slight tilt.
10. Aug, the grounds keeper deliberately damaged the third support cable.
16. Dec, with the use of a pipe, the rudder part of the object was pried from the main
Section, the hinge anchors were damaged and the fourth support cable was removed.
20. Dec. The Liberation object was removed to undergo repair.
AUSSTELLUNG UND VERANSTALTUNG MARIBOR 2012:
Skupaj – Miteinander – Together – Ensemble
Josef Schützenhöfer- ein Portait von Christian Seiler