CONCRETE and SOIL photographs by GERALD FELDMAN
This exhibition is part of The Interchurch Center
50th Anniversary Celebration 2010
CONCRETE and SOIL
Images of the modern urban environs of New York and New Jersey comprise the majority of Gerald Feldman's photographic portfolio. His cityscapes are unique in capturing dramatic combinations of natural phenomena, like seasonal change, the effects of weather, and other cosmic events with the typical structures and artifacts of urban sprawl. His people - often isolated, sometimes fearful, always in some way more attuned to an inner than an outer reality - also interact with their environment in unique ways that, despite their alienation, give eloquence to their continuing participation in the human story.
Feldman has realized (particularly since September 11, 2001) that the “city,” emblematic of diversity and choice, is a prime target of the political and religious fundamentalisms that decry our pluralistic freedoms as threats to their legitimacy. To help isolate the issues at hand Feldman sought a contrast with something completely unlike his urban subjects. For the counterpoint in this visual dialectic Feldman traveled to Germany's Black Forest, a region renowned not only for its idyllic beauty and rural simplicity, but also as a place, along with Germany's other forest regions, that inspired the most infamous of fundamentalist creeds.
GERMANY'S FORESTS AND NATIONAL SOCIALISM
The German national identity is said to have been born in the forest with the alliance of German tribal woodsmen and their defeat of the Roman invaders in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD (from which is derived the term “Teutonic,” to describe anything German, as in “Teutonic Knights”). Over time, with civilization and Christianity, this identification grew to embrace the adjacent soil husbanded by peasant farmers. Today there are many forests and surrounding farmlands throughout Germany: the Schwarzwald, Frankenwald, Teuotburg, Thuringian, Kellerwald, Hurtgen, Schurwald, Hartz, Kiffing, Grunewald, and so on. Together they comprise more acreage than a country with as high a population density should reasonably allow. These attest to the Germans' deep and abiding identification of their culture with nature and the forests in particular.
Thomas Mann was aware of this connection when he wrote that rural values were behind Nazism. And it was with Germany's humiliating defeat in the First World War that “Blood and Soil” became the National Socialist rallying cry. Decrying modern urban “asphalt culture” as the enemy, alien and corrupt, undermining the purity of the Volk (people of the soil) by its very diversity (the insidious influence of rootless Jews, intellectuals, nihilism, waste of resources on the outcast and genetically unfit, materialism, individualism, self-interested capitalism, bolshevism, democracy, and so on), the Nazis called for a return to the authenticity of a unified Volk and their connection to the land that bore them as the way to redemption. Without the heresy of dissent, as “One People,” with “One Leader” and “One Reich,” aligning themselves with Darwinist principles, the laws of nature and the “struggle for existence” would grant legitimacy to their objective of rooting out all that was “other” than or superfluous to the community of fate and its goal of world domination.
This appeal to nature found a ready outlet in a people with deep historic
ties to its forest origins - let alone one informed by a fully developed forest mythology. Transmitted by ritual, cast as oral tradition in folk tales (and documented in the nineteenth century by the Brothers Grimm), this was a mythology in which the idyllic beauty and peace of the forests and outlying farmlands - peopled by tow-headed children, virtuous maids and healthy suitors - was continually threatened by a mysterious “others.” Clothed in morning mist and rising at twilight, they were misshapen, outcast and diseased. Their whisperings – heard in the rustling leaves, splashing ponds, and stirring fauna – were personified as the witches, spirits, sirens, and devils who dwelled in the shadows and lured the innocent (often children) along labyrinthine paths to their doom.
So, primed by history and lore, readied by self-deception, conceit and a new myth of salvation, the German Reich set upon a hard idealistic crusade, full of heroic self-sacrifice and stoic oblivion to the way ahead - one that was strewn with vast, unprecedented destruction of resources, national disgrace, self-immolation, and the murder of millions.
To the fundamentalism of the Third Reich the modern city and the country represented antithetical values. The exhibit of photographs in “Concrete and Soil” asks many questions regarding the whys and hows of this perceived conflict, and others as well. But perhaps the most important are ironic: How is it that within the security and self-worth provided by submitting human responsibility to something “larger” - to an all-embracing principle like “nature,” or any authoritarian religious doctrine or political system - there is the danger of inciting a defensive reflex just a hair-trigger from catastrophe? And why is it that despite the distractions, confusions, and conflicting intentions the modern city offers (which is emblematic of democracy), one can discern the elemental grace of a natural order?
1. Solo Exhibitions:
2010 “Ordinary Places,” O.K. Harris Works of Art, New York, NY
2. Group Exhibitions: 2010 “The Modern Family,” Treasure Gallery, Interchurch Center,
New York, NY
2010 “Summeryview Group Exhibition,” O.K. Harris Works of Art, New York, NY
2010 “A Gathering of the Tribes,” Tribes Gallery, New York, NY
2006 Jan Huys Church, New York, NY
2005 Cork Gallery, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY
2004 Cork Gallery, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY
2003 Cork Gallery, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY
The Galleries at The Interchurch Center
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 253
New York, NY 10115