STUART BRISLEY, Arbeit Macht Frei, 1973, 20 minutes colour and black&white
STUART BRISLEY, Arbeit Macht Frei, 1973, 20 minutes colour and black&white
STUART BRISLEY, Arbeit Macht Frei, 1973, 20 minutes colour and black&white

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to watch the video

Click here to listen to Stuart Brisley in conversation with Catherine Wood, Curator of Contemporary Art & Performance about his work.
7 October 2011

 

The film Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes Free) was conceived after the performance 'And For Today... Nothing' which took place at Gallery House Goethe Institute in London in 1972. The words Arbeit Macht Frei were wrought in iron and placed on or above the entrance gates to some if not all Nazi Concentration Camps in the period of Nazi rule in Germany and its conquered territories between 1933 and 1945.

The film is conceived as an analogous representation of the objection to genocide. It begins with a long sequence of vomiting shot in a formal frontal manner, as a bodily rejection of the idea, graphic imagery of a head being immersed in water are followed by black and white sequences of the same head appearing and disappearing emerging and sinking from sight in black water. In the final sequence, the stark white image of the head breaks down into abstraction.

It is an expression of what is known, namely that Arbeit Macht Frei in Nazi terms is the harbinger of death known as the Holocaust where six million Jews, between 200,000 and 1.500,000 Roma, political, and sexually deviant prisoners and other minorities were gassed, hung, shot, starved or otherwise put to death.

In 1972 the revelation of such an overwhelming atrocity did not appear to have fully penetrated the vocabulary concerning human behaviour. Maybe it can never be truly absorbed. The depth and range of such terrifying criminality still continues to resonate as more recent actrocities are piled one on another. This work touches the theme by addressing the words Arbeit Macht Frei behind which lies an indescribable inhumanity.

Stuart Brisley,  10.10.2009