America's Spiritual Heroes
Installation, sculpture and paintings by Adam Turl
about the work (statement from 2014):
What I am trying to do in America’s Spiritual Heroes is to move towards a contemporary history painting. The title is a direct response to Anselm Kiefer’s Germany’s Spiritual Heroes. My installation, however, points to a different understanding of history. While Kiefer put Germany’s heroes away in a forgotten attic I have coated mine with concrete, cotton and ash — weighing them down with the actual material history of the nation. I have combined them with other paintings and laid them out on the floor. I intentionally invoked the popular cliché of the political artist painting portraits of radical heroes (and not necessarily radical cultural figures). I did this as a declaration of sincerity and a rejection of the remnants of post-modern irony.
As Jason Hoelscher recently wrote:
“Writing in 1993, David Foster Wallace noted that American literature and pop culture had replaced sincerity with a distant, emotional flatness, a 'pervasive cultural irony' that is 'a variation on a sort of existential poker face,' in which staking out a position and saying what one meant was considered banal. Exploring the corrosive effects of such a stance, Wallace predicted the rise of a new avant-garde, of 'anti- rebels' who reject ironic distance and 'have the childish gall actually to endorse single-entendre values." (Art Pulse No. 17, Vol. 5, 2013)
These figures, however, are not exactly icons of hope. We live in apocalyptic times. My heroes are ghosts in the post-industrial ruins. I think of Walter Benjamin writing about Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus:
“An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair [verweilen: a reference to Goethe’s Faust], to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.” (Walter Benjamin, “On History”)