– Spring 2012

Dierk Schmidt: Packing the Hard Potatoes

Lars Bang Larsen

Dierk Schmidt, Untitled (Louvre 2001/Salon Careé 1819), 2001/02, oil on canvas, 50 . 70cm. From SIEV—X — Zu Einem Fall von verschärfter Flüchtlings politik (SIEV—X — On a case of intensified refugee politics), 2001—05, work in several parts. © VG Bild-Kunst. Courtesy the artist and Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Three hundred and fifty-three refugees, many of them children, died as their small and overloaded boat sank in 2001 in the sea between Indonesia, where they started from, and Australia, where they were headed. Their vessel sank well within Australian waters, leaving it an open question what that country’s navy and air force were doing to maintain the notoriously fine line of control: survivors claimed to have seen navy ships that had not initiated rescue measures on that night. The title of Dierk Schmidt’s ‘image cycle’ on the tragedy, SIEV—X (2001—05), samples the official term for the border patrol programme, Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel, adding an ‘X’ to signify that the vessel had not yet been registered. The subtitle of the project, Zu einem Fall von verschärfter Flüchtlingspolitik (On a case of intensified refugee politics), addresses the structural as well as informal violence that pervades immigrant and refugee policing, and is so icily understated that it could have been uttered by the former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard, the head of the government that silently condoned the Australian navy’s lack of response by refusing to comment.

The installation of paintings that comprises SIEV—X is saturated by self-problematisation. Schmidt has described how he proceeds by questioning the political image and the power of representation:

May there be different rights in regard to the image for those acting and for those acted upon? How can such a picture be contextualised without becoming ossified in didacticism? How does such a method of artistic production position itself in a European art context? Or why in any? Whom does it address? […] Only after these questions have been answered can an assessment be made that weighs the claimed politicality against a factual impact.1


  1. Dierk Schmidt, ‘Introduction’, in D. Schmidt and Clemens Krümmel (ed.), SIEV—X: Zu einem Fall von verschärfter Flüchtlingspolitik / On a case of intensified refugee politics (Eng. trans. Karl Hoffmann), Berlin: b_books, 2005, p.5. 

  2. Ibid., p.20. 

  3. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1970; trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor), London: Athlone, 1997, p.1. 

  4. Carolin Emcke and D. Schmidt, ‘What I Am Theoretically Interested in Is the Connection Between Violence, Traumatization, and the Loss of Speech’, in SIEV—X, op. cit., p.45. 

  5. Alain Badiou, The Meaning of Sarkozy (trans. David Fernbach), London and New York: Verso, 2008, p.55.

  6. Holger Kube Ventura, ‘Introduction’, in Dierk Schmidt: IMAGE LEAKS — Zur Bildpolitik der Ressource, exhibition leaflet for the Frankfurter Kunstverein, 11 March to 8 May 2011. 

  7. Quoted in Danny Leigh, ‘Jeg er kommunist, men ikke idiot’, available at http://www.information. dk/282479 (last accessed on 2 December 2011). 

  8. T.W. Adorno, ‘Freudian Theory and Pattern of Fascist Propaganda’, in J.M. Bernstein (ed.), Adorno: The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, London: Routledge 1991 p.122. 

  9. See Stephen Crook, ‘Introduction’, in T.W. Adorno, T.W. Adorno: The Stars Down to Earth (ed. S. Crook), London and New York: Routledge, 2002, p.19. 

  10. Jakob Hvide Beim, ‘Pia Kjærsgaard angriber norsk søsterparti’, available at http://politiken.dk/udland/ ECE1351180/pia-kjaersgaard-angriber-norsk-soesterparti (last accessed on 6 December 2011). 

  11. Öyvind Fahlström, ‘Historical Painting’ (1974), quoted in Manuel J. Borja-Villel (ed.), Öyvind Fahlström: Another Space for Painting (exh. cat.), Barcelona and Gateshead: ACTAR, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Museu D’Art Contemporani De Barcelona (MACBA), 2001, p.262. 

  12. Ibid., p.266. 

  13. Roger M. Buergel, ‘Geschichte malen, heute', in Philippe Pirotte et al. (ed.), objectif [projects] 1999— 2001, Antwerp: Objectif, 2002.

  14. Sylvia Plath, ‘Lesbos’, Ariel, London: Faber & Faber, 1968.