– Summer 2014

Not Quite Shame: Embarrassment and Andrea Büttner's 'Engel der Geschichte'

Louise O'Hare

Andrea Büttner, HAP Grieshaber/Franz Fühmann: Engel der Geschichte 25: Engel der Behinderten, Classen Verlag Düsseldorf 1982 (HAP Grieshaber/ Franz Fühmann: Angel of History 25: Angel of the Disabled, Classen Verlag Düsseldorf 1982), 2010, 8 Xerox copies and clip frames, 42 × 59.2cm each. All images © Andrea Büttner/VG Bild- Kunst, Bonn 2014. Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London

To write about literature, argue about it, teach it: these, though they bring other anxieties, are valued because they can help to restore a vital balance of public and private in our relation to literature. Since the balance is delicate and since it should vary, it is easily upset into uneasiness.

— Christopher Ricks, ‘Somebody Reading’, Keats and Embarrassment (1974)1

Eight photocopies mounted in functional clip frames are hung in a line across a white
 wall. The striking black-and-white portraits of young men peering at pictures have been appropriated by Andrea Büttner from the final issue of Engel der Geschichte (Angel of History), a magazine produced by the print-maker HAP Grieshaber from the 1960s until the early 80s.2 The subjects of Büttner’s HAP Grieshaber/Franz Fühmann: Engel der Geschichte 25: Engel der Behinderten, Classen Verlag Düsseldorf 1982 (HAP Grieshaber/ Franz Fühmann: Angel of History 25: Angel of the Disabled, Classen Verlag Düsseldorf 1982, 2010) are, we are informed by the exhibition leaflet, ‘teenagers in psychiatric homes’ looking at woodcuts by Grieshaber.3

  1. Christopher Ricks, Keats and Embarrassment, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974, p.196.

  2. The magazine that Andrea Büttner appropriated the images from was named after Walter Benjamin’s description of Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus (1920). See W. Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy 
of History’ (1940), Illuminations (ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn), New York: Schocken Books, 1968, pp.257—58. The images document two exhibitions of HAP Grieshaber’s woodcut series Totentanz von Basel (Dance Macabre in Basel, 1966). The photographer is unknown

  3. ‘Andrea Büttner’ (exhibition leaflet), MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, 2013. ‘Andrea Büttner’, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, 12 April—16 June 2013.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Claire Bishop, ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’, October, 110, Fall 2004, pp.68—69.

  6. Ibid., p.79. See also Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, London: Verso, 1985, p.125.

  7. Nicholas Ridout, Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p.89.

  8. C. Bishop, ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’, op. cit., p.73.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ibid., p.79.

  11. N. Ridout, Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems, op. cit., pp.81—82.

  12. Ibid., p.79.

  13. The website of Hollybush Gardens, Büttner’s London gallery, states that the exhibition was held in 
‘homes for mentally disabled teenagers’. See http://hollybushgardens.co.uk/?page_id=641 (last accessed 
on 30 April 2014).

  14. Lucy R. Lippard, ‘Changing Since Changing’, From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1976, p.2.

  15. See Frank Schneider, ‘Psychiatry under National Socialism — Remembrance and Responsibility’, paper given at ‘Psychiatry under National Socialism’, organised by the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DGPPN), Berlin, 2010. See https://www.dgppn.de/history/ psychiatry-under-national-socialism/speech-professor-schneider.html (last accessed on 27 March 2014).

  16. ‘Ideal Syllabus: Andrea Büttner’, frieze, issue 152, January—February 2013.

  17. Andrea Büttner, ‘Perspectives on Shame and Art: Warhol, Sedgwick, Freud and Roth’, unpublished 
doctoral thesis, London: Royal College of Art, 2008, p.82.

  18. Büttner also notes the opposition while discussing the commercialisation of shame and ‘the paradigm of the cool, and its contrary — the embarrassing’: ‘While the adjectives “cool” and “embarrassing”
are used as correlating judgements in popular culture — and indicate shame’s persistent relevance
— shame and embarrassment have a currency in art criticism as well.’ Ibid., pp.8—9.

  19. Ibid., p.82

  20. Gil Leung and A. Büttner, ‘Artists at Work’, Afterall Online [online magazine], 25 May 2010, available at http://www.afterall.org/online/artists.at.workandreabttner (last accessed 20 March 2014).

  21. A ‘dirty protest’ refers to the act of smearing the walls of a prison cell with one’s own faeces —
a form of protest used by prisoners held in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland during their five-year protest (1976—81) against the British government’s change in the categorisation of the paramilitary IRA. The protesters were seeking acknowledgement of their status as political prisoners.

  22. A. Büttner, ‘Perspectives on Shame and Art’, op. cit., p.iii.

  23. Ibid., pp.77—78.

  24. See ibid., p.45. See also Sigmund Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-dreaming’ (1907), in Ethel Spector Person, Peter Fonagy et al. (ed.), On Freud’s ‘Creative Writers and Day-dreaming’, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

  25. Ibid., p.48.

  26. Ibid., p.46.

  27. Ibid., p.78.