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The Learned Protocols of Truth - A Response to ARTIST ROOMS: Anselm Kiefer

‘The illusion of truth is when a lie is repeated enough it can become a conceptual truth.’ Jonny Bark

During a three-day workshop this autumn, photographer and filmmaker Jonny Bark worked with 11 students from Bluecoat Church of England School & Music College in Coventry to produce this body of work inspired by the exhibition ARTIST ROOMS: ANSELM KIEFER.

The students worked in small groups using disposable cameras to take photographs of each other in a woodland close to their school.  With reference to Anselm Kiefer’s 1969 Heroic Symbols images, students posed using deliberately playful, yet provocative, gestures and actions. They explored notions of power, propaganda and disinformation, issues as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.

While Kiefer’s work was a visual stimulus, the students also based their woodland 
‘performances’ on their interpretations of extracts from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a notorious antisemitic  publication of 1903. Although the book was widely discredited, the repetition of the protocols over time meant that this work of fiction became considered by many as non-fiction. The protocols were later quoted in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf of 1925 and were used to promote the wave of Nazi propaganda in Germany, which Kiefer himself addresses in his work. 

Like Kiefer, the students constructed then deconstructed their photographs using an assortment of media and experimentation. As part of this process, the film-negatives of the photographs were buried overnight in the woodland. Large pictures were developed from these and additional materials were added, including soil from the woodland mixed with PVA glue. Some of the finished pieces are almost abstract – figures barely seen – adding mystery and confusion to the works.

Thanks to Jonny Bark, Tia Bryant, students and staff from Bluecoat Church of England School & Music College. The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum is grateful to ARTIST ROOMS for supporting this project.

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