2 APRIL – 4 SEPTEMBER 2022
Annette Kelm’s solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle zu Kiel presents the complete series of her work The Books for the first time. The about 100 publications in her photographs are among thousands of books that were defamed and banned by the National Socialist regime.Annette Kelm approaches the individual publications as contemporary objects. For her pictures, she only selected books that were available at the time and specifically searched for works by authors from that period. She attached importance to the diversity of the books she chose in terms of genre, gender and cover design. Since no complete library of these banned books exists, Kelm researched historic editions in various private and public collections.
The precision and pared-down composition of her photographs is an expression of her decision as an artist to treat all the books equally. Each photograph shows a slightly enlarged reproduction of the book cover, on a white surface with the same lighting and a shadow to the right, which emphasises their object-like nature.
Annette Kelm’s series documents, above all, a silent and lasting testimony to the culture of books and the diversity of their design during the Weimar Republic. The titles she has selected represent the liberal, contentious, multifaceted thinking at the time, as well as intellectual discourses and models of theory in society, philosophy, politics, religion and the cultural scene. Many of these books are still literary classics today, such as titles by Alfred Döblin, Heinrich Heine, Erich Kästner and Else Lasker- Schüler. Cover designs by John Heartfield, Walter Trier and Georg Salter are as groundbreaking and stylistically formative today as they were in their era. However, the titles photographed also include non-fiction and dissident texts, children’s literature and publications on gender justice or political theory. Some of the books continue to have a major impact up to the present day, while others have fallen into near obscurity.
Annette Kelm’s works show the visible and less visible traces of history and point to the well-known and hidden biographies of the authors, designers and publishers, as well as the owners and collectors of these publications.
She takes the historical circumstances of National Socialist defamation – a factor all the titles have in common – as an incentive for her own composition and to reflect on society’s treatment of the past and present. In doing so, she inevitably touches on topics such as the value and necessity of intellectual freedom, the power of the avant-garde and the dynamics at play in the artistic and literary modern age. By reflecting on the books and their persecution, Kelm renders historical objects and contexts visible in both a literal and figurative sense. The objects are not only given a strong visual presence; Annette Kelm also touches on pressing present-day issues, such as the value and fragility of democratic social models, the constant need to protect freedom of expression and intellectual-artistic diversity, and potential threats to these values posed by radical forces.Annette Kelm works conceptually with photography and draws on classic genres of photographic history, still life, portrait photography and object photography, each of which she develops and modernises from a contemporary perspective. Her approach ranges from documentary photography to arranged studio work. As diverse as Kelm’s works are, they all share an interest in the social, cultural and historical structures of the objects or people they record. In this respect, Annette Kelm’s photographic works deliberately point beyond the things themselves: to social contexts, to images of history and cultural practices, to the use and power of images. As in her series The Books, she points to the subliminal and unsaid behind the obvious, everyday or unnoticed.
© Text Anette Hüsch
© Images Helmut Kunde