March 6th, 2017
Marcel Odenbach at Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Marcel Odenbach »Im Schiffbruch nicht schwimmen können«
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
March 7 – May 1, 2017

History doesn’t repeat itself. Historical situations and contexts are far too complex. And yet, in Marcel Odenbach’s view, we cannot leave history behind.

The Paris Louvre – the setting of Odenbach’s video “Unable to Swim in a Shipwreck”– is a reservoir of history and a place of memory. In the video, three African men of different ages visit the world-famous museum. They sit down in front of a monumental painting and contemplate it silently. Even though the camera shows only sections of the work in alternation with shots of the men, it is easily identifiable as Théodore Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa” (1819). It tells the story of a human disaster that took place on the high seas when the French frigate “Medusa” ran aground off the coast of Mauritania in July 1816. France had just reobtained its colony Senegal. Because there wasn’t enough space on the lifeboats for all the passengers, the crew used the masts to build a raft for 149 persons. Then, however, the connecting line was cut. For thirteen days, the castaways drifted helplessly in the sea, were washed overboard, and massacred one another. Only fifteen survived. The French public was scandalized by the news, and Géricault’s unsparing depiction deeply shocked its audience.

Odenbach’s sequences in the Louvre are interspersed with shots of the surf off the coast of Ghana with superimposed texts. The latter are based on interviews he conducted with the three Africans about their flight: the sea, their lives and feelings of foreignness. At the same time, already in its title, “Unable to Swim in a Shipwreck” points unequivocally to the fact that, in the present refugee crisis, many people do not survive crossings of this kind in the Mediterranean. In this video, as in many of his works, Odenbach thus links history and the present, Europe and Africa. And by renewing the political explosiveness of Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa”, he once again shows that, then and now, human disasters and the consequences of colonial politics defy repression.

further information: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart