Mutable terrorism : Gerhard Richter, Hans-Peter Feldmann, and the cultural memory of Germany’s Red Army Faction



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This project explores the intersection of postwar German history, visual art, and left-wing terrorism. More than thirty years have now passed since the German Red Army Faction’s (1970-1998) most spectacular violent campaign—the so-called “German Autumn” of 1977—and yet the organization continues to elicit a variety of cultural responses from many artists. Interestingly, many films, texts, and visual artworks featuring the Red Army Faction (RAF) as their subject focus heavily on the group’s charismatic founders and on the German state’s vigorous efforts to suppress them and their successors, and yet these works pay comparatively scant attention to the individuals whom the RAF murdered. In light of this observation, I argue that the German Left’s cultural memory of the RAF was and still is marked not only by a significant ambivalence concerning the RAF (especially the founders) and the German state, but also the victims. As a means of elucidating this ambivalence, I offer close “readings” of two works of visual art that debuted at different moments in the years following the German Autumn. Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977 (1988) is a photorealist series that invites viewers to consider the lives and especially the deaths of the RAF’s principal members, while Hans-Peter Feldmann’s photo compilation The Dead 1967-1993 (1998) presents a sobering chronology of individuals killed either directly or indirectly as a result of the German leftist counterculture, including terrorist violence, without making an immediate distinction between perpetrators and victims. Within the framework of the larger RAF cultural memory, the works of Richter and Feldmann thus help clarify some of the causes and effects of the German Left’s suspended resolution regarding RAF terrorism.