It looked like the aftermath of a storm: the gallery’s black-painted floor was covered with splinters of pale poplar wood, none larger than a foot in length. If one crouched down for a closer look, the original form of the fragments became clear: shoes. Some pieces still had half a heel, others a bulbous toe. According to the short handout accompanying Sarah Ortmeyer’s installation Sabotage (2009), the word ‘sabotage’ derives from the actions of outraged French farm labourers at the time of the industrial revolution. Protesting against the mechanization of agriculture, the labourers threw their wooden clogs – sabots in French – into the newly invented threshing machines as a way of briefly stalling the course of history, and possibly even bringing it to a crunching halt.
Ortmeyer (who studied at the Städelschule in Frankfurt) attempts to express a sense of living history, by appropriating museum pieces, photographs, concepts, anecdotes, slogans or poses; by chopping up wooden shoes; or as in her previous show at the gallery, by exhibiting a wooden fir tree that looks like something a child might have made with a fretsaw and poster paints (O Tannenbaum, Oh Christmas Tree, 2008). On loan from the Haus der Geschichte historical museum in Bonn, the tree was made by German soldiers stationed in Somalia in 1993, as part of the German Army’s first overseas mission since the Second World War.
The ‘Sabotage’ exhibition also included a work entitled Faust (Fist, 2009), a compilation of media images from American history: Lee Harvey Oswald raises his fist, as does Olympic gold medallist Tommie Smith; and Michelle and Barack Obama bump fists in greeting – but so does George W. Bush. Whilst the semiotics of these images could be endlessly debated, the artist prefers to dissect myths in the spirit of a joyous cut-and-paste session: what happens when the colour red is removed from flags? How do magazines such as Playboy or Vogue, or a Mickey Mouse comic read when the pictures are omitted? And what happens when a few important paperbacks from postwar German intellectual history are sawn through and joined back together in twisted ways (Edition S., 2006)? Ortmeyer’s approach to chopping up and reassembling is deliberately crude, a hands-on method of analysis, almost as crude – and effective – as throwing wooden shoes into threshing machines.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell