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Heimrad Bäcker

Heimrad Bäcker’s photographs document his lifelong practice of critical reflection on National Socialism and the Shoah. From the late 1960s until the 1990s, he scoured the ruins and landscapes of the Mauthausen, Gusen, and St. Georgen concentration camps and took thousands of shots of details: traces of forced labor left in granite, intact but inert cooling machinery, twisted nails protruding from overgrown walls, and outlines of long-gone buildings’ foundations. He also photographed television documentaries about the Shoah, isolating single frames just as he isolated small and apparently insignificant remnants on the camps’ grounds. Although he photographed other subjects – for instance, in his series “Referendum,” which captured political graffiti and posters during the 1974 referendum on divorce in Italy – his primary interest was the damage wrought by Nazism. Study of Bäcker’s archive shows how he returned again and again to a limited number of motifs – perhaps two hundred – that came to emblematize the Shoah in his works.
Bäcker’s documentary practice is inflected by his knowledge of the history of philosophy as well as by his engagement, as a writer and editor, with contemporary art and literature. He received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Vienna; he published seven books of poetry; he was an active member of the Linz artists’ and writers’ collective MAERZ; and he ran the journal “neue texte” and the publishing house “edition neue texte,” which included texts and artworks by key figures in the Austrian and international avant-garde. In his use of seriality (in his multiframe compositions), abstraction, and appropriation, and in his focus on base materials (concrete, granite, wood, soil, underbrush), Bäcker’s works respond to concretism, minimalism, arte povera, and conceptualism. But his relentless attention to the Shoah distinguishes him from his contemporaries and makes of his photographic oeuvre a singular site for considering the critical force of the avant-garde.

P.G.

1925, Wien / AT – 2003, Linz / AT

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