Complete Love
TAKE on art|July - December 2017

It’s 2011, late summer. All over Europe, young people are occupying central public squares to demonstrate for more social justice. In Berlin, their agenda is different. The completists gathered at Alexanderplatz aspire for justice primarily on an intimate level. They believe that only when the redistribution of material wealth includes equal chances of finding sex and love — no matter how elderly, disabled, or ugly you are — communism will become real.

Ingo Niermann

It had grown dark. The only light came from the lamps in the park and from the street. A bald guy had gotten onto the stage and announced, “Next is Public Movement from Tel Aviv.” He read from his phone, straight from the Internet: “Public Movement is a performative research body that investigates and stages political actions in public spaces. It studies and creates public choreographies, forms of social order, overt and covert rituals. Among Public Movement’s actions in the past and in the future: manifestations of presence, fictional acts of hatred, new folk dances, synchronised procedures of movement, spectacles, marches, inventing and reenacting moments in the life of individuals, communities, social institutions, peoples, states, and of humanity.”

The audience stood up and moved toward the statue of Marx and Engels. It seemed they already knew that the performance would be held there, and stood along the perimeter of the plaza that surrounded the statues. Karl followed.

The monument was located at the opposite end of the plaza and wasn’t illuminated. It seemed the city wanted to lend the already modestly proportioned figures (only two times larger than life, with a seated Marx) as little aura as possible. But at least they hadn’t dismantled Marx and Engels the way they did with Lenin.

It was a crude, ungainly sculpture that actually looked best in the dark. With their diagrammatic beards and cylinder legs, Marx and Engels recalled characters from Japanese animation. A typical friendship motif from the 19th century depicted one figure sitting and the other standing, maybe with a hand on the other’s shoulder. But Engels had been set back here a bit, to emphasise Marx’s greater significance.

Two groups of women and men being pushed in wheelchairs came out from behind the monument, one from each side. Each disabled person in the left row had a lit torch in their right hand, the right row in their left, all torches held just above their heads and also affixed to their wheelchairs. They were dressed individually, fat and thin, old and young, while the people who pushed them, all between their mid-twenties and mid-thirties, were dressed fully in white. The men wore pants, the women knee-length skirts, all in cloth sneakers and ironed shirts rolled up to the elbow. With the torches, their look aroused associations between tennis, fascism, and the sanitarium. Laibach and NSK in Bauhaus white. The totalitarian aesthetic had an interesting twist. The radiant white and cloth sneakers seemed more daring than combat boots and army fatigues. And of course it helped that Public Movement came from Israel.

The leisurely clopping sound of wheelchairs on cobblestones mingled with the noise of the traffic. A total of ten couples had come out from behind the monument and formed a circle some five or six metres in diameter in front of it — wheelchairs facing outward. Every combination was represented: male-male, female-female, female male, male-female. Karl could make out two spastics, two elderly, a dwarf, a downie. In this performance the wheelchair was the uniform of the disabled. The same way its pictogram served at least as a general synonym for physical disabilities. Maybe one day it would stand for the general populace. Wheelchairs and crutches were the first, if only rudimentary, exoskeletons. People with hindrances were the first cyborgs. They proclaimed a future in which hands and feet had become unnecessary appendages, atavisms of a barbaric past where people still hunted, gathered, and stole from other life-forms. In science fiction, the technically superior aliens often had degenerated limbs, if any at all. They were out to avenge their ancestors, the cripples.

When the circle was complete, the drivers locked the wheelchairs into place. From the back pocket they pulled a blanket that they spread in front of each chair. They knelt before their disabled partners and removed their shoes and socks. Then they stood, lifted them out of the seat, one arm under their legs and the other around their back, and laid them down on the blanket. Another uniformed man in white meanwhile had stepped out from behind the monument. He held a stack of small plastic bowls, and walked around the circle, kneeling and setting down a bowl in front of every blanket.

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