Alexander Savko

Alexander Savko, “Meadow”. Galerie Paula Böttcher Berlin – November 29, 2002 until March 1, 2003

There are no big hugs in the images of this exhibition, and even though the show is titled ‘Heile, heile Welt’ (‘Ideal, ideal world’ – whereby ‘heile, heile’ is also a quote from a popular children’s song, which means ‘get better’) there is hardly a resemblance to the Teletubbyland that is the habitat of the colourful little creatures in the children’s programme.

“Tinky Winky is purple and the biggest Teletubby. His favorite thing is his special red bag. Tinky Winky loves walking, marching, dancing and falling over. He has a special song which he loves to sing to himself, “Pinkle winkle, Tinky Winky, pinkle winkle, Tinky Winky.” Tinky Winky loves big hugs best of all.”(The Teletubby web-site, http://pbskids.org/teletubbies/characters.html)

Closest to the undisturbed pastures from the series is probably a scene in which three men are picking flowers in a field; two crouched down, one standing up. Behind them we see the teletubbies Po and Laa-Laa, with the latter turning away, holding Po as if to prevent her from getting too close.

What sticks out from the peacefulness of the image is the men’s clothing: all three are clad in black uniforms, identifying them as officers of the SS, and dating the source of the image to the late 1930s or 1940s.

The man on the right with a small bunch of wild flowers in his hands is Heinrich Himmler, the former Chief of Munich Police who then became head of the SS and the Gestapo, and who was ultimately responsible for all the Nazi concentration camps. The image was taken on a visit to an herb farm just north of the concentration camp in Dachau; the information about the subject belying the seemingly peaceful subject.

“Dipsy is green and the second biggest Teletubby. His favorite thing is his black and white hat. Dipsy loves to dance, make cool moves and fancy steps. He has a special song which he likes to sing to himself, “Bup-a-tum, bup-a-tum, bup-a-tum.” Dipsy loves big hugs best of all.”(The Teletubby web-site, http://pbskids.org/teletubbies/characters.html)

For this exhibition, Alexander Savko manipulated photographs of the Nazi-era, adding pictures of the teletubbies to the images. He then screen-printed them in black-and-white on paper and in a second printing process added one layer of signalling colour on top of it.

Repeating Woody Allen’s theme from the film ‘Zelig’, he placed his characters in different historic circumstances: with children playacting as soldiers, with Himmler, with Hitler and Mussolini, as an inmate in a concentration camp, as a wounded soldier, and as a victim of an execution. All of the original photographs come from journalistic sources; today, they are well-known pictorial illustrations of the period.

“Laa-Laa is yellow and the second smallest Teletubby. Her favorite thing is her orange ball. Laa-Laa loves to dance, skip and sing songs. She has a special song which she likes to sing to herself, “Laa-laa-li-laa-laa-li-laa-li-laa.” Laa-Laa loves big hugs best of all.”(The Teletubby web-site, http://pbskids.org/teletubbies/characters.html)

Alexander Savko, like others before – Zbigniew Libera with his ‘LEGO Concentration Camp Set’, 1996, and ‘Enfants Gătés’, 1997, by Alain Séchas are well-known examples that come to mind – links the historic subject with contemporary childhood experiences.

In what seems at first a trivialisation of the historic issues, his images provide a powerful take on “how evil penetrates unnoticed into ordinary life and especially unnoticed into the lives of children. [… These] constructions join terms we prefer to keep apart: […] like carefree imaginative play and the rigorous, punitive, ideological bending of young minds.”(Ellen Handler Spitz, “Childhood, Art, and Evil”: Norman L. Kleeblatt (ed.), Mirroring Evil – Nazi Imagery / Recent Art, New York, The Jewish Museum, 2002: 39-52: 49.)

Savko tells the story of a period – from childhood to death. And by adding the teletubbies makes the images relevant again, forcing the audience to carefully study what the images depict. The technical execution of the screen print follows similar lines. The layer of bright colour obscures the image, though under close scrutiny becomes in fact more visible.

“Po is red and the smallest Teletubby. Her favorite thing is her pink and blue scooter which she rides very fast. Po loves to dance and sing and do as she chooses. She has a special song which she likes to sing to herself, “Fi-dit, fi-dit, fi-dit, fi-dit.” Po loves big hugs best of all.”(The Teletubby web-site, http://pbskids.org/teletubbies/characters.html)

Axel Lapp is a curator and critic based in Berlin.

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