Brecht and Talevski: Proposals for Monuments: An Essay By Michelle Cade
Brecht and Talevski: Proposals for Monuments
An Essay By Michelle Cade
In 1938, Bertolt Brecht penned the words to the poem The God of War. This was just one of Brecht’s many poems about war, and with good reason. As a prominent Marxist playwright, Brecht feared persecution from the Nazi regime and fled Germany in the spring of 1933, barely a month after Hitler took power. He drifted from place to place around Europe before finally settling in Denmark where he and his family would stay for six years. It was here that Brecht would write some of his most poignant works, including The God of War.
On a cold day, in the winter of 2016, I found myself sitting in Ivanco Talevski’s Philadelphia studio. Talevski’s room was warm and bright, with art on the walls and trinkets in every corner. I sat near a jade plant and a cello with no strings as we discussed the work on view. We began to talk about the drawings, prints, and paintings all around that make up the series Proposals for Monuments. Across from me sat a large copper colored metal slab with dark black letters printed across it. I began to read:
I saw the old god of war stand in a bog between chasm and rockface.
He smelled of free beer and carbolic and showed his testicles to adolescents,
for he had been rejuvenated by several professors.
In a hoarse, wolfish voice he declared his love for everything young.
Nearby stood a pregnant woman, trembling.
And without shame he talked on and presented himself as a great one for order.
And he described how everywhere he put barns in order, by emptying them.
And as one throws crumbs to sparrows, he fed poor people with crusts of bread
which he had taken away from poor people.
His voice was now loud, now soft, but always hoarse.
In a loud voice he spoke of great times to come,
and in a soft voice he taught the women how to cook crows and seagulls.
Meanwhile, his back was unquiet, and he kept looking round,
as though afraid of being stabbed.
And every five minutes he assured his public
that he would take up very little of their time.
The God of War (Der Kriegsgott) by Bertolt Brecht
As I read Brecht’s words and began to look at Talevski’s prints and drawings, the absurdity of the poem struck me as a parallel to the work on view. Proposals for Monuments, true to how most of Talevski’s works start, began as a series of drawings. It was while working on this series he came across the writing of Brecht. The more time Talevski spent reading The God of War, the more he found the powerful imagery to appear in his work and daily life.
Like Bertolt Brecht, Ivanco Talevski is not a stranger to living amidst political turmoil. Talevski arrived in the United States after leaving the Republic of Macedonia in the summer of 1999 at the young age of 15. The Republic of Macedonia is a landlocked southeastern European country that was once part of the former country of Yugoslavia. The breakup of Yugoslavia led to a succession of wars and horrific ethnic conflicts, but Macedonia’s secession and first years of independence were non-violent. At the time that Talevski left, however, the neighboring Kosovo was in the middle of an ethnic conflict that ultimately displaced over a million refugees, including many hundreds of thousands into Macedonia. This massive influx of people destabilized Macedonia’s government and economy. The evil embodied by Brecht’s character in The God of War came to Talevski’s country, just as he had come to Germany over half a century before.
Talevski’s work mixes moments of humor and sharp political satire with a sense of fear and urgency. His work is a reflection of injustices ranging from large to small. In the piece Monument to the Mass Execution of Goats in The Republic of Macedonia in the year of 1949, we see a circular formation of goats urinating upwards into the air. Talevski explained to me that at one point the leader of the then communist government of the Republic of Macedonia (part of Yugoslavia at the time) Lazar Kolisheski, issued a law under which the country’s entire population of goats were to be executed. There was no explanation for this new law or why Kolisheski enacted it. As a large amount of the population made their living from goat farming at the time, it was devastating to many. The piece comments on the power of leaders and their ability to make unquestioned decisions.
The piece Monument to the Magic Fairy that Sprinkles all the Broken Glass on the Streets of Philadelphia focuses on the idea of a broken city and is specifically about power struggles in Philadelphia. Talevski explained to me that he sees the pile of broken glass in the etching as representative of a city with a huge pile of social injustices and problems. He wonders how a city with so many historical and political ideas of liberty and freedom has arrived at a current state of being piled with problems. And though different, the piece Monument to two very Fatherly figures, Alexander the Great and Josip Broz Tito is another response to huge political issues, this piece a reaction to the rise of nationalism and communist nostalgia in post-communist Europe. Both pieces react to the different eras and global areas of injustice, yet both stem from the same place in Talevski’s mind. The drawings conjure conversation about these social issues and allow themselves to remain a critique of power structures.
It is clear that the political voice in these pieces comes from someone who has felt what corruption and injustice can bring. Though the drawings and their meanings are all somewhat ambiguous, they come from a personal place. Monument to a fatherly figure, ties the whole series together succinctly, reflecting on corruption in Macedonia. This piece is a response to recordings of corrupt Macedonian government officials that were made public, giving it a very personal tie to Talevski’s history. This piece marks the first usage of the long nose character, a direct inspiration from Brecht’s poem and a recurring character throughout Proposals for Monuments.
The largest piece that looms over all the others in this visit is the The Father, the main character in this story, made with Brecht’s poem directly in mind. With his long nose he is the size of all the other pieces put together. When one looks closely it is revealed that the piece is made of many smaller etchings adhered to the large rice paper cutout, the picture a summation of the many parts. The piece has been folded and creased like the others with details that tie seamlessly in with the other pieces in the room, a last connection between the work and the poem.
Just as Brecht looked out at a war torn world and reflected and created work nearly one hundred years ago, Talevski does the same today with Proposals for Monuments. He creates connections, using drawing as a departure point for reflection to create space for questioning and thinking. His work is fragile and intuitive, strong and urgent. These proposals for monuments are absurd by design, and allow the viewer to critique these real, daily social and cultural injustices, just as Brecht’s poem encourages the reader to recognize the injustices of war.
Esslin, Martin. Brecht: The Man and His Work. New York, NY: W. W. Norton &, 1971. Print.
About the Author:
Michelle Cade is a traditional photography based artist living and working in Philadelphia. She received her MFA from the University of the Arts. Cade is currently the Digital Collections Assistant at the Fabric Workshop and Museum and an instructor at Project Basho in Fishtown.
To download a PDF version of this essay, click Talevski_Cade_Essay_April_2016_Final