Event and Mediality. Andy Warhol’s „Jackie (The Week That Was)“
published in German in: Bilder machen Geschichte. Historische Ereignisse im Gedächtnis der Kunst, hrsg. von Uwe Fleckner (Studien aus dem Warburg-Haus 13), Berlin 2014, S. 357-370. Translation: Daniel Hendrickson
„As I was coming down from my operation, I heard a television going somewhere and the words ‘Kennedy’ and ‘assassin’ and ‘shot’ over and over again. Robert Kennedy had been shot, but what was so weird was that I had no understanding that this was a second Kennedy assassination–I just thought that maybe after you die, they rerun things for you, like President Kennedy’s assassination. Some of the nurses were crying, and after a while, I heard things like ‘the mourners in St. Pat¬rick’s.’ It was all so strange to me, this background of another shooting and a funeral–I couldn’t distinguish between life and death yet, anyway, and here was a person being buried on the television right in front of me.“
Warhol’s sequence of memories concerns the intertwining of realities that happened to him after he himself became the victim of an assassination attempt on June 3, 1968, two days before Robert Kennedy. In this sequence there are hints about certain significant aspects of the silkscreen series Jackies, made four years earlier, following the ‘first’ Kennedy assassination, that of John F. Kennedy. The memory makes it clear how real events blurred with their practically synchronous media representation, here in the form of a television running somewhere within hearing range. At the same time, a formative repeating moment for Warhol’s aesthetics is manifest on the most diverse levels: first in the real, as the link between the two deadly Kennedy assassinations and a nearly fatal one for Warhol; then in the media reworking, which constantly repeats the same names and keywords; and finally in Warhol’s imagination, as a supposed reproduction of the past after his own demise.
Furthermore, Warhol’s memory also makes it clear how much the dramatic events around President Kennedy’s assassination traumatized a whole nation. They became somehow entrenched in the American consciousness, making it possible to reactivate them at any time. The fact that the events remain unexplained in several important aspects heightens the trauma, since the assassination of the person on whom the hopes of a whole generation were pinned was followed by the state’s inability to produce a coherent and believable explanation of the crime. This has bestowed a phantasmatic afterlife on the events and their protagonists, which has manifested itself in ever new research and conspiracy theories. The images produced at the time have played (and still do play) a central role in this. Their constant repetition refers both to the unresolved questions around the events and to the hope that the truth is inscribed somewhere within them and could still be wrested from them.
Warhol’s Jackies rework a piece of history in the age of media, which also here display their Janus face, communicating the events on the one hand and contributing to their production on the other. At the same time, Warhol’s images themselves are part of this media history, to which the Jackies make a fundamental contribution by congealing the complex events into a recurring set of a handful of images. The interpenetration of event and image, which characterizes the genre of history painting, is accomplished here in a specific way that is responsive to new media and psychological constellations. They do not so much produce a fiction of the events, such as in the traditional history painting, rather, they alienate existing third-hand visual material. In this way they deal with the events as much as they do with their media reflection. Warhol is one of the postmodern artists who form the world not from out of itself, but who make the confrontation with the world into the topic of their work. As such, his artistic achievement lies not in the creation of new images, but in the pictorial design of existing images. His “signature”–in quotation marks–can be seen in the alienation process. Its particularity will come forth if we recap those four days in November 1963 and then track Warhol’s reconfiguration of them step by step.
|Chapter 1: Warhol’s Use of the Documentary Material|
|Chapter 2: The Media Transformation of Politics|
|Chapter 3: The Refusal of Visibility|
|Event and Mediality (PDF with illus. and fn.)|