Martin Bayer: grounded

Photographer Martin Bayer (educated at Lette-Verein Berlin) addresses in his series grounded1 of decommissioned military aircraft the perception of history and war, but also the aestheticisation of weapons. Detached from their historic context, the planes appear as objects or even sculptural. Neither the country of provenance, nor their operating period are discernible: was it an “attacker” or a “defender”, regarding our own classifications? Each war produces history and its own myths – grounded puts them in the background, making room for the viewers’ own associations.

Remembering war, destruction and suffering is a task for society as a whole. Such incisive experiences often become tabooed for years, if not decades – the people involved want to forget, both perpetrators and victims. Society goes on – but the traumata remain and shape societies for generations.

grounded is a series of photographs of decommissioned military aircraft. Contrary to museum photos or souvenir photos, it is difficult to recognise the correct historical context. There are no national insignia to be seen: to which air force had they been part of? Who had been the “friends”, who the “foes”? Had they been “attackers” or “defenders”? The details chosen detach the planes from their operational period, too: according to their shape or their armament with machine guns, some could have been used during the Second World War; the more aerodynamic design of others might link to later decades.

The viewers are invited to construct their own context and to evoke memories of previous times and past wars: the bipolar confrontation between the East and the West during the Cold War, in Korea or Vietnam, up to the wars in the disintegrating Yugoslavia and in the Gulf region. Thus, a connection to the present is made, as similar aircraft were and are used by despots in North Africa and the Middle East, and who does not think of the long-lasting War in Afghanistan? Eventually, the military use of aircraft since 1911 was mainly changed by technical parameters that define range, speed, bomb load, target acquisition and other issues – the terrifying experince of being bombed remains the same, for both soldiers and civilians.

Not least, grounded addresses the aestheticisation of weapons, conducted by the media and not the least by the arts from the beginning: the fighter aircraft, relieved from their primary destructive purpose, appear rather sculptural, surrounded by their smooth, riveted skin. Technology was always a fetish. Only a few years after the first take-off from the ground, the old dream of mankind to fly has become a means to enforce military aims, to power projection without boundaries. Civilians became the primary targets of a doctrine that had been developed to reduce the suffering.

What remains from war? Scarred landscapes, maimed bodies and souls, traumata. All that cannot be forgotten or even less repressed. Active remembrance culture always leads to presence and thus to the future – a future that is trying to learn from the past. grounded is a part of it.

  1. crashed, having a grounding (aircraft, pilot), fixed, earthed, but also sensible, justified

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