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Kanta: Drawing, Copying and Appropriation as Methods of Working Through the Past

In 1975 Helmut Hartwig presented in the journal Ästhetik und Kommunikation: Beiträge zur politischen Erziehung the outcomes of an experimental course for Hauptschule students, who were encouraged to discuss the ideological functions of national symbols by way of observing, drawing, and copying postage stamps – seemingly inconsequential objects that were nevertheless markers of national identification and belonging. What was at stake in such pedagogical approach was for educators to develop, with the help of drawing and copying, new “Aneignungsformen” – forms of appropriation and learning – suitable to the needs and experiential context of working-class students. KP Brehmer’s series of Briefmarken, appropriating the design, language and iconography of existing postage stamps, served as a starting point. What lessons can we extricate from this virtually ignored episode? For my postdoctoral research at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte I will explore how – both in Hartwig’s pedagogical theory and in Brehmer’s work – drawing, copying and appropriation emerge as preferential methods for working through the past. Educator and artist offer corresponding models for rethinking the notion of Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung, as inherently differentiated, from the outset anchored to the tangible, sensory reworking of visual and verbal signs, in ways that reflect the social position and everyday life context of the subject. My intention is to situate this material historically by attending to broader politicized debates on the methodological impulses and reorientation of the disciplines of art history and pedagogy in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My research will specifically examine how the notion of appropriation as a form of knowledge was analyzed in the context of contemporaneous dialectical materialist theorizations of perception and visual communication, and how it was understood in close alliance with broader calls within the field of art history for a critical interrogation of the national socialist past.