Kaethe Kollwitz

- Kaethe Kollwitz -

by Hyo-shin Na

in 6 sections:

I. Soldier's Song
II. Study War No More
III. War Never Again!
IV. Grieving Mother
V. What Are You Fighting For?
VI. Grieving Soldier

Many artists connect their work directly to the world around them; its cultural and social concerns, its political issues. Some of these artists, painters, sculptors, writers, actors, dancers, and musicians hope, even believe, that their work can change this world. The German artist Kaethe Kollwitz, living in Berlin during the first and second World Wars, wrote: "While I drew, and wept along with the terrified children I was drawing, I really felt the burden I am bearing. I felt that I have no right to withdraw from the responsibility of being an advocate. It is my duty to voice the suffering of men, the never-ending sufferings heaped mountain-high. This is my task, but it is not an easy one to fulfill. Work is supposed to relieve you. But is it any relief when in spite of my poster, people in Vienna die of hunger everyday? And when I know that? Did I feel relieved when I made the prints on war and knew that the war would go on raging? Certainly not." And: "A pure studio art is unfruitful and frail."

In 2004, I visited the Kollwitz Museum in Berlin and saw a series of her self-portraits spanning three decades, exhibited as a sequence. I stood in front of them for a long time and returned home to San Francisco with a strong impression that became the seed of my piece
Kaethe Kollwitz. This piece will have its first performance on opening night of the 2005 Jeonju International Sori Festival in Jeonju, Korea. It is for a large orchestra (81 instrumentalists) consisting of both traditional Korean and western instruments, and 2 singers - a female pansori singer and a bass. It is in 6 sections, each of 10 minutes length - like 6 drawings in similar-sized frames - that can be played without break, as one movement. In subsequent performances any of the first 4 sections can be played as individual pieces, and the 5th and 6th sections can stand separately as one piece.

Kaethe Kollwitz continues a series of pieces I've written in the last three years, including Study War No More (2003) and Chohanga (2004), that express anti-war feelings. As a manifestation of these feelings, it's a piece where western and Korean instruments, female and male singers, and elements of western and eastern song, poetry, drawings and sculpture co-exist within the music as they are, neither dominating nor giving up their own nature.

To me, the debate over whether art should carry a message or should abstract itself from political and social issues isn't so interesting. What's more important is the artist's readiness to address these issues when it's necessary.