Henrike Naumann

‘Das Reich’


Belvedere 21, Vienna

26 September, 2019 – 12 January, 2020


Henrike Naumann grew up in Zwickau, as the political end of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was approaching and the state was absorbed into a reunified Germany. She processed the experiences of her youth, which straddled hedonism, consumer culture and increasing right-wing radicalization, into installations in several exhibitions. As an artist, she is interested in the design vocabulary that these everyday extremes have evoked in the populace. To what extent do furniture and objects reflect an attitude and a history? In alternative history scenarios, Naumann examines the interplay of aesthetics and ideology and creates walk-in spaces where it can be experienced.
The starting point for her exhibition “Das Reich” in Belvedere 21 is the year 1990: The Reich Citizens movement refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany and quickly takes control after reunification. Austria soon joins the reconstituted German Reich. Henrike Naumann sketches this fictional scenario in an immersive spatial installation consisting of furniture, home accessories, decor elements and videos. Here the Reich (Citizens‘) Chancellory, staged as a Germanic Stonehenge, coexists with home videos by the National Socialist Underground and of partygoers in Ibiza, a 1990s furniture store and all manner of finca chic. The exhibition can be read as a psychogram of an alternative worldview, which alarmingly resembles the worlds of thought of today’s extreme right-wing movements.


“Anschluss ’90”


With her walk-in installation, Henrike Naumann develops a fictional scenario in which the Reich Citizens take control over reunified Germany in 1990 and Austria decides without hesitation to join the newly reinstated German Reich. The reawakened feeling of racial (völkisch) unity is celebrated with euphoria, but not by parades as in 1938 – instead, it finds expression in an exuberant consumer culture. “I shop, therefore I am!” is the motto, which derives the power to form a new Germanicness (Germanentum) from a total shopping spree. Because just as in East Germany, furniture stores are popping up like mushrooms in Austria. Instead of “just living,” Germanness is experienced as a hedonistic lifestyle that can be acquired as a product.
In her installation “Anschluss ’90”, which was first presented at the “steirischer herbst” contemporary art festival in 2018, Henrike Naumann stages the display floor of a furniture store that opened shortly after the hypothetical re-annexation in 1990. Furniture, amenities, books, and decor elements merge to reflect a society that wishes to express its identity founded on German nationalism and consumerism even in its home furnishings. Henrike Naumann’s alternative history scenario clarifies the ruptures that a neglected processing of German/Austrian history has left behind, and which still provide fertile ground for populist and radical right-wing politics.




This video is the counterpart to “Amnesia”, which was also produced in 2012. While in that film young people enjoy themselves in Ibiza, “Terror” takes place in Jena. In 1992, two young men and a young woman experience their “last summer of innocence,” as Henrike Naumann puts it, before ultimately becoming radicalized. In the names of the protagonists — Beate, Böhni and Uwe — Naumann makes reference to Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, the trio who carried out right-wing terrorist attacks and murders as the “National-Socialist Underground” beginning in 1999.
“Terror” begins with a scene in which the three steal a VHS video camera. They go on to document their everyday life: in their Neo-Nazi teen bedroom surrounded by the swastika flag, stuffed animals, and an ALF greeting card, they pass the time reading an article in the teen magazine “Bravo”, an article about the dangers of Ecstasy and pranks. Beate boxes against a sofa while the others cheer her on. Uwe poses for the camera and shouts “Sieg Heil!” while pulling up the right arm of a plush Pink Panther over and over again. Finally the video shows them breaking into an abandoned school. Incapable of articulating their affection, they seek physical contact through tussling before they begin indiscriminately destroying things (“88, here we go!”). In the final scene, Böhni and Uwe surprise Beate with four pistols arranged in a swastika.
Henrike Naumann juxtaposes the sexual self-discovery of the young protagonists with the question of individual responsibility for one’s political education. In her video, the artist explores the banality of evil by mimicking the look of a VHS home video, making moments of creeping right-wing radicalization graspable.




In contrast to “Terror,” “Amnesia” takes place in 1992 on the Spanish island of Ibiza. Here, the circle of protagonists expands to include a young man. However, alongside Bianca, Sven and Dave, Mike only takes on the passive role of cameraman. The young people move into their hotel room. They gather around a table to smoke and talk about the stresses and strains of their journey. A party mood sets in: they bellow “Ibiza 92,” fool around, drink hard liquor, make out, do lines of cocaine, get dressed up, and move to the “Amnesia,” Ibiza‘s hottest club. There, they dance to electronic beats, smoke, and drink individually. Bianca loses track of Sven and Dave and finds them again embracing tightly and kissing. She goes back to the dance floor and loses herself in moving to the music under the influence of drugs. In the empty club, she throws a vase at a glass pyramid in which she had been looking at herself earlier.
There are several parallels between the video works “Terror” and “Amnesia”. These include the motif of destroying one’s own reflection as well as aggressive, excessive behavior caused by boredom. The young people are also similar in terms of the extremism they develop in the course of finding an identity. In Ibiza, they seek healing in intoxication and forgetting, in the dissolution of the old ego through opening up to a new one – in contrast to connecting with a racial (völkisch) identity that is sought in Jena in the past. “I look into the question of where the innocence of the three young Neo-Nazis ends – and the responsibility of non-political hedonists begins,” says Naumann of her video works. And even today, the combination of Ibiza and partying can quickly lead to questions of political responsibility.


“Das Reich”


Henrike Naumann’s extensive installation “Das Reich” was first presented in the banquet hall of the Kronprinzenpalais in Berlin. It is a symbolic place, where the reunification treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) regarding the dissolution of the GDR, its entry into the FRG, and German reunification was signed in 1990. But not everyone agrees to this particular reunification: the Reich Citizens do not recognize the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany and insist on the continued existence of the German Reich. In their eyes, an injustice has befallen the “German people”: they see themselves as an endangered indigenous community in an occupied country and ask the United Nations for support against violations of international law. They stockpile weapons and munitions for Day X, when the final battle will come and the German Reich will rise again.
“Das Reich” is Naumann’s outline of a dystopia in which the Reich Citizens actually take over the business of government in 1990. Within this scenario, the walk-in ensemble consisting of cupboards, shelves, and glass cabinets is arranged like Stonehenge in memory of the early years of the Fourth Reich along with memorabilia from the second Anschluss of Austria in 1990. Naumann’s “Das Reich” stages the provisional Reich (Citizens’) Chancellery as an ethnic (völkisch) shrine. In this monument to Germanicness, nationalist conspiracy theories intersect with the destinies of individuals and with the ruptures in German history.


Henrike Naumann was born in Zwickau in 1984. She lives and works in Berlin. Her works have recently appeared at such venues as Kunstverein Hannover, KOW (Berlin), Museum Abteiberg (Mönchengladbach), MMK (Frankfurt am Main), steirischer herbst (Graz), the Busan Biennale, the Ghetto Biennale (Port-au-Prince), and the Musée d’Art Contemporain et Multimédia (Kinshasa).