SIXTH PART: FROM HOKA-NENI'S DOWNFALL

Vision of Hoka-Neni's Monument during a

Market Day in Helvetia Square in Zurich, 2001-2002

Oil tempera on canvas,

40 x 312 in (l00 x 80 cm)

 

As cloud vanishes and is gone,

so he who goes down to the grave does not return

Job 7:9

 

This panel is a quasi-naturalistic depiction of Helvetia Square in Zurich on market day. The artist's aptitude for natural appearances, the superb liveliness of the scene, the minutely observed details, and the vivid colors are all strongly reminiscent of Northern Renaissance painting. The masterly use of aerial and one-point perspective reveals the artist's technical virtuosity. The large building in the background is the historic Volkshaus, once the headquarters of the Syndicalist, Communist and Socialist movements. Lenin frequented it when he stayed in Zurich during the First World War; Mussolini visited it when he was still a socialist, as did Berthold Brecht. Much of what appears in this panel can actually be found in Helvetia Square with, needless to say, some conspicuous exceptions.

The most obvious exception is the gigantic monument to Hoka-N6ni looming in the distance. She is portrayed as a generic traveler, suitcases in hand, atop a high column. This surreal specter underscores the artist's preoccupation with her fate. To erect a statue of a deportee in the heart of one of the world's most civilized cities would by no means be an absurd idea. People need to be reminded that good fortune is fleeting: at any time, at any place-as we well know-civilization can be the target of evil.

Other departures from reality are tinged with the artist's dark humor. An improbably large fish is being cut up by a fishmonger-the slice for which the customer is waiting couldn't possibly fit into her basket. The lambs stacked up nearby are more alive than dead, not ready for consumption. The headless shrimp and other indeterminable seafood items in the container in the left-hand foreground seem to be crawling. An especially Boschian touch appears in the motorized butcher's shop. The wares displayed in its window include fantastic, alien figures and dissected, eviscerated birds-food fit for the Devil, perhaps, but not for human beings. On the whole, this panel is one of the artist's most attractive and successful genre paintings to date.

by Edith Balas