‘In the Shadow of the Maggot’ at Anton Kern Gallery

The raging priest rushes out into the forest, where he finds the android and, in a kind of double-reverse eucharist, extends a fork from his cross and stabs him repeatedly, spraying himself with blood. Like Doubting Thomas, he sticks his finger into the wound and presses the man-made pulse until it gives out. For a moment, everything is red–black blood included–but when Merle, also wandering in the forest, finds the android’s blood, and then his inert body, she performs her own strange double reversal, rolling up a leaf to make a straw and blowing the juice of a blackberry into a large prop penis. The penis descends; the android revives; and he and Merle make out.

But this doesn’t last, either: With the help of a journeyman he’s just met (Heiner Franzen) and his puppet brother, the Priest pulls the lovers apart. The android is drawn and quartered, pulled into pieces by painted stage horses, while Merle is thrown into a bare, pastoral prison cell.

While Merle cowers in dirty straw, the Priest delivers himself of a pompous speech while drinking from a bottle of blood. (He also take a moment to plug in a toaster.) “I’m not a monster (Unmensch),” he says, before kneeling down to rape her with his cross. The important point–and one way in which this work is thoroughly of the moment, or at least the long, postwar moment–is this: The cross is not the priest’s sexual organ; it is his sexual organ that is a cross.

Dissolve into a montage of continued assaults, after each of which the Priest makes himself a slice of white toast, takes one bite, and tosses the rest onto Merle’s body. She hides the slices in the straw, apparently refusing his brutal, mechanistic communion–but once she’s amassed enough, she chews the slices to wet pieces and molds them into a head. She removes her white dress and fills it with straw. She assembles her animus on the floor. And once again, she wakes him with a kiss: The lovers canoodle in prison, in the shadow of the maggot that climbs the walls.

The satire is there if you want it, though it seems beside the point to want it when it keeps such promiscuous company with simple entertainment. But this is not a happy ending, either, because it’s really no ending at all–the priest will come back, the android will be remurdered and resurrected, the willowy blond will scream. The cycle of violence will continue. Be sure to see the decapitated Barbie in the back room, and the photo of Klaus Kinski with a crocheted penis protector.

editorial@observer.com