Category Archive 'Manuel Noriega'

28 May 2022

Modern Art as Torture Device

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Replica of one of the cells, recreated through Laurencic’s descriptions.

In the course of an interesting essay on non-representational (Modernist) art, Marxist clown philosopher Slavoj Žižek notes that both Fascist and Communist critics regarded entartete Kunst as barbarous and inimical to civilization.

During the Spanish Civil War, in fact, he reporta that one leftist artiste deliberately used Modern Art to inflict suffering on enemy prisoners, in a manner quite similar to the way US Forces in 1989 attempted to drive Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega out of his refuge in the Vatican Embassy by bombarding the building with loud Heavy Metal rock music.

In 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, the French poet, artist, and architect of Slovene origins Alphonse Laurencic relied on Kandinsky’s theories of color and form to decorate cells at a prison in Barcelona where Republicans held captured Francoists. He designed each cell like an avant-garde art installation, so that the compositions of color and form inside the cells were chosen with the goal of causing the prisoners to experience disorientation, depression, and deep sadness:

“During the trial Laurencic revealed he was inspired by modern artists, such as surrealist Salvador Dali and Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky, to create the torture cells /…/ Laurencic told the court the cells, in Barcelona, featured sloping beds at a 20-degree angle that were almost impossible to sleep on.

They also had irregularly shaped bricks on the floor that prevented prisoners from walking backwards or forwards, the trial papers said. The walls in the 6ft x 3ft cells were covered in surrealist patterns designed to make prisoners distressed and confused, the report continued, and lighting effects were used to make the artwork even more dizzying. Some of them had a stone seat designed to make occupants instantly slide to the floor, while other cells were painted in tar and became stiflingly hot in the summer.”

Indeed, later the prisoners held in these so-called “psychotechnic” cells did report extreme negative moods and psychological suffering due to their visual environment. Here, the mood becomes the message—the message that coincides with the medium. The power of this message is shown in Himmler’s reaction to the cells: he visited the psychotechnic cells after Barcelona was taken by the fascists and said that the cells showed the “cruelty of Communism.” They looked like Bauhaus installations and, thus, Himmler understood them as a manifestation of Kulturbolschevismus (cultural Bolshevism). No wonder Laurencic was put on trial and executed in 1939.

Cover of R.L. Chacón, Por que hice las ‘Chekas’ de Barcelona: Laurencic ante el Consejo de Guerra, 1939.

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