On one of several visits to Berlin, Victor Sloan visited the stadium designed by Werner March and built for the notorious 1936 Olympic Games. It is one of the few surviving structures of its era, and Sloan recalls that, while he visited other sites with fascist associations, when he arrived at the stadium that he was immediately struck by its overwhelming atmosphere. "It felt strange, sinister and cold."

His film and photographic installation inspired by the stadium is relatively schematic in his oeuvre, consisting of six large-scale images and a video of a looped film fragment tested to destruction and actually burning up (which has, understandably, inspired several viewers to intervene to try to save the film from being destroyed). The loop is from the 1930s children's comedy serial, The Little Rascals, and is a clip featuring a black child - a reference to the presence of the American athlete Jesse Owen at the 1936 Olympiad. The use of The Little Rascals emphasises the central role of play - or, here, entertainment and sport - in wider social and political discourse. Owens' success at the games was symbolically significant, disrupting Hitler's agenda of providing a demonstration of Aryan superiority.

The Olympiad was an overtly theatrical event and Sloan's Stadium is, like the majority of his work, an encouragement to look beyond the surface of the spectacle. His basic strategy is, quite simply, to offer angles of view that subvert the stage-management of the organisers. Neo-Classical statuary, of athletic figures of notionally perfect physique, designed to be viewed from the front, are depicted from the rear, while the distinctly un-aryan Hitler and Von Hindenberg are viewed from the front.

A pile of rubble, part of the excavations in the construction of a museum, formed part of the Prinz-Albert-Terrain, the SS administrative centre, including the cellars where prisoners were interrogated and tortured. The unpalatable is unearthed and the rubble disturbingly recalls images of piles of corpses in the concentration camps. "I liked the idea of literally digging up the past." The question here, as with Borne Sulinowo, is how we cope with the toxic legacy of conflict, of unspeakable and horrible actions, a question that is every bit as relevant in Northern Ireland as it is in Germany and Poland, as, for example, the strange spectacle of the search, involving substantial and largely fruitless excavations, for victims of the Provisional IRA, deomonstrates. A view of the ceremonial bell, which focuses on the tiny, almost invisible imprint of a swastika, draws attention to the importance of detail as a key to suppressed or buried meaning.


Extract from A Broken Surface: Victor Sloan's Photographic Work by Aidan Dunne in Victor Sloan: Selected Works 1980-2000, published by Ormeau Baths Gallery and Orchard Gallery, January, 2001





Bell, Berlin, silver gelatin print, 195cms x 125cms, 1998





Stadium I, Berlin, silver gelatin print, 125cms x 195cms, 1998





Stadium II, Berlin, silver gelatin print, 125cms x 195cms, 1998





Rubble, Berlin, silver gelatin print, 125cms x 195cms, 1998





Adolf Hitler and Paul Von Hindenburg, Berlin, silver gelatin print, 195cms x 125cms, 1998



Discus Throwers/Adolf Hitler and Paul Von Hindenburg , Berlin, silver gelatin print, 195cms x 125cms, 1998






Discus Throwers, Berlin, silver gelatin print, 195cms x 125cms, 1998



The Stadium referred to is the facility designed by Werner March for the Berlin Olympics of 1936. The site included an open-air theatre seating 20,000, an assembly area for 500,000 and a main stadium seating 120,000. The original design was constructed around a steel frame with lightweight cladding. Albert Speer, general architectural inspector for the third Reich, subsequently modified the design and had the steel infrastructure clad in masonry adding a curved colonnade that was decorated with Olympian figures. Speer's intervention into the stadium was meant to be a prelude to a more grand design seating 400,000 which would be located at Nuremberg.

This new stadium was intended to realise Hitler's vision of hosting the Olympic games in perpetuity after the 1940 games in Tokyo. The 1936 Berlin stadium like all stadia was intended to make manifest/ externalise an internal/national sense of pride. From an international perspective the XIth Olympiad signified the bringing back of Germany "...into the fold of nations", making them "...more human again..." as was reported in the New York Times of August 1936.

It is inevitable that historical perspectives when filtered by emotion fail to totally match up. Like life, the truth or accuracy lies in the detail. It is the detail of large, emotional, people centred situations that Victor Sloan addresses, not to undermine or reinforce but simply to highlight. He creates addendums to the main body of a collectively written text. He relays personal stories from a collective memory. They are examples of an individual's perspective, a perspective on a human scale as opposed to the public.

The individual perspective can contain unforeseen angles and details that the collective cannot allow for. The difference between the individual and the collective like the difference between peace and war is ultimately the difference between memory and forgetting. Victor Sloan's work seeks to challenge individual, cultural and national intolerance by reiterating many small, human scale questions rather than grand philosophical theories. The decline of aggression can be measured in the growth of the numbers of questioners and the sophistication of their questions.

How does one enable visual questions, on the human scale, to properly carry such importance? All six works that make up Stadium emphasise the private, the personal, and the human. The large-scale detail of the bell image takes the viewer at one level directly into the artist's perspective crouching before this impressive cast iron object. The bell would have been used to announce the commencement of the games and all the virtues that they entail. At the same time the bell was decorated with Nazi emblems that ran counter to the ideals of the Olympic movement. Sloan literally presents this paradox with detail; he accentuates the personal visual perspective and quietly contextualises it in the choice of subject.

The artist's awareness as to his method of questioning and the specific questions themselves is displayed by the inclusion of a near life size portrait of Adolf Hitler in civilian dress standing beside a blurry Paul Von Hindenburg. In 1932 Von Hindenburg had stood for and won a second term in office as Reich President despite Hitler's opposing candidacy. Hitler was appointed as Reich Chancellor in January 30th 1933. Images of Hitler in history books or Holocaust exhibitions are shorthand visual references introducing or reinforcing thematic discussions on the subject of bigotry and violence. An image of Hitler is less about the person and more about the content of his actions.

There is a world of difference between seeing and attending. One traditional example highlighting the difference is that of casually glancing at a newspaper and becoming aware of the fact that a certain word, for example, your name is printed on the page and having to read the page consciously attending to each word in order to find it again. With this work Victor Sloan wants to strike our attention and challenge our perceptual generalisations. He presents the whole via a series of details. To take in the whole you have to scrutinise each detail. You have to re-ask the questions and move away from your reassuring perceptual foundation.

Extract from Stadium by James Kerr in Source, Belfast, 1998, Vol. 5, No. 1, Summer, pp. 20-24






©Victor Sloan