BERTOLT BRECHT VS. WALTER BENJAMIN
Three remarkable photographs record Brecht and Benjamin playing chess. They were taken on the outskirts of Svendborg, on the island of Funen where Brecht lived during his six years of exile during the second world war. Benjamin visited him in 1934, 1936 and 1938, and the photographs record one of their games under a pear tree in Brecht's garden. These are the only photographic evidence of their productive friendship before Benjamin lost his life on the boarder of France and Spain, where he is thought to have committed suicide rather than surrender to fascist Republican forces.
Commisioned by the Akademie der Künste, Broomberg and Chanarin will present a series of 32 photographs of the original pieces in Brecht's chess set (Tactics of Attrition, 2017), meticulously recorded with forensic photographic detail. With their piece "Bertolt Brecht vs. Walter Benjamin, 2017" the artists will re-stage the famous encounter recorded in this photograph, using an automated chess board powered by artificial intelligence. The machine can predict the precise sequence of moves from the start of the game up until the moment the photograph was taken.
For the duration of the exhibition the computer will continue their unfinished game, simulating moves by both Brecht and Benjamin, and presenting various possible conclusions to their game. Viewers are therefore offered a prediction of the past, albeit within the narrow confines of an algorithm. Yet in the light of what later transpired between these two friends, we cannot avoid a lingering sense of melancholy for what did in fact happen, nor resist the urge to re-write history.
Watch footage of Bertolt Brecht vs. Walter Benjamin