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An archetypal landscape began to dominate where the earth was burnt or blackened, and the high horizon line seemed to prevent escape.As Kiefer's 1980s series on Margarete and Shulamite evolved, like Celan, he developed a series of visual tropes to characterise the two women.Sensing the unaddressed presence of the Second World War everywhere within contemporary Germany, he felt compelled to confront the silent taboos of post-war German society.These straw paintings are among the most powerful of Kiefer's works, and echo Rilke's words: "For /beauty/ is nothing but the beginning of /terror/, which we are still just able to endure." In Margarete, straw acts as a symbol for emotions stirred by the idea of land within German history.The image of Margarete owes much to the vision of German womanhood created by Goethe.In Faust, Margarete (also known as Gretchen) exhibits a pure, innocent love for Faust.There is, Kiefer seems to imply, a dark blemish on the soul of the German nation that it will still take generations to erase.

This impetus for examining the Nazi era may have partly derived from the 1960s spirit of revolt against the legacy of previous generations.With its potential to be burnt and turn to ash, it not only implied a landscape scarred and formed by history, war and fire, but also the possibility of alchemical transformation.Margarete, indicated by straw, symbolises the German love of land, and the nobility of the German soul, allowing Kiefer to play with complex notions of racial purity.This is a model to which Kiefer often refers, though, for him, there's an ambivalence about the implied purity of such women.In Margarete (1981), the name is scrawled in black across the surface like graffiti, part-prayer, part-memorial.

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