International Necronautical Society INS Inspectorate Berlin
return: documents
publication: Aerial Reconnaissance Berlin

committee papers: Statement to the INS Inspectorate Committee by Anthony Auerbach

Title: Aerial Reconnaissance Berlin
Type: Statement to the INS Inspectorate Committee
Authorised: Anthony Auerbach, INS Chief of Propaganda
Authorisation Code: AA270909

[Document follows]

General Secretary, members of the Committee, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to use this brief statement to identify a crossing, that is to say, to describe two trajectories to whose intersection the Aerial Reconnaissance phase of the INS Inspectorate owes its origin: the unmarked X from which it springs.

I will therefore speak of material and of method. My remarks will remain on this side of a theory of necronautical materialism — as it has become known — for I do not presume to be able to present this theory with full rigour, completeness and certainty, still less go beyond it.

Beginning with the first, material, now that the photographic evidence has been reviewed, I would like to introduce the exhibit which stands beside me here: an object which could be the Rosetta Stone of the whole project. [note 1]

What you see is a piece of laminated glass just over 1.3 m square, weighing some 200 kg, transported here from the centre of Berlin. Since it arrived here only about a couple of hours ago, it remains to be inspected in detail. For now, it is the trajectory that matters.

This piece of glass was removed, on 3 March 2009, from the middle of Bebelplatz, between the Staatsoper Unter den Linden and the former royal library, now the law faculty of Humboldt University. Thanks to INS agents and collaborators, the slab was intercepted before it could be destroyed. It has been stored in a barn on the outskirts of Berlin and was brought to London today. This is the only surviving page from an archive that has been systematically obliterated.

Let me explain. The glass formed part of a monument commemorating the burning of books that took place on the square now called Bebelplatz, on 10 May 1933. The monument, entitled Library, takes the form of a brightly lit, sealed room, below ground level, without entrance or exit, lined with empty shelves. In accordance with minimalist orthodoxy, the interior is painted white. You can look into the empty room through a glass window set in the pavement. The shelves are supposed to have enough room for about 20,000 volumes, recalling the number said to have been brought to the site for the book-burning ceremony. A bronze plaque with memorial inscriptions is also set in the pavement, some distance away.

The upper surface of the glass is continually scratched. This unintentional inscription, which I had noticed during an earlier visit to Berlin, became the first clue in the investigation with which I was charged, namely the identification and inspection of sites of erasure. There, on Bebelplatz, I would find the site of erasure par excellence: a place dedicated to the destruction of knowledge — an incident of which, naturally, no trace remains — and a surface nonetheless marked.

However, on returning to the site in the course of the present investigation, I did not find all as I expected. Instead, I found further evidence of erasure, the repetition and the concealment of erasure.

The prize-winning monument had made an impressive claim on the parade-ground qualities of the square — the qualities that had once recommended it as the venue for midnight book burning — but this brought it into conflict with another desire. In the time of Wilhelm II — the time, Joseph Roth later commented, when the University became a barracks, that is to say, where Prussian militarism was propagated by professors of philosophy — the square used to be a garden. The vegetation appears to have been cleared towards the end of the 1920s, when the place began being used as a car park. During the Nazi era it seems to have been reserved for ceremonial purposes, but in the Communist era, except when mass-demonstrations were called, it was used mainly as a car park. The DDR authorities renamed the place for August Bebel, a nineteenth-century Social Democrat, and memorial plaques for Bebel, for Lenin, who was once a reader in the Imperial Library, and for the book burning were installed.

All were removed after German reunification in 1990 [note 2]. A memorial art competition was held in 1993, and the underground Library was inaugurated in 1995. However, the desire for car parking did not go away, and eventually the monument was threatened. The accommodation reached was this: the sunken library would be temporarily exhumed, a multi-storey car park built around it, then both the car park and the monument reburied.

When I carried out aerial surveillance of the site for the INS (in 2005), the resurfacing of the square had just been completed but it was not yet open to the public. The glass was intact, without a scratch.

It turns out the glass is renewed on a regular basis, every few months. Lying in the middle of a square paved with granite cobbles, it very quickly becomes irreparably scratched and is replaced with a fresh sheet, as it were to suppress the writing which would otherwise obscure the view of the empty library. Whereas the regime of the monument — the regime of the window — obliges one to peer through it in search of transparency, into a space that cannot be inhabited, necronautical research, by contrast, is concerned with the surface. Hence the plan, now realised, of obtaining a sample for further analysis.

The object that presented itself to Aerial Reconnaissance was one of multiple and repeated erasures, but, it should be underlined: no palimpsest.[note 3] No trace remains of previous inscriptions. The scratched glass is normally transported directly to where it is melted down. As a result, in Berlin, aerial photography became a picture of air, and the sky the abyssal depth of the surface.

The artist is quoted as saying his empty Library ‘is a grave, a pit-sculpture in the earth of this authentic place with all its meaning’ [note 4]. We say: it encrypts nothing, and thus may be counted among the numerous empty tombs that are found in the city. The memorial, moreover, encodes erasure and authorises forgetting.

Let me now turn to Method.

Although the INS declared in its founding manifesto ‘That death is a type of space, which we intend to map, enter, colonise and, eventually, inhabit,’ It should be made clear that whatever similarities might hold between them, an aerial photograph is not a map — or is not yet a map. Aerial photography merely piles material at the threshold of knowledge.

Whereas anything on a map makes sense (indexed by the map’s grid), a photograph records everything indiscriminately. Aerial photography provides, as one manual puts it, a ‘wealth of minor and often transient detail’ that would never be found even on the largest-scale map, ‘constituting an almost inexhaustible store of information’ [note 5] not only for military reconnaissance — to which the techniques owe the impetus of their development — but to geology, ecology, archaeology, and planning, among other disciplines. The photographic material, the information — informe [note 6] as it is — demands from each branch of knowledge a specific modus of interpretation.

An aerial survey is a sequence of aerial photographs meant to cover a particular terrain. According to the authors of an early ‘comprehensive survey’ of the ‘practice and development’ of aerial photography, ‘aerial surveying proper ... covers operations in unexplored and partly explored regions where maps do not already exist or where they are not to be relied on.’ [note 7]

My first expedition of this type — carried out prior to my involvement with the INS, [note 8] but nonetheless suggesting the method that was deployed in Berlin — was an aerial survey of the carpet in my studio, a room dedicated up to then to practice of marking and erasure, that is, to drawing [note 9]. The apparatus I constructed carried the camera at an altitude of about 70 cm, covering the whole terrain in four flights. A low-angle light source, like the evening sun on a landscape, highlighted the topography.

My second expedition, and in retrospect, the decisive step towards Aerial Reconnaissance Berlin, was the inspection of a smoother but more treacherous surface. Enemy Contact was a pavement of mirrors originally installed by Uli Aigner in the lobby of the Freud Museum in London [note 10]. For reasons which are not important in the present context, the installation was removed to another place where I made it the site of inspection. Here you can see the survey apparatus I constructed for the purpose. There incidentally is a photograph the General Secretary of the INS posing as Narcissus. The camera travels, at constant altitude, back and forth along the beam, and the whole apparatus advances in increments, resulting in a sequence of overlapping vertical photographs, covering the whole surface.

This was the apparatus which was proven in Berlin. This is the site of a recently demolished half-built memorial institution [note 11]. This is the site of a monument which announces that on that on this site stood the Revolutionsdenkmal, a monument to a revolution that never happened, erected in 1926 and razed in 1935 [note 12]. And this is the site of monument to an insurrection quickly and efficiently suppressed in the East and in the West celebrated for its failure [note 13].

The procedure is methodical and meticulous, systematic but incomplete. Aerial reconnaissance always runs ahead of its interpretation, but falls short of the world. An aerial survey, passing rhythmically, back and forth across a surface, suggests the possibility of reading: reading material.

Additional matter will be found in the Dossier, which I recommend to the Committee.

[Document ends]

Authorised: Anthony Auerbach


  1. The object exhibited to the INS Committee on 27 September 2009 was recovered during the preparation of the dossier for the press, as noted at §6.A.3.n40, see also Display 6., Fig. 42 and Display 7., Figs. 50–52. [back to text]
  2. Until recently, the fixings of Lenin plaque remained stuck in the wall at entrance to the former library. See Figs. 35–37. [back to text]
  3. A palimpsest is a parchment which has been erased and reused, valued by archaeologists because the erased and overwritten texts may still be legible. [back to text]
  4. Berliner Zeitung, 10 May 2001. [back to text]
  5. J. K. S. St. Joseph (ed.), The Uses of Air Photography (London: John Baker, 1966), p. 15. [back to text]
  6. Formless, as Bataille’s term is usually translated. [back to text]
  7. Clarence Winchester and F. L. Wills, Aerial Photography (London: Chapman and Hall, 1928), p. v. [back to text]
  8. Auerbach was appointed INS Chief of Propaganda (Archiving and Epistemological Critique) in 2003, following the purge of the INS First committee. [back to text]
  9. See Works by Anthony Auerbach [back to text]
  10. See Enemy Contact Surface [back to text]
  11. Aerial Survey PR-B-100505, §6.B. [back to text]
  12. Aerial Survey PR-D-130505, §6.D. [back to text]
  13. Aerial Survey PR-E-140505, §6.E. [back to text]