Ira Hoffecker Artist Statement
My paintings are informed by the different identities cities take on over a period of time.
I am interested in how different societies transform and change city spaces over the course of the centuries. My work examines the relationships between people and cities by responding to constant change, reconstruction and restoration in the urban landscape.
Decay, erasure, covering, revealing and rebuilding take place at the same time and are part of my painting practice. I see my process of covering as a metaphor of forgetting and suppressing the past. The process of revealing and sanding the surface down alludes to a process of remembering and coming to terms with historic events. In many of my paintings I use layers of resin which physically separate one layer of paint from the previous one, and create actual and perceptual depth. Those layers are equivalent to the archaeological strata in the evolution of a city. Places are overlaid with multiple histories, layers of paint cover and obscure but each coat is also informed by the previous layer.
I adopt geometric shapes inherent in architecture and maps from different times in history provide the basis of my compositional language. Studying history books, maps and photographs, as well as digesting the city by walking the streets, all inform my understanding of the identity of a place.
On a personal level, my paintings embody my own memories and the cities’ atmospheres, which I am translating through shapes, colours and lines: marks that articulate the physicality of painting. I use painting to explore the city’s evolution and add my own experience to the context.
In my recent work, I was interested in researching the six different political governments and/or regimes and different identities the city of Berlin saw during the past 150 years. Berlin was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia (1701–1871), then it was the Capital of the German Empire (1871–1918), the Weimar Republic (1919–33) and the Third Reich (1933–45). Berlin in the 1920s was the third largest municipality in the world. At the end of the Second World War Berlin was almost completely destroyed as a consequence of the Nazis’ politics. After the war the city was divided until its reunification in 1989.
Especially for this exhibition I have created a body of work that talks about Berlin’s former Jewish quarters, the Scheunenviertel and Spandauer Vorstadt. By the time the Red Army liberated Berlin in 1945, of Berlin’s one-time population of 160,000 Jews before WWII, 55,000 were murdered, 7,000 committed suicide and over 90,000 emigrated. Nazis had erased Jewish life in Berlin and all over Europe. We Germans must never forget that. We must learn from our past and come to terms with this guilt. As horrible as this guilt and the memory of the Shoah is, Germans must accept it as part of their heritage, as part of their identity instead of trying to forget and trying to suppress the past.
Several paintings quote a poem ‘Death Fugue’ by Paul Celan, born as Paul Antschel to a German speaking Jewish family in Romania. His family was killed in concentration camp and Celan survived the war in a forced labour camp. This famous poem is a depiction of concentration camp life. The poem was written in German, Todesfuge. Here is the first verse of the poem, translated into English:
Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling, he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he commands us to play up for the dance.
Together with a composer from New York, Concetta Abbate, I have also recorded a sound piece of the Todesfugue, to which you can listen here at the Zack Gallery.