For my first-year project, I had suggested to create a sound piece. My intention was to explore sound as a completely new medium for me.
In my work so far, through painting, I had been investigating the different identities places take on over a period of time. Still working with the same theme, identity, I wanted to compare events from the past and juxtapose those to current events.
I had proposed to create 5 different sound loops and wanted to juxtapose one sound loop – with voices of right wing extremists who are meeting weekly on the streets of Dresden, demonstrating against the politics of the German government and against accepting refugees from Syria or other countries– to four sound loops that would represent Germany’s past.
The four sound loops representing Germany’s past were to consist of the following material:
- Excerpts of a two-hour interview I had done with Holocaust survivor Dr. Peter Gary, (1923-2016), who was born in Poland in 1924 and was arrested by Nazis in 1941 together with his mother, who was shot when she tried to protect him. Gary survived the Warsaw Getto, was then sent to Majdanek, then Dachau and, finally, Bergen-Belsen. At the age of 21, he was liberated from concentration camp in April 1945 and survived the Shoah.
- the voices of the Nazis at the famous Wannsee Conference where, in 1942, the ‘Endloesung’, the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’ had been discussed by senior officials of Nazi Germany.
- the voice of Hitler, his famous ‘Prophecy’ in which he talks about the extinction of the Jewish race.
- my own voice reading Paul Celan’s famous poem ‘The Death Fugue”. Paul Celan, born in 1920 in Romania, was one of the major German-language poets after the Second World War who had survived the Holocaust.
I had suggested that my sound installation could be presented with 5 head phones hanging from the ceiling in a room together with a selection of my new paintings.
By presenting these 5 loops together my intention was to remind the listener of the past and to explain the propaganda of the Nazis. I wanted to juxtapose the consequence of this aggression to current propaganda of hate against people who would need our help and support.
When I started to put my 5 loops together, I realized there were no original recordings of the Wannsee Conference available. I was only able to get a hold of recordings done by actors for the movie Die Wannseekonferenz from 1984. (https://youtu.be/URSNN5mnI2g).
That was when I decided to bring a further element into my proposed installation; a projection of the text of the protocol of the Wannsee Conference. My idea was to project the text that would flow down a wall with persistent continuity, over the ground, so that it flows over viewers in the room. At the Wannsee Conference, which took place on January 20th, 1942, the systematic mass produced death of the European Jewry was decided upon.
Once I had put together and isolated the other 4 sound loops mentioned above I decided to take my initial proposal one step further: I decided to create a video.
A film, in which I would include my individual sound pieces, but I also wanted to show images of burning refugee homes in Germany and images of those people who are the victims of the hate of those demonstrators. With his projection of images of the past onto the present sites, Shimon Attie, with his installation The Writing on the Wall, inspired me to project my collection of sounds of the past that represent experiences of the Holocaust onto images of the present.
During my artist residency in Berlin in January to March 2016, I had met several Syrian refugee artists. Since the newly arisen right wing extremism in Germany is directed against Muslims this time, especially against refugees from Syria, I wanted to give agency to a refugee from Syria. The video includes parts of an interview I had recorded in Berlin in January 2016 with Farid Abd Albaki, a ceramic artist from the city of Homs.
In the video, I project my voice reading a poem by Holocaust survivor and writer, Primo Levi, onto images of burning refugee homes in Germany today. I projected the voice of Dr. Peter Gary onto right wing populists’ and extremists’ marches occurring weekly in Dresden, demonstrations against the acceptance of war refugees from Syria. Also, I have included images of refugees on their odyssey to and through Europe while one hears the voice of Farid telling his story. The video shows images of the destroyed city of Homs in Syria from 2016 and propounds a new genocide with the killing of minority groups during the Syrian civil war. I projected my voice reading Paul Celan’s Todesfuge (Death Fuge) onto those images of the destroyed city of Homs. The recording of the sound piece Todesfuge was a collaboration with a composer from New York, Concetta Abatte, who I had met during my residency in Berlin.
Ira Hoffecker, Image of burning refugee home in the video Black Milk of Daybreak, 15 min, 2016
With the video I intend to juxtapose newly arisen hate against foreigners, currently against Muslims to experiences of the Holocaust. I want to suggest how things can escalate if the people of a country do not stand up and protect each other.
Here is the link to the video: https://vimeo.com/203736016
After the feedback I received at the residency in New York, I broke down the video into four individual videos. During my second-year MFA I plan to continue to work on this installation together with a couple of further videos I want to create:
a) The Todesfuge projected on images of the destroyed city of Homs https://vimeo.com/212258990
b) The interview with Fareed together with images of people on their odyssey from Syria to Europe https://vimeo.com/212299348
c) Primo Levi’s poem projected on Burning Refugee Homes https://vimeo.com/212278837
d) Showing right wing extremists in Germany https://vimeo.com/212360183
This video was a further development of my previous photo series (presented in the fall semester 2016) pertaining to 12 different genocides. I created a series of images that are set against the Facebook imagery which I then juxtaposed with the different genocides by mentioning the year and the place where they occurred. I was inspired by Hiller’s juxtaposition of normal daily life in today’s Germany to the Holocaust.
Ira Hoffecker, Photo 1/12 of photo series pertaining to genocides, 16x20 inches, 2016
In my photo series, I used the shadow of my own body in different places. In my video, I used my own voice. I wanted to use my own body as a tool for introspection: I investigate my role in relation to the history of my ancestral culture and my own family and to my presence in this world today. By using my body, I ask myself what I would have done if I had lived under the Nazi regime. Would I have stood up and defended others or would I have been a coward and shut up?
My work reflects on our role as people today, asking, how we may be paralyzed, when we should stand up and try to prevent bad things from happening. I want to inspire the viewer to think about his or her own role. I am interested in how Germans deal with collective memory, with forgetting and suppressing the past as opposed to remembering and comprehending.
In my paintings, I overlay maps from today onto maps of the Third Reich to examine the divergent identities of those places over time. In some areas of my paintings the underlying map is covered with new layers of paint, whereas in other areas I sand the surface down to the previous layers. I use the covering as a metaphor for forgetting and the sanding down as a metaphor for coming to terms with our past.
For my first-year MFA I had also suggested to create a series of 4 to 6 big paintings that still talk about historic layers and different identities over time. I wanted to focus on the story and different historic layers of Camp Moschendorf and use elements out of the maps I have. While discussing painting with Andrew in Berlin, my intention was to abstract my work more, to go away from merely putting two maps on top of each other, I started to abstract my paintings more and experimented with introducing brushwork to my paintings.
Here are the paintings I worked on this first year: all are acrylic on birch wood panel:
untitled - 24 by 30 inches
untitled II - 24 by 30 inches
Structure I - 36x36 inches
Structure II - 36 by 36 inches
Structure III - 40 by 60 inches
Structure IV - 40 by 60 inches
Structure V 40 by 40 inches
Camp Moschendorf V 24 by 48 inches
Structure VI 40 by 60 inches - unfinished
Scheunenviertel VIII - 40 by 60 inches - unfinished
I started to let my work become more lose and not so literal anymore. I feel I need to push this further. In this new series Structure I – Structure V I unfolded the current factory building that stands today where the former Camp (Lager) Moschendorf was located.
Before I had started this MFA I had only worked with painting and sculpture, never with sound or video. My intention was to experiment with the medium trying to find different ways how I can talk about German identities over the course of time. I realized that the medium film allows me to speak about this subject in a very different and more precise way.
I realized I need to think to approach the themes I want to discuss from a much broader perspective. Historic readings for my research of German identity are important, but also the study of other artists who explore the same theme. In my thesis, I had discussed the work of Shimon Attie, The Writing on the Wall, Susan Hiller and her J-Street-Project and Christian Boltanski’s The Missing House. Their work is very different but their work and my work all talk about memory and German identity. Here is the link to my first-year paper: http://transartih.blogspot.ca/
Besides the above-mentioned work, I had also created several sound pieces. I had experimented with overlaying voices. In the beginning, I also experimented with the medium video and created a video with my images of Berlin, ‘Ode to Berlin’. https://vimeo.com/182799079
If you would like to look at my work in more detail and see all the process work of the past first MFA year, please see all my monthly blog posts:
http://transartih.blogspot.ca/, http://transartih.blogspot.ca/2016/11/november-15th-blog.html, http://transartih.blogspot.ca/2016/12/dec-15-post.html, http://transartih.blogspot.ca/2017/02/february-15th-post.html, http://transartih.blogspot.ca/2017/03/blog-post-march-15.html, http://transartih.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/april-15th-blog-post.html