History and Personal Memory video
After my previous video ‘A la recherche de Michel Foucault’, this video, ‘History and Personal Memory’ is about my own story, my investigation about power structures, the overstepping of boundaries, my home land, etc
My critique group and Jean Marie saw an earlier version of this at the end of October / beginning of November. In the meantime, I have made several changes and will in the following weeks work on partly subtitling, partly bringing in a voice-over into the film. I have just translated the whole spoken text into English and am including both versions, German and English, in this text.
The Vimeo link to my video : https://vimeo.com/241878832
In contrast to my previous films, I am utilizing my own film images. Also, I wanted to introduce working with my body to see if I can use it as a tool of investigation. I am using my voice, recording what I read, I have captured imagery that shows my hand working on a painting. I am walking on train tracks in another scene. And I am utilizing a projection of my grandfather's portrait onto my body.
With this new video, I would like to create a piece that connects my work about my German identity, my personal memory and my painting work to this medium that is new to my work practice - film. The subject matter of my film might not be ideal for experimentation in video, however, I am compelled to explore some stylistic elements such as split screen, overlays, etc.
The video starts with images of the destroyed city of Berlin which were filmed right after Germany’s capitulation in May 1945. I overlaid these images with images of my paintings. In my painting work, I create layers and juxtapose images of the past with images of today, to discuss identities of then and now. The overlay rationale is extended in my film.
I am reading a poem by Nietzsche about Heimat, home land. I am questioning what home land represents to me. I am German and live far away from my former home. I chose to leave my home country and to live abroad. Living abroad allows me to deal differently with events that happened to me in my past.
In this poem ‘Abschied’ (also: ‘Die Kraehen schreien’ and ‘Vereinsamt’) Nietzsche has a conversation with himself. In the first part of the poem (which I am reading in the video), Nietzsche describes the view of the lonely wanderer in the winter who is without his home land. The wanderer remembers his lost home land. And in Nietzsche’s answer to this text, he denies that he might be longing for his home, in the ‘stupid happiness of the main room’, which he left as a free spirit. It is far more important to always remain a free spirit, than to have a home land. (source: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche – Anti-Ethik und Uebermensch. Ein kleiner Blick in die Grundprinzipien des ethischen Denkens von Nietzsche).
Abschied or Die Kraehen schreien or Vereinsamt
Die Krähen schrein
Und ziehen schwirren Flugs zur Stadt:
Bald wird es schnein. -
Wohl dem, der jetzt noch - Heimat hat!
Nun stehst du starr,
Schaust rückwärts, ach! wie lange schon!
Was bist du Narr
Vor Winters in die Welt entflohn?
Die Welt - ein Tor
Zu tausend Wüsten stumm und kalt!
Wer das verlor,
Was du verlorst, macht nirgends halt.
Nun stehst du bleich,
Zur Winter-Wanderschaft verflucht,
Dem Rauche gleich,
Der stets nach kältern Himmeln sucht.
Flieg, Vogel, schnarr
Dein Lied im Wüstenvogel-Ton!
Versteck, du Narr,
Dein blutend Herz in Eis und Hohn!
Die Krähen schrein
Und ziehen schwirren Flugs zur Stadt:
Bald wird es schnein, -
Weh dem, der keine Heimat hat!
The crows caw
and go with zipping wings to the city:
soon it will be snowing.
Happy is he who now yet has a homeland!
Now you stand numbly,
gazing backward, ah! for how long already?
Why, you fool,
did you flee into the world as Winter approached?
The world - a door
to a thousand wastelands silent and cold!
He who has lost
what you have lost, never stops anywhere.
Now you stand pallid,
cursed to wander in the winter,
that is always seeking colder skies.
Fly, bird, rasp out
your song in the melody of a bird of the wastes!
Hide, you fool,
your bleeding heart in ice and sneers!
The crows caw
and go with zipping wings to the city:
soon it will be snowing.
Woe is he who has no homeland!
While I read the poem aloud in my film, I am showing images of my home land, the German landscape. I question what my home land represents for me now.
I have asked my sister Regine to talk about our whole family on camera, discuss dozens of images of our family tree, on both sides of our heritage. For the film, I selected the image of my grandfather, Karl Sattler, who was a member of the NSDAP and a Hauptmann in WWII and in charge of aerial bombardments. His image is on screen, while my sister’s voice speaks about him. This is the first time in my life that I am approaching this theme. While it is extremely difficult, I find the process somewhat healing because I am finally addressing something that has been tormenting me, excruciatingly since my childhood.
Karl Sattler war geboren in Lochhausen bei Muenchen.
Seine Eltern waren der Schulrat Sattler und sein Frau,
sie wiederum war eine geborene Lauterbach, sie war
die Tochter eines Kunstmalers, die sind hier zu sehen,
die haben irgendwo in Straubing gewohnt. Und dies
hier ist ein Bild auf dem man sieht dass Carl Sattler
was a Hauptmann during WWII und ein ueberzeugtes
Parteimitglied gewesen ist.
Karl Sattler was born in Lochhausen near Munich.
His parents were the school principals. His mother’s
maiden name was Lauterbach and she was the
daughter of an artist. You can see them here, they
lived in Straubing. And in this photo, you can see
that Carl Sattler was a Captain in WWII. He was a
loyal member of the Nazi Party.
As in my previous video, I am working with texts by Michel Foucault again. Foucault’s philosophy and his discussions about power encouraged me to discuss my own past, hint at what happened to me in my childhood, while simultaneously discussing Germany’s Nazi past.
I am interested in thoughts about power and how people force power over others. I am interested in the psychological consequences to those who had been overpowered by others and what happens if a child’s boundaries get transgressed. When you don’t learn how to protect yourself in your childhood, as an adult you constantly struggle with how to protect yourself. It is difficult to find a proper way to reject those who come too close to me and do not respect my privacy and necessary mind space.
Die Macht ist nicht eine Institution, ist nicht
eine Struktur, ist nicht eine Maechtigkeit
einiger Maechtiger, die Macht ist der Name
den man einer komplexen strategischen
Situation in einer Gesellschaft gibt.
Die Frage lautet nicht, wie Macht sich mani-
festiert, sondern wie sie ausgeuebt wird.
Wo es Macht gibt, gibt es Wiederstand.
Und doch oder vielmehr deswegen liegt
der Wiederstand niemals ausserhalb der Macht.
Sobald die Machtbeziehungen erstarren,
und sich als unveraenderlich erweisen,
tritt der Zustand der Herrschaft ein.
Power is not an institution. It is not a structure.
Power is the name that is given to a complex
strategic situation in a society.
The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism
in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior,
the fascism that causes us to love power, to
desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.
The question is not, how power manifests itself,
but how it is exerted.
Where there is power, there is resistance. The
resistance is never outside of power.
As soon as the relations of power solidify and
become unchangeable, the statues of a regime arise.
From ‘Method’ in ‘History of Sexuality Volume I,’ pp. 92-102
Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship between power and knowledge and how these are used as a form of social control. Foucault asks many questions and opens doors to look at concepts from different perspectives.
In Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, page 26, he described power as something exercised, put into action and relationships. Power is an active relation rather than a possession or static state of affairs.“...[power] is never appropriated in the way that wealth or a commodity can be appropriated. Power functions. Power is exercised through networks, and individuals do not simply circulate in those networks; they are in a position to both submit to and exercise this power. They are never the inert or consenting targets of power; they are always its relays. In other words, power passes through individuals. It is not applied to them.” And he carries on : “Power is relations; power is not a thing, it is a relationship between two individuals... such that one can direct the behavior of another or determine the behavior of another. Voluntarily determining it in terms of a number of objectives which are also one’s own”. Power is “the exercise of something that one could call government in a very wide sense of the term. One can govern a society, one can govern a group, a community, a family; one can govern a person. When I say ‘govern someone,’ it is simply in the sense that one can determine one’s behavior in terms of a strategy by resorting to a number of tactics”
I did not find all the answers to my questions in Foucault, but his questions have helped me think about power structures in different ways and helped me understand how power evolves. When we think about the rise of the Nazis to power, for example, Foucault suggested that power relations do not operate only through repressions. He wrote, “In defining the effects of power as repression, one adopts a purely juridical conception of such power, one identifies power with a law which says no, power is taken above all as carrying the force of a prohibition. If power were never anything but repressive, ... do you really think one would be brought to obey it? What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse” (See ‘Discipline and Punish’ p. 27-28)
I investigated Foucault’s ideas about various models of power structures, which contributes to a dialogue my work embodies. I am interested in how people can gain power over others. Also, I am exploring the rationale associated with people who are not necessarily in a power position but who enable those in that position by assisting them. I was also interested in the power structure of the church and the power certain individuals have over others, reflecting on my childhood sexual abuse experiences.
In theory, people can only have power over others because at one point in time, the victims allowed the perpetrators to have power over them. In my case, as a helpless, vulnerable child, I was told that I would be killed if I told anyone about the sexual abuse. The abuse would not have been possible without the help of my grandmother, who ‘disappeared’ for an hour every day while it happened and while my grandparents where in charge of watching me.
I project the Foucault text, overlaying my voice during a scene with train tracks. Recently, I only travel by train when in Germany. Train travel allows contemplation about Germany and its landscape. I associate trains and train tracks with the Holocaust, which represents the darkest element of Germany’s history. Walking on train tracks, for me, is a means of meditation about how possibly to come to terms with addressing the German past.
I have also included elements of my short film, ‘Grenzueberschreitung’. This video is about what can happen when personal boundaries were not respected in childhood. I utilized my own writing combined with texts by Freud about that subject. I filmed the visuals at the former East/West border in Berlin between the former GDR and BDR, at the remnants of the Berlin Wall.
Immer, wenn Eltern die Intigritaet des Kindes beschaedigen,
dann haben sie die Grenzen des Kindes ueberschritten.
Wenn das Kind satt ist und zum Aufessen genoetigt wird,
ist das eine Grenzueberschreitung. Wer oft erlebt hat,
dass die eigenen Grenzen ueberschritten wurden, dem
faellt es oft schwer die eigenen Grenzen wahrzunehmen.
Wann habe ich genug davon?
Wann tritt mir jemand zu nahe?
Wann stellt mir jemand zu direkte Fragen?
Always, when parents hurt the integrity
of a child, they have overstepped the
boundaries of a child’s welfare. A child
that often ex-periences that someone
oversteps its boundaries has a hard time
identifying its boundaries in later life.
When is it enough?
When is someone offending and
hurting me? When is someone asking
questions that are too direct?
I projected the voice of Holocaust survivor, Dr. Peter Gary (who I interviewed in Victoria, Canada in 2016) onto right wing populists’ and extremists’ marches occurring weekly in Dresden, demonstrations against the acceptance of war refugees from Syria. I used my own voice reading poems by Holocaust Survivor Primo Levi and projected those sounds onto images of burning refugee homes in Germany today.
The film includes images of high ranking Nazis that I am showing together with my grandfather and later, together with original sounds of the bombardments of Berlin in 1945, with a speaker, on the radio, the Deutschlandfunk. The speaker announcing the bombardment proclaimed that there is a battalion of war planes over Hannover at that moment and that the bombardment of Berlin would happen shortly. The voice said he would come back later but all one hears are the sounds of sirens. Then, the sound of the bombardment is heard.
Without the actions of the Nazis and their politics of aggression, the war, the death of 65 million people as well as the destruction of Europe and many places outside of Europe would not have happened.
History, my own childhood experiences and Germany’s history, that one is trying to forget, trying to erase from our memory. I am tearing pages from a history book about the Third Reich, a time in Germany’s history that one would like to have never existed. Germans would have liked to erase this part of our history and to put a leaden blanket onto our past. Yet, it is important to face and to discuss this past, to discuss how it was possible for the Nazis to come to power, to prevent a scenario like this from ever happening again.
In the film, I have interwoven my short film ‘Gott ist tot’. The title refers to Nietzsche’s ‘Zarathustra’ and ‘Die froehliche Wissenschaft’ texts. I read and recorded my text about why I think there cannot be a god. I discovered this idea in my childhood while I was counting the lines in the carpet during sermons in church on Sunday mornings. My grandfather went there every Sunday to have his sins forgiven. While I was suffering because of his actions, I asked god to help me. There was never an answer for me. Just darkness.
I chose to call the previous short film ‘Gott ist tot’ (God is dead) because in my childhood I thought that God maybe did not exist anymore. Later I became convinced that there has never been a god.
Since the mid 18th century industrialization, society has devised rules that impact how our lives should appear to others and how we should conduct ourselves in public and in private. Why has it become so difficult to question moral, the 'mendaciousness' of society, and structures of power? The church has had a malicious influence on society. It set up rules about what is morally right and wrong, yet forgives pedophiles, if they are upstanding members of the church?
Als ich klein war, hab ich die Rillen im Teppich gezaehlt, in der Kirche.
Ich hab gehofft, die Predigt waere bald vorbei. Ich wusste schon, und
ich war vielleicht 6 oder 7, dass es keinen Gott geben kann. Kann es
gerecht sein, jemanden, der andere verletzt die Suenden zu vergeben?
Kann es gerecht sein, dass einem als Kind so viel boeses angetan wird?
Wo bist du Gott fuer mich? Bitte mach, dass ich nicht mehr im Bett des
Grossvaters liegen muss, dass ich mich anfassen lassen muss, dass ich
seinen alten Penis anfassen und in den Mund nehmen muss. Wo bist
du Gott fuer mich? Ich hab gebetet und um Hilfe gebeten aber er hat
mich nicht gehoert. Es kann keinen Gott geben. Ich weiss es ganz genau.
Wenn es einen Gott gaebe, wuerde er nicht zulassen, dass Kinder leiden
und sterben. Wohin treibt die Menschheit, die sich erklaeren moechte,
dass Gott das fuer uns tut. Wie will e runs erloesen. Sieht niemand,
dass wir auf den Abgrund hintreiben. Will niemand aufstehen und
es anhalten. Wir, wir sind die alleinig Verantwortlichen fuer unser Tun.
When I was little, I counted the lines in the carpet, in church.
I was hoping the sermon would come to an end soon.
I knew already, and I was maybe 6 or 7, that there cannot be a god.
Can it be just that someone who hurts others, gets his sins forgiven?
Can it be just that a child must endure such horrible things?
Where are you god for me? Please change my life so that I do
not have to be in the bed of the grandfather anymore, that I
must be touched by him, that I must hold his penis and put
it into my mouth. Where are you god for me? I have prayed
and asked for help, but he did not hear me. There cannot be
a god, I know that with certainty. If there was a god, he would
not allow, that children suffer and die. Where is mankind drifting?
Who can explain that god is doing all that suffering for us? How
does he want to redeem us? Does no one see that we are drifting
towards the precipice? Does no one want to stand up and stop
all this insanity? We, we are the only ones who are responsible
for our actions and all insanity.
While I am reading this text, I show images of that church carpet. Also, I include images of my painting with my hands and am showing a cross with several thousand nails that I built.
At the end of my video, I leave Berlin. My departure is a way for me to dissolve my problems from the past and to cope with my memories. I leave because I must go to find space for myself to breathe and to feel safe. The ending of the film shows images of leaving Berlin and going to a different place. In the film, I always travel from east to west, eventually leaving the city by plane in that direction. This imagery is my metaphor for how I deal with all of this, which is to go away.
Many, many good memories also connect me to Germany. I will not list them here. The memories of walks on Sundays under the grey autumn sky, the beautiful landscapes in the country side, longing for my sister and wonderful dear friends, create a nostalgia and heaviness in my heart. Leaving for me is resolving my heaviness from the past, but leaving is also very sad every time. I like Edmond Haraucourt’s words about leaving, Partir c’est mourir un peu. ‘To leave is to die a little bit’.
Leaving is to die for what one loves. One leaves behind a little of oneself at any hour – any place.
PS. I followed Helen’s and Jay’s advice to work with someone who has some experience with editing since my editing style is a bit rough or raw. So, I pre-edited the film and asked Joshua Jones, a first-year film student I met at Plymouth last year, when I was invited to the Future Imperfect conference with my film ‘Black Milk of Daybreak’, to help me with the split screens.
In my second MFA year I started my research with Michel Foucault (‘Wahnsinn und Gesellschaft’, ‘History of Sexuality’, ‘Discipline and Punish’) and his thoughts and different concepts of possible structures of power. My research lead me to the discussion of memory work and I read Frigga Haug’s books ‘Female Sexualisation’ and ‘Erinnerungsarbeit’ (Memory Work) and Simone Weils ‘Ueber die Ursachen von Freiheit und gesellschaftlicher Unterdrueckung’ (‘Reflexions sur les causes de la liberte et de l’oppression sociale’).
I wanted to see my video and my painting work together as a tool of investigation into my memory work. The experiences of my past shaped and formed me as the being I am today, the experience that can be seen as a lived practise in the memory my self-constructed identity.
Erinnerungen, tragen uns durchs Leben,
durch diese Erinnerungen und Erfahrungen,
die wir sammeln auf dem Weg, werden wir
als Menschen geformt. Nie werde ich in der
Lage sein, die Erlebnisse meiner Kindheit
von mir abzustreifen, ich glaube, dass sie
mein ganzes Leben gepraegt haben. Meine
Unsicherheit, mein Minderwertigkeitsgefuehl,
mein Schuld- und Schamgefuehl, alles lag
unter der Oberflaeche, bis ich endlich, erst
vor wenigen Jahren, in der Lage war, diese
Erfahrung in eine Erkenntnis umzuwandeln,
dass ich meine Art zu sein als eine Tatsache,
als ein Geschenk annehme.
Our memories carry us through our lives,
those memories and our experiences that
we encounter on the way, form us as beings.
Never will I be able to shed the experiences
in my childhood, I believe they have formed
and shaped my whole life. My insecurity, my
self-consciousness, my feeling of guilt and shame,
all those lay under the surface until I was finally able,
only several years ago to transform them into a
finding or the perception that I accept my way
of being as a given, as a gift
What I have gained in creating this work is a degree of self-confidence. The creating and research into transgression of boundaries, is an exploration of new territory. As Frigga Haug suggested, once we make public the events of our lives, “wriggling free of the constraints of purely private and individual experiences, from a state of modest insignificance we enter a space in which we can take ourselves seriously.” This work is not so much about telling a story, and how others receive the story, it is more about the process of me collecting the memories and making them public. Haug described the experience of publishing memory work: “Hauling ourselves out of the water taught us nothing about flying, but a lot about gravity”.
The process of experimenting with how I can possibly work through my memories and come to terms with my past is the vital part of this work, which I must say helped me heal already. I was always scared to talk about what happened to me, but now that I am making it public, I feel liberated and more confident.
One of my aims for using my body in this research and in my video was to identify the ways I live in my body. I want to start and define my relation to other human beings and the world.
Invitation to exhibit my work in the show ‘History and Personal Memory’ in Victoria in February 2018 pushed me to use my memory and my own experience as a basis of knowledge combined with a collective memory of the German past.
I have created two more paintings with text for the ‘Omnipresence of Power’ series.
As with the first painting out of this series (here below is an image of the group exhibition opening at the Front Gallery in Edmonton), I have been writing my ‘Gott ist tot’ text on these three canvases with pastel crayons and oil sticks. Then, I have overlaid a text by Michel Foucault with stencils onto these words. The stencil text can hardly be seen, only when one stands right in front of the piece.
Please see explanation to both the ‘Gott ist tot’ text as well as the Foucault text above in the writing about the video. With this new work, I wanted to bring my video and painting work together. I use the same elements of research in both the video and the paintings and I also show the paintings and the actual application of paint in the film.
I am currently working on this painting. I have discussed both with Andrew and Jean Marie that I would like to bring several of the big canvases to Berlin and exhibit them there. This painting is 8 foot by 11.5 foot big