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Facing Gaia: Justin Brice Guariglia’s landscape photography in an ecological perspective

peter seeland
  In 2015, artist Justin Brice Guariglia participated in NASA's Operation Ice Bridge, flying over Greenland and photographing the Galloping Glacier near Jacobshavn. This glacier is among the fastest melting in the world, and few places illustrate the effects of climate change as starkly.[1] Guariglia observed the melting ice and heard the cracks splitting the archipelago. Later, he spent months working with gesso, acrylic and plastics on these photographs, creating tactile surface textures like Jacobshavn I (Fig. 1, 2).[2]

Fig. 1: Justin Brice Guariglia: JACOBSHAVN I, 2015/2016, Acryl, Polystyrene Panel, 325.12 x 243.84 x 4.44 cm, Private Collection. (reproduced with artist’s permission)

  A year later and about 800 kilometres northwest of Jacobshavn, French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour flew over Baffin Island to Canada, where he spoke on perceptions of nature in the era of climate change. From the airplane, he looked down on Earth. Baffin Island, the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, has been covered with ice for millennia. Yet, instead of a frozen white desert, Latour saw barren tundra for hours. In recent decades, the island's ice sheets have retreated by more than half due to global warming, and during the 2016 heatwave the island was almost ice-free.[3] Latour was deeply affected by the sight of the cracked, sparse ice. Bitterly, he compared the ravaged landscape to the tortured face and surface of Munch's The Scream. He said, ‘It was as though the ice was sending me a message’.[4] Greenland and the Arctic are considered ‘ground-zero zones’[5] of climate change, and it's telling that both Guariglia and Latour are so moved by these landscapes. The artificial transformation of nature becomes a visual experience for both, and it seems to be a new experience and a new relation to nature that is emerging through this direct confrontation. Latour describes the experience as an emotional dialogue, and Guariglia processes it through art. So, to what extent is Jacobshavn I a new image of nature and of a changing relationship between us and nature? How can comparing Latour’s theories and Guariglia’s art help us think through the climate crisis? This essay compares Guariglia’s artistic treatment of the Anthropocene with Latour’s theoretical approach, contextualising both in the broader discourse on the Anthropocene. This comparison demonstrates how art can reflect the relationship between humans and nature. Additionally, it illustrates how art can foster the creation of new, less destructive representations of nature, which are attuned to the challenges of the Anthropocene. Art could thus shift consciousness, providing a novel approach to the challenges of the Anthropocene.

Art and ecology

Researching contemporary art from an ecological perspective involves integrating environmental crises, their impacts on our conceptions of ourselves as humans, how we understand nature, and how we deal with them. It also entails investigating the relationship between humans and nature. These discussions are often labelled with the term Anthropocene, omnipresent in popular and academic discourses. Sometimes appearing in unreliable articles, sometimes taken as a given in serious discussions, or heavily criticised by researchers, the term is plagued by confusion.[6] The literature counts many essays on the Anthropocene and its impact on humans, culture and society, often under the umbrella of ecocriticism in philosophy, sociology, history and literary criticism, including aesthetics and art.[7] Bruno Latour, a luminary in the Anthropocene discourse, has engaged intensely with ecology, art and the humanities.[8] As Phillipe Pignarre notes, ‘Latour is really the thinker of the Anthropocene’.[9]

Jacobshavn I and the Anthropocene discourse

Jacobshavn I is intertwined with aspects of Latour's thought and the Anthropocene discourse in general. Knowing that Guariglia engages deeply with the discourse of Anthropocene, several pivotal aspects of the discourse and how viewers perceive Jacobshavn I.


The object depicted in the work remains utterly vague. Various visual elements intensify the disorientation, including the perspective, the size and the materiality of the representation. The image implies no particular vantage point, leaving the viewer's position unclear and compelling them back into their own subjective standpoint. Such disorientation characterises the Anthropocene. Bruno Latour diagnoses a new climate regime in the Anthropocene, as nature becomes a decisive actor.[10] A nature previously passive and objectified suddenly becomes an active, potent actor. This leaves humans in aporia, completely alienated from such nature. Further, nature as the setting of human existence and experience threatens to dissolve. The destructive element of changing the natural environment induces ontological upheaval of the world's structure, according to Latour.[11] Nature is no longer a constant. Humans have no fixed point to position themselves in the world's structure.[12] Jacobshavn I mirrors this disorientation. The lack of Euclidean perspective reflects the subject's aporia in understanding nature through the Anthropocene.[13]  

Fig. 2: Detail: Justin Brice Guariglia: JACOBSHAVN I, 2015/2016, Acryl, Polystyrene Panel, 325,12 x 4,44 cm, Private Collection. (reproduced with artist’s permission)


The representation is also unreadable, which recalls and surpasses disorientation. Every visual detail eludes reference; it remains entirely unclear what material is depicted where. The representation resists any cultural and subjective assimilation by the viewer, defying intuitive understanding. Unreadability is also present in the Anthropocene discourse. The Anthropocene is characterised by a ‘clash of scales’.[14] Scales that elude human perception are juxtaposed. The spatial scales of global crises, the temporality of millennia into the future and past and the quantitative dimensions of pollutants and destruction are hardly imaginable, let alone perceptible. The point of no return, when Earth's equilibrium catastrophically tips, exceeds human imagination. Thus, unreadability is inherent to the Anthropocene.[15] Guariglia evokes unreadability through form. The monumental white in Jacobshavn I also evokes unreadability by swallowing details and dazzling the viewer. The dominance of white recalls the ubiquity and therefore the ungraspable nature of the Anthropocene.[16] Latour also notes that previous concepts of nature and Earth deviate from reality, as symbolised by globes and maps.[17] Latour sees this deviation as a hallmark of modernity and defines it as the state in which every connection between our imagination of the world and its reality independent of us is severed. In this state, humans have lost the ability to perceive true nature.[18] It has become unfathomable, just like Jacobshavn I.


Paradoxically, the disorientation and unreadability connect the viewer to the work. The unfinished cognitive and perceptual processes demand resolution. The work appears simultaneously near and distant, familiar and strange. This dis:connectivity is also present in the Anthropocene discourse. Recognising the catastrophic consequences of dichotomising nature in the 20th century, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis developed the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s.[19] This introduces a holistic understanding of nature, radically departing from modern dualism.[20] With Gaia, the Greek deity and personification of Earth, they symbolically refer to nature as a network of all organisms, including humans and animals in addition to rivers, mountains, and the micro- and macrocosmos. Nature is therefore a planetary collaborative-processual network that integrates humans as one part among others. Humans are not outside nature but an integral part of it. We are deeply connected and existentially bound to the network, and the network’s existence depends on our prudent interaction with the environment.[21] Hence, a posthumanist image of humanity and nature emerges. Nature is no longer the other, the observed and the foreign; humans are part of it. The separation of subject and object collapses, forming the conceptual basis of the Anthropocene.[22] Bruno Latour, building on the Gaia hypothesis, refers to this understanding of nature as the Terrestrial. He implies reciprocity between humans and the world, positioning humans as actors among many equivalent actors in the network. Humans are not the counterpart of the world but immanent within it. The goal of Latour's anthropology of modernity is to dissolve the separation of humans from nature, revealing it as an ideological construction.[23] Interconnectedness is thus an essential component of both the Anthropocene discourse and Guariglia's work. The complex and seemingly insoluble entanglement of viewer and artwork reflects the dis:connective human-nature relationship advocated by Latour.


Disorienting, unreadable, disconnected and yet connected, Jacobshavn I evokes discomfort and uncanniness. It is not the familiar and comfortable image of nature emphasising beauty; it is uncanny and strange. As Beatrice Galilee, curator at the Metropolitan Museum, describes Guariglia’s works, they are ‘beautiful but terrifying’.[24] This uncanniness is also present in the Anthropocene discourse. Thomas Friedman refers to this relationship with an incomprehensible world we are destroying ‘global weirding’.[25] The writer Amitav Ghosh says nature now reciprocates the human gaze, becoming alive in an uncanny yet familiar way.[26] Thus, in the Anthropocene, humans share their consciousness uncannily with other beings, perhaps even with the planet itself. Humans are inseparably connected to nature, so we can no longer retreat to our subjectivity or reduce nature to objectivity. Horn, invoking Kant, calls this the ‘Sublime in the Anthropocene’.[27] It is a disturbing intimacy with a world that can no longer be grasped solely as the human lifeworld.[28] Moreover, the sheer complexity and the real possibility of global environmental collapse are in themselves frightening and uncanny. Bruno Latour also perceives the uncanny in the Anthropocene, as evidenced in his account of flying over Baffin Island. He writes, ‘In the age of the Anthropocene, all the dreams of die-hard environmentalists, of experiencing how humans, by now paying more attention to nature, would be healed of their political disputes, have burst. We are all irrevocably entering a simultaneously post-natural, post-human, and post-epistemological epoch!’.[29]

Materiality and spatiality

Guariglia also realises a concrete understanding of spatiality. Initially, he depicts space downward from the sky to the Earth's surface, before creating a second, new spatiality. Printing with heavy acrylic paint and meticulous work with gesso, acrylic and polystyrene, a unique material spatiality emerges on the surface. Thus, Guariglia first appropriates landscape photographically and then bases a new space on it. The materials he uses are highly anthropogenic. Plastic and acrylic hardly decompose; they are products of the Anthropocene. The work embodies a material dialectic, where industrial materials depict natural glaciers. Guariglia assumes the role of natural forces with his art, creating and shaping landscapes. This act recalls humanity's role in the Anthropocene.[30] Latour also considers traditional concepts of nature as constructs and instead proposes a new concept that, while just as constructed, more accurately represents the character of nature: the critical zone. Like Guariglia, he introduces a new planetary spatiality. Latour defines the critical zone as the space from the lower atmosphere to the ground with its vegetation.[31] The globe model, most popularly captured in the Blue Marble (Fig. 3), is thus the counter-model to the critical zone. Nature as a globe is merely an insufficient dataset that that lacks an experiential perspective.[32] It is a mere ‘geometrization of the immeasurable’.[33] In contrast, the critical zone is where life occurs, which Latour describes as ‘everything we care for, everything we have encountered’.[34] The critical zone frees the imagination from the Blue-Marble conception of nature and returns the actual human lifeworld back to experiential surfaces. It is a new understanding of the planet as ‘skin of the living earth’,[35] recalling Guariglia’s model of nature. While the critical zone is heterogeneous and dynamic, it does not totalise nature. Similarly, the cracks and surfaces of Jacobshavn I are heterogeneous, dynamic and resist totalisation. Moreover, the critical zone, given environmental destruction, is uncanny and disturbing.[36]  

Fig. 3: Blue Marble (AS17-148-22727), 1972, recorded by Apollo 17 (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Marble#/media/Datei:The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17.jpg)

Photography also plays a crucial role. Guariglia's starting point, NASA’s aerial photograph of a landscape, epitomises the scientific-objectifying gaze on nature. This is transformed by reworking the surface with plastic, acrylic and gesso into a new space and an indefinitely durable object. Simultaneously, the work induces the opposite effect of a scientific photograph: it disorients, defies legibility, is uncanny. Guariglia reveals the fallacy and consequences of attempting to subsume nature under a scientific, binary perspective, while simultaneously proposing a counter-design. Guariglia demonstrates that nature in the Anthropocene has become unreadable, and the unreadability prompts reflection on what is seen. He gazes on the critical zone, confronting the viewer with the living skin of Gaia. Moreover, landscape emerges, according to W.J.T. Mitchell, as an identity-forming, dynamic process.[37] A semiotic and hermeneutic reading reveals it to be a construct, a dialectic between the viewer and nature.


Guariglia's work reconceives nature and humanity. Initially, it conveys the status quo in the Anthropocene. It reflects the state of nature and its impact on our understanding of nature and humanity. Thus, the work rejects dichotomous understandings of nature and conveys a counter-image: interconnected, fragile yet sublime. The work visualises Gaia in the sense of the critical zone, evoking new experiences and awareness. For Bruno Latour, art is a crucial mediator of his ideas. According to Latour, the dogma of modernity has deprived us of the concepts necessary to transcend old thought patterns and to experience nature as a critical zone. Thus, art and science make the critical zone more tangible in the Anthropocene. Both pursuits complement each other: while the arts aid comprehension, science predicts and elucidates. Beyond Latour, art plays a pivotal role in the Anthropocene discourse. If the crisis-driven transformation of the environment in the Anthropocene is rooted our understanding of and relationship to nature, as conveyed through art, then our worldview can only shift through new representations of nature. Art alone cannot avert climate catastrophes, but it can critically reflect on the Anthropocene. Art can disrupt structures and imagine alternatives through aesthetics. Treating the Anthropocene artistically does not mean resolving aporias but making them visible. Curator Tim Wride describes Guariglia’s works as follows: ‘The work is not didactic. […] The statement is completely enmeshed in the materiality of it. The work creates opportunities for dialogue. Scientists want to explain, while artists want to ask questions’.[38] Art has the potential to mediate a new understanding and relation between human and nature, maybe one more holistic and connected.   [1]The retreat of the ice is impressively illustrated in this NASA graphic: 'Ice Loss from Jakobshavn Glacier', NASA, 2015, accessed 25 February, 2024, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/86436/ice-loss-from-jakobshavn-glacier. [2] Alina Cohen, 'Justin Brice Guariglia’s Powerful Photos of Melting Glaciers: In the studio with the first artist to join a NASA mission', Galerie Magazine, 2017, https://galeriemagazine.com/justin-brice-guariglia-creates-powerful-photographs-of-melting-glaciers/. Guariglia's website shows works from the same series and works depicting agricultural areas and mining. He always uses a similar technique and pictorial formula: 'Justin Brice - Artwork', accessed 25 February 2024, 2024, https://www.justinbrice.com/artwork. [3] Rebecca Anderson et al., 'A millennial perspective on Arctic warming from 14C in quartz and plants emerging from beneath ice caps', Geophysical Research Letters 35, no. 1 (2008), https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL032057. [4] Ava Kofman, 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science', New York Times (New York) 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/magazine/bruno-latour-post-truth-philosopher-science.html. Accessed 28.10.2024. [5] "USC Fisher Museum of Art: Earth Works: Mapping the Anthropocene ", USC Fisher Museum of Art, URL: Earth Works: Mapping the Anthropocene – USC Fisher Museum of Art, last access 22.05.2024. [6] The concept of the Anthropocene should be used advisedly. Despite its many definitions and the attendant vagueness, the term is strategically useful. I understand Anthropocene to refer to the conceptual synthesis of all the symptoms of global, crisis-ridden and man-made environmental transformations. Humans are emerging as a new global geological force that is profound shaping the planet, and these transformations represent a break with the environmental and living conditions of the last 12,000 years. Symptoms are not only scientifically measurable, social and political changes, but also the effects on our understanding of ourselves and nature. The Anthropocene is not meant as a concrete scientific geological-stratigraphic epoch – a controversial claim beyond the scope of this essay. For more on the term and its history, see Eva Horn and Hannes Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung (Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 2019), 8-25. [7] Félix Guatarri combined aesthetics and ecology long before the term Anthropocene emerged. See Félix Guattari, Les trois écologies (Paris: Editions Galilée, 1985). For an overview of the discourse on aesthetics and the Anthropocene, see: Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 120-43. [8] Ludolf Kuchenbuch, 'Bruno Latours Anthropozän und die Historie: Feststellungen, Anknüpfungen, Fragen', Historische Anthropologie 26, no. 3 (2018): 381, https://doi.org/10.7788/hian.2018.26.3.379. [9] Kofman, 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher'. [10] Bruno Latour, Anthropocene Lecture: Bruno Latour (Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2018). https://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/video/anthropocene-lecture-bruno-latour. [11] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 124-25. [12] Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 101. [13] Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, 'Disconnected', in Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, ed. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020), 75. [14] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 128. [15] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 128-31; Timothy Clark, Ecocriticism on the Edge. The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept (London: Taylor & Francis, 2015), 7. [16] Moritz Baßler and Heinz Krügh, Gegenwartsästhetik (Constance: Wallstein, 2021), 5. [17] Latour deconstructs the idea of the globe in detail. See chapters one and two of Bruno Latour, Kampf um Gaia. Acht Vorträge über das neue Klimaregime (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2020). [18] Latour and Weibel, 'Disconnected', 75. [19] The term first appeared in James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, 'Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: the gaia hypothesis', Tellus 26, no. 1-2 (1973). [20] Modernity and the present are characterised by dichotomous natural-aesthetic ideas. These are largely rooted in ancient philosophy, from which the separation of spiritual-inner subject and material-outer object is derived. These tendencies resonate with modern subject-object dualism. On the one hand, the subject interacts with nature. The subject, therefore, intends, reflects and acts largely according to reason. At the same time, the subject is affective and can act irrationally. As an active entity, it confronts material, object-like nature and defines it as the passive outside itself. Nature is thus understood as intentionless, unconscious, continuous, calculable and technically manipulable. This dualism is general in application and Western in origin. Eva Horn, 'Challenges for an Aesthetics of the Anthropocene', in The Anthropocentric Turn: The Interplay between Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Responses to a New Age, ed. Gabriele Dürbeck and Philip Hüpkes (New York: Routledge, 2020). [21] Latour and Weibel, 'Gaia', 166. Peggy Karpouzou and Nikoleta Zampaki, 'Introduction: Towards a Symbiosis of Posthumanism and Environmental Humanities or Paving Narratives for the Symbiocene', in Symbiotic Posthumanist Ecologies in Western Literature, Philosophy and Art: Towards Theory and Practice, ed. Peggy Karpouzou and Nikoleta Zampaki (Berlin: Peter Lang, 2023). [22] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 28. [23] Kuchenbuch, 'Bruno Latours Anthropozän', 380. [24] Ted Loos, 'A Man on an Eco-Mission in Mixed Media', New York Times (New York), 10 October 2017. [25] Thomas Friedman, 'Global Weirding Is Here', New York Times (New York), 17 February 2010. [26] Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 91. [27] Horn and Bergthaller, Anthropozän. Zur Einführung, 131. [28] ibid.,129-132. [29] Latour, Kampf um Gaia, 248. Author’s translation. [30] Baßler and Krügh, Gegenwartsästhetik, 214. [31] Kofman, 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher'. [32] Latour and Weibel, 'Seven Objections against Landing on Earth', 14. [33] Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären II: Globen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999), 47. Author's translation. [34] Kofman, 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher'. [35] Latour and Weibel, 'Disconnected', 13. [36] Bruno Latour, Kampf um Gaia. Acht Vorträge über das Neue Klimaregime (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2020), 334. [37] W.J.T. Mitchell, 'Introduction', in Landscape and Power, ed. W.J.T. Mitchell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 1-5. [38] Loos, 'A Man on an Eco-Mission'.
Anderson, Rebecca, Gifford Miller, Jason Briner, Nathaniel Lifton and Stephen DeVogel. 'A millennial perspective on Arctic warming from 14C in quartz and plants emerging from beneath ice caps'. Geophysical Research Letters 35, no. 1 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL032057. Baßler, Moritz and Heinz Krügh. Gegenwartsästhetik. Constance: Wallstein, 2021. 'Justin Brice - Artwork'. accessed 25 February 2024, 2024, https://www.justinbrice.com/artwork. Clark, Timothy. Ecocriticism on the Edge. The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept. London: Taylor & Francis, 2015. Cohen, Alina. 'Justin Brice Guariglia’s Powerful Photos of Melting Glaciers: In the studio with the first artist to join a NASA mission'. Galerie Magazine, 2017. https://galeriemagazine.com/justin-brice-guariglia-creates-powerful-photographs-of-melting-glaciers/. Friedman, Thomas. 'Global Weirding Is Here'. New York Times (New York), 17 February 2010. Ghosh, Amitav. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Guattari, Félix. Les trois écologies Paris: Editions Galilée, 1985. Horn, Eva. 'Challenges for an Aesthetics of the Anthropocene'. In The Anthropocentric Turn: The Interplay between Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Responses to a New Age, edited by Gabriele Dürbeck and Philip Hüpkes,  New York: Routledge, 2020. Horn, Eva and Hannes Bergthaller. Anthropozän. Zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius Verlag, 2019. Karpouzou, Peggy and Nikoleta Zampaki. 'Introduction: Towards a Symbiosis of Posthumanism and Environmental Humanities or Paving Narratives for the Symbiocene'. In Symbiotic Posthumanist Ecologies in Western Literature, Philosophy and Art: Towards Theory and Practice, edited by Peggy Karpouzou and Nikoleta Zampaki,  Berlin: Peter Lang, 2023. Kofman, Ava. 'Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science'. New York Times (New York), 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/magazine/bruno-latour-post-truth-philosopher-science.html. Kuchenbuch, Ludolf. 'Bruno Latours Anthropozän und die Historie: Feststellungen, Anknüpfungen, Fragen'. Historische Anthropologie 26, no. 3 (2018): 379-401. https://doi.org/10.7788/hian.2018.26.3.379. Latour, Bruno. Anthropocene Lecture: Bruno Latour. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2018. ———. Kampf um Gaia. Acht Vorträge über das neue Klimaregime. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2020. Latour, Bruno and Peter Weibel. 'Disconnected'. In Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel,  Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020. ———. 'Gaia'. In Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel,  Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020. ———. 'Seven Objections against Landing on Earth'. In Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel,  Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020. Loos, Ted. 'A Man on an Eco-Mission in Mixed Media'. New York Times (New York), 10 October 2017. Lovelock, James and Lynn Margulis. 'Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: the gaia hypothesis'. Tellus 26, no. 1-2 (1973): 2-10. Mitchell, W.J.T. 'Introduction'. In Landscape and Power, edited by W.J.T. Mitchell,  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. 'Ice Loss from Jakobshavn Glacier'. NASA, 2015, accessed 25 February, 2024, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/86436/ice-loss-from-jakobshavn-glacier. Sloterdijk, Peter. Sphären II: Globen. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999.
citation information:
Seeland, Peter, 'Facing Gaia: Justin Brice Guariglia's landscape photography in an ecological perspective', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/06/26/facing-gaia-justin-brice-guariglias-landscape-photography-in-an-ecological-perspective/.
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The people who make global dis:connect happen – part II

This post is a continuation of the last, where we began introducing the research assistants who greatly lighten the load of running this place, leaving us with more time and joy for which we are immeasurably grateful.


What do you research, and what attracts you to the topic? My academic interests are broad, ranging from history, German and English to pedagogy, but I enjoy working on ancient history the most. My research focuses on the history of the everyday and social history of the Roman Empire in late antiquity. So far, I have worked on the communicative power of clothing, fashion and outward appearance in Roman life and on the spread of Christianity through Sicily in late antiquity. I really enjoy this subfield, as I get to explore the details that formed ancient people’s identity and to some extent bridge the gap to people who seem so far away from today’s reality.   What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most? Apart from assisting our fellows and team members, I savor working in gd:c’s  dissemination efforts as a content creator and PR advisor for social media. My biggest passion and best capability is loving things of any kind deeply and, most importantly, sharing the things I love deeply with other people. At gd:c I get to share the very essence of our institute via words, photographs and videos, which I cherish.   What’s your credo and why? Per aspera ad astra. An ancient saying my beloved and very inspiring Latin teacher taught me. It reminds me what I am capable of and where I can go — ad astra. At the same time, it expresses what you have to go through to get to the stars — per aspera. Work hard and truly believe in your yourself to overcome any limit. It might be cheesy, but it has proven to be true.    


What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most? At global dis:connect, my responsibilities primarily revolve around supporting the planning and execution of events, which involves tasks like coordinating logistics, managing communications and ensuring everything runs smoothly on the day of the event. What I find most enjoyable is the opportunity to work closely with a team, brainstorming ideas, problem-solving together and ultimately seeing our efforts come to life in successful events.   Would you like to have photographic memory and why? Having a photographic memory would indeed be advantageous, especially for tasks like rapidly absorbing and synthesising a lot of literature, which would be incredibly useful for my upcoming bachelor's thesis. Additionally, having instant-recall abilities would make me the ultimate walking encyclopaedia ready to amaze everyone with facts at any given moment!   Who is your favourite character from a novel or film and why? Treebeard from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. As one of the Ents, guardians of the forests, Treebeard personifies nature's voice and symbolises resistance against the destructive forces of human evil. While he seems too slow and deliberate in the beginning to achieve anything, he later transforms into a leader determined to save Middle Earth. I also love his deep understanding of the world and its history. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1njDtvLIoA


What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most? At global dis:connect, my primary duty is to design posters and flyers for our workshops. Additionally, I plan and assist with the preparation of these events. What I find most enjoyable is the opportunity to meet fascinating new people during these occasions as well as the creative freedom I have when designing.   What do you define as home and why? My home isn't a physical location, but a place where my friends and family are. It's a place where I feel at ease, can enjoy wonderful experiences and where time seems to fly by.   What’s your credo and why? My credo in life is that everything will unfold as it's supposed to. There's no need to overthink things because life has a plan for each of us, regardless of whether we worry or not.      


What aspects of the research at global dis:connect pique your curiosity and how does it overlap with your research? While globalisation in general is a topic I am extremely interested in, I am especially passionate about migration processes and their impact. Colonisation, the migration connected to it and their effects on society are core topics at global dis:connect, and the impact in particular on past and contemporary literature is a topic I am really interested in.   What do you define as home and why? To me, home is less a specific place than a feeling thaf is mostly connected to people I feel really comfortable with. Whether it‘s going out and having a couple of drinks, travelling to new countries or just hanging out at home talking about live and joking around, my home is wherever my favourite humans are.   Who is your favourite character from a novel or film and why? My favourite fictional character would have to be Chandler Bing from the TV show Friends, maybe just because no other person has ever made laugh as hard and feel incredibly connected to them at the same time. His self-deprecating humour and his use of sarcastic comments at every possible opportunity have taught me that it‘s incredibly important not to take life too seriously.   Continue Reading

The people who make global dis:connect happen

[Editor's note: Our Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect began 3 years ago, and we've come a long way since then. Like the bedrock on which great buildings rest or the air that keeps a jumbo jet in flight, one of the principal forces behind our success is invisible: the people who perform the countless tasks required to keep a major international research institution afloat. Perhaps least visible are the research assistants who run the events, fetch the literature, support the research and keep the experienced researchers on their toes. Indeed, their invisibility is a sign of how well they do their job. So in a few coming posts, we'll be profiling some of the people behind our public-facing work, and we're starting with the invaluable research assistants — nine promising young scholars with bright futures and big ideas. We provided them with a list of questions and asked them to each answer three to give you a better idea of who we are and how we do what we do.)


What aspects of the research at global dis:connect pique your curiosity and how does it overlap with your research?

I am interested in exploring different historical perceptions of globality. Therefore, it is especially inspiring to see how the research projects conducted at gd:c interpret the ‘gap’ between dis-connection and connectivity differently, each providing a deeper understanding of how processes of interaction work, not only on a global scale.

  What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most? As a student assistant, you get exposed to a variety of tasks. I particularly enjoy assisting with research and conferences, which are a great opportunity to welcome people from around the world to gd:c.   What do you define as home and why? Anywhere with enough books (they don’t even have to be great ones), coffee and good company to spend the day. I have always been fascinated by stories of all kinds.   Bonus question: what do you research, and what attracts you to the topic? I’ve covered various periods, spaces and topics during my studies at LMU. I am currently researching scientific endeavours in the Arctic and Antarctic during the 19th century as part of my master's degree. What is fascinating about the polar regions is that while being imagined as most remote and uninhabitable spaces, they are at the same time (literally) central to the earth and our modern understanding of it as a global system, rendering them highly dis:connective.


What do you research, and what attracts you to the topic? I am researching the connection between art and outer space. The manifold intentions, types of communication, projects and the very literal dis:connectivity that this topic have to offer are exciting.   Would you like to have photographic memory and why? Absolutely not! It would certainly be beneficial to hold trivia and lovely memories in your mind forever. However, I also imagine that abstract thinking can be neglected as a result and that certain memories can often take an emotional toll on you.   Who is your favourite character from a novel or film and why? The future king of the pirates — Monkey D. Luffy from the anime series One Piece. Some anime are masterful cultural treasures with fantastic stories and rich characters. The series is older than I am but not yet finished, so Luffy has not only accompanied me for a lifetime but has always put a smile on my face with his cheerfulness and steadfastness throughout his journey. https://youtu.be/rvoUeOgsh3I


What tasks do you handle at global dis:connect, and what do you enjoy the most?

Soon after I started working at gd:c, I developed a video trailer with Christian Steinau to convey dis:connectivity in multimedia and set up the gd:c YouTube channel. I now responsible produce our Fellows Close Up series for YouTube support the workshops and events. My favourite part is meeting such a wide variety of people from all over the globe with very different backgrounds and all the new perspectives I gain through getting to know them and the inspiring conversations I have with them.

  What do you define as home and why?

Multiple places can make me feel ‘at home’, meaning cared for, free, safe, peaceful and happy. Home can be every beautiful mountain ridge, lakeside and beach where I can create beautiful memories with someone I love. Home is not a physical place but a mental state. Home is where the people live that are family to me.

  What skill would you like to learn and why? I would like to be able to read minds, even though I definitely don´t want to know most of other people’s thoughts. Still, I´d like to know and understand, what is going on in their minds. Also, as a writer of fiction, I see people in my daily life sometimes, and I think about what their story could be – wouldn’t it be interesting to know if stories I imagine come close to reality?  


What do you research, and what attracts you to the topic? I have a keen interest in global history, particularly in global art history. My research thus far has focused on significant global exhibition platforms such as the documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennale. I find that art serves as a vital medium for dealing with and expressing current, future and past processes of globalisation through imagination. Exploring questions about the effects, constitutions and methodologies of globalisation as well as art’s role in it, intrigues me deeply because it links my personal interests with important contemporary issues.   Who is your favourite character from a novel or film and why? It's Ulysses because he has accompanied me since my childhood. His superpower is not divine strength or invulnerability, but his cunning and smartness, which make him an amiable hero.   What skill would you like to learn and why? It would be wonderful to speak every language in the world. Imagine the ease of understanding different cultures, making friends and feeling at home wherever you go!      


What do you research and what attracts you to the topic? I'm researching theatre theories, and I really like them because they try to theorise something as complex as a theatre situation and performance. Theatre is also such a lively subject, but I love reading about it and thinking about all the possibilities and ideas that are possible with it.   What aspects of the research at global dis:connect pique your curiosity and how does it overlap with your research? Theatre is also a global phenomenon, and theories about theatre, especially outside the European context, are very interesting and sometimes not really well researched. I really enjoyed Nic Leonhardt's and Anna Heller’s Workshop Stages of Performing in Pahlavi Iran (1925-1979), learning so much about Iranian theatre.   Would you like to have a photographic memory and why? No, I don't want to have a photographic memory, because forgetting some things, but also keeping good memories, is a natural part of life. I would also like to enjoy some plays repeatedly. So I'd like to be able to enjoy them each time without knowing exactly what changed from one viewing to the next. Continue Reading

Digital Stages. Sensual co-presence in hybrid performances

gabriele klein
  Cultural globalisation since the 1990s would not have been possible without the transition from analogue to digital communication. Digital, global, real-time communication, made possible by smartphones and social media, has created what cultural scientist Felix Stalder calls a ‘culture of digitality’.[1] In contrast to the more technical concept of digitalisation, digitality is a concept from cultural studies and the social sciences that grasps the interconnections of the analogue and the digital and identifies them as the main characteristics of culture. Digitality thus refers to a cultural phenomenon of the globalised contemporary society, which both ties in with existing habits of media communication — writing letters or telephoning — as well as decisively changing everyday lives in terms of how people communicate with each other and inform themselves. While digitalisation has made global communication possible for almost everyone who has access to digital devices, it is the digitality of culture that has changed the quality of communication and with it the modes of perception and experience worldwide. Everyday activities — whether eating together, sex, sport, care, work, art appreciation — are increasingly taking place in an ‘onlife’, as the Italian philosopher Floridi calls the interweaving of the digital and the analogue.[2] And this ‘onlife’ also characterises the performing arts. Debates in cultural studies and the social sciences tend to take digitalisation to imply a loss of proximity, trust, affection, devotion, etc. in a vein of cultural criticism, or as a euphoric expansion of global communication. I advocate neither cultural pessimism nor naïve euphoria. Rather, I ask how ‘onlife’ has changed the perception of artistic stage performances.

Fig. 1: Gabriele Klein in a still from 'Ferner Körper. Berührung im digitalen Alltag'. Germany, 2022. Video. https://youtu.be/4kh3e6Vi6-s?feature=shared.

The stage is the last bastion of the analogue. Co-presence, aura, event, unrepeatability are the central features theatre scholars use to distinguish theatre from other media. But what happens when either the audience is absent from the location of the performance, or the audience is sitting in the theatre but the performers are not on stage? Is it no longer possible to affect the audience? Is it no longer possible to be touched by a piece? I argue that touch — even in stage performances — is independent of physical presence. This thesis diverges from some positions in theatre studies, but it is not new to media and film studies, having been often proposed. However, even media studies usually fail to answer the following question: what determines whether an audience is touched? I claim that this being touched happens through the possibility and ability of sensual co-presence. By sensual co-presence I mean an apprehension of sensing, feeling and experiencing, which certain media can induce.[3]

Stage performances in hybrid spaces

Stage art has always seen itself as a bulwark against digitality and virtuality. The theatre, unlike the cinema, is seen as a place of co-presence between performers and audience, and the performance as a unique event shared only among those present. But this perspective had already begun to falter by the turn of the 20th century. Since then, the theatre has faced strong competition in the form of cinemas. In 1895, the first film ever was shown in the Wintergarten, a famous variety theatre in Berlin-Mitte, and the history of cinema — and with it the history of a global medium — began. To this day, there remains controversy — intensified by pandemic-induced closures – about the social legitimacy of subsidising theatres as sites of bourgeois representational culture (still or again) in contrast to commercially operated cinemas and what distinguishes theatrical and cinematic experiences. Theatre scholars cite co-presence as one such distinction.[4] In the 2000s, German theatre scholar Erika Fischer-Lichte defended the particular mediality of theatre by emphasising the co-presence of actors and audience members, i.e. their physical presence in one place, as a special characteristic of theatre and deducing from this the uniqueness of the theatrical experience. She understands co-presence as an interaction where actors and spectators assemble in person in a specific place for a certain duration.[5] Fischer-Lichte understands co-presence as a basic condition for the possibility of affective contact with the audience. Since in cinema, television and the internet, audience and actors are not together in one place but scattered globally, according to Fischer-Lichte, they experience no co-presence and no affective connection can take place. Her concept of co-presence has been repeatedly criticised. As media scholars have shown, being touched is just as possible via analogue and digital media as it is in the theatre. One can root for the main character in a TV movie, empathise with the worries and hardships of the protagonist in a novel, cry while listening to recorded music, get goose bumps or be reassured when a film ends happily. There is no need for both the actors and the audience to be present in the same place; physical co-presence is not a prerequisite for being touched. Being touched takes place in the tension between sensing, feeling and experiencing, and it changes according to the mediality of the medium and its sensual perception. One is immersed in a novel or film through empathetic understanding and imagination, while at a dance performance one can feel the movements of the dancers and possibly even smell their sweat in the front rows. The choreographer Pina Bausch, for example, loved stages with water, earth and grass because these natural materials also exude unique scents.[6] So can you understand a digital presentation as a co-presentational theatre performance? The Filipino choreographer and visual artist Eisa Jocson has addressed this question. Jocson took the pandemic as an opportunity to develop the piece ‘Manila Zoo’, which is the name of the actual zoo and botanical garden in Manila. Six performers are connected to the Mousonturm theatre in Frankfurt, Germany by a video chat. The audience is in the theatre. They show the audience the physical and psychological effects of the pandemic via tile images. They make clear that the consequences of the pandemic are distributed unevenly by class, gender, profession and age. At the same time, the piece deals with power and the economy of the gaze: it shows footage of sex work, the exploitation of performers in Asian Disney parks and the display of bodies and desires put into the picture. In doing so, through the medium of the video chat, the performance gets close to the audience’s bodies in a way that would not have been possible in a stage performance.

Fig.  2: da:ns fest. 'World premiere of Manila Zoo 2021'. Singapore: National Gallery Singapore, 2022. Photograph. https://www.nationalgallery.sg/magazine/maria-labo-aswang-female-rage.

The liveness of global stage publics

It is an integral part of media history that media have not only brought about a globalisation of the public sphere, they have also promoted the formation of different, globally distributed media publics and increasingly fragmented the existence of the audience. For example, listening to music on demand is hardly new thanks to reproduction technologies such as shellac and vinyl records, CDs, MP3s and streaming. Analogue media can include live broadcasts, making it possible to enjoy a classical-music concert via radio and to watch a play on television. But today, when stage performances are shown globally, it is via streaming services and cloud media libraries that stream in real time or minimally time-delayed. And unlike broadcasting, for example, where an indefinite number of recipients are connected live via a broadcasting system, users download these products individually and are connected directly to the server as clients. Multimediality is the hallmark of digitality, which means that the respective media refer to each other. To grasp multimediality in the digital, media scholars Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin have introduced the term ‘remediatisation’. They understand this to mean ‘the representation of one medium in another medium’[7] and emphasise reciprocal dependencies of media on each other, insofar as they imitate, outdo or otherwise repeatedly reference each other, both establishing and simultaneously undermining the boundaries of individual media. In the course of this remediation, various audiences emerge who, scattered around the world, can follow a concert, an opera or a theatre and dance performance simultaneously. In addition to the audience present, there are other groups of spectators who attend live (remotely) via various media. From this point of view, a live audience need not be physically present, only ‘remotely present’. Accordingly, the media and art theorist Philip Auslander argued as early as the late 1990s in his book Liveness[8] that presence only acquires the aura of authenticity and genuineness through awareness of the simultaneous presence of other remote audiences. The physically co-present situation is therefore not fundamental; it is not the original form of social interaction that is then transmitted by media. Rather, what is ‘authentic’ in globalised media societies is first produced via media transmissions and then interpreted as genuine and auratic. This disrupts perception and induces uncertainty. Is the situation that one is observing real? And can what is communicated through the media be understood as a pure transmission of this reality? Or is it not rather the case that what is considered real is permeated with media?

Global publics and the disruption of atmospheres

Given the media fragmentation of global publics, it comes as no surprise that attention in the performing arts and media and theatre studies has increasingly shifted to the audience, which has its causes not only in the ‘performative turn’ and performance art, but also in the simultaneous incursion of the digital into stage arts. It is no coincidence that this change of how we perceive audiences comes at a time when digital technologies continue to spread globally. As with performative projects, media users are no longer passive recipients but (inter)active participants. From the outset, they have greater scope to engage, because, unlike in the theatre, they can decide how to sit, for example, whether to interrupt their viewing, cook or iron while doing so, or comment on what they have seen in a chat. They are no longer bound to watch the action silently and to comment on it, if at all, only after the performance. On-site audiences and remote audiences are each embedded in different configurations of emotional connection. Whether stage performances can impress and affect an audience depends on whether the play has aesthetic quality and the individual performance goes well, which no one can guarantee in advance. In addition, success depends on the individual habits of perception, viewing experience and knowledge of the audience. Finally, on-site and remote performances differ in terms of the atmospheres in which the viewers find themselves, be it a theatre space, a cinema, in private or in public. This includes the fact that the routines and rituals of cinema, broadcast television and streaming audiences differ from those of audiences physically present at theatres, dance and opera performances. What the spectators on site have in common is that the atmosphere is created communally, and each audience member follows a similar economy of attention. Their attention is focused, which is fundamentally different from the scattered attention of remote viewing, in which different things are perceived simultaneously and the event is brought into a different atmospheric situation, e.g. into one's own home and circle of friends.

Fig.  3: blowUP media GmbH. 'Die 138qm Media Stage an der Reeperbahn in Hamburg'. 2021. https://invidis.de/2021/02/dooh-media-stage-launcht-auf-der-reeperbahn/ (Special thanks to Carolin Baumann)ii.

Sensual co-presence

Events in the performing arts, which have historically been based on physical presence, have always been flanked by technical media such as radio, television, photography and film. Here, digital media mean an extension on the one hand and a fundamental change in the patterns of perception on the other. With digital media, there is a simultaneity of various audiences that does not function through physical presence, but through a feeling of being there or being gripped, imagining an atmosphere at the present time. The experience is thus not independent of time and place in the same way as, for example, reading a novel. Digital media have added a new facet to the understanding of presence: sensual co-presence. Those who are present are co-present, regardless of whether they are on site or remote. The concept of co-presence has moved away from a clear definition of time and place towards a concept that foregrounds sensory perception in digital communication based on participation. Sensual co-presence arises in a hybrid interplay between stage performance and media transmission. It is dependent neither on the simultaneous participation of the audience nor on their physical presence. Rather, sensory co-presence is based on the ability to immerse oneself in the situation with the senses, to understand what is seen with feeling and to imagine the atmosphere created in the play. This requires the ability to empathise with what is being transmitted. In order to develop these abilities in a globalised culture of digitality and to reflect on them, the performing arts provide spaces for critical experimentation.
[1] Felix Stalder, Kultur der Digitalität (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016). [2] Katharina Liebsch and I have tried to illustrate and theorise this in our book. This text builds on the argument there. See: Gabriele Klein and Katharina Liebsch, Ferne Körper: Berührung im digitalen Alltag, Reclam. Denkraum, (Ditzingen: Reclam Denkraum, 2022). [3] See Klein and Liebsch, Ferne Körper, 84-98. [4] Erika Fischer-Lichte, Aesthetics of the Performative (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2004), 38-74. [5] Fischer-Lichte, Aesthetics of the Performative, 47. [6] Gabriele Klein, Pina Bausch's Dance Theater: Company, Artistic Practices and Reception (Bielefeld: transcript, 2024). [7] Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 45. [8] Philip Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, trans. Liveness (London: Routledge, 2008).
Auslander, Philip. Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. Translated by Liveness. London: Routledge, 2008. Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. Fischer-Lichte, Erika. Aesthetics of the Performative. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2004. Klein, Gabriele. Pina Bausch's Dance Theater: Company, Artistic Practices and Reception. Bielefeld: transcript, 2024. Klein, Gabriele and Katharina Liebsch. Ferne Körper: Berührung im digitalen Alltag. Reclam. Denkraum. Ditzingen: Reclam Denkraum, 2022. Stalder, Felix. Kultur der Digitalität. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016.
citation information
Klein, Gabriele, 'Digital stages. Sensual co-presence in hybrid performances', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog. Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, 20 February 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/02/20/digital-stages-sensual-co-presence-in-hybrid-performances/.
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Tears through the Red Sea

andrea frohne

Elsa Gebreyesus (Eritrean, born in Ethiopia, lives in Fairfax, Virginia, USA), Silenced V, 2010, mixed media on paper, 30” x 37”, photograph by Andrea Frohne.

Silenced V contains the front page of the newspaper Red Sea (ቀይሕ ባሕሪ), published between 1997 and 2001 in the Tigrinya language. The blue and green colours across the artwork represent the Red Sea along the coast of Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. Elsa Gebreyesus tore the newspaper’s masthead in half and pasted it onto the canvas.[1] Underneath, she inscribed the word ‘Silenced’. The artwork depicts a rift and disconnection from globalised processes in the country’s political and social fabric resulting from the suppression of free speech and access to information. In addition, the torn newspaper evokes the torn relationships among Red Sea maritime nations in the Horn of Africa. It connected countries through trade and cultural exchange for centuries. Yet the sea has also existed as a site of disconnection and regional conflict. Born in Ethiopia to an Eritrean family, Elsa Gebreyesus moved at age seven with her family to Kenya during the Ethiopian Revolution. After spending her youth in Kenya, she moved with her parents and siblings to the USA and then to Canada. Elsa Gebreyesus has dislocated or emigrated from homes and then reconnected to new countries five times. The first two departures, out of Ethiopia and Kenya, were from countries that were not native to her. The artist lived in Eritrea following a 30-year war for independence. She worked for five years in the 1990s with a women’s nonprofit organisation in Eritrea and fled prior to a governmental crackdown. Like many of her generation, Elsa Gebreyesus was caught up in the celebration of Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after the Eritrean War of Independence, and she decided to move to Eritrea in February 1992, setting foot in the country of her heritage for the first time in her early twenties. Putting her management skills to work, she promoted gender equity for five years at a women’s nonprofit called the National Union of Eritrean Women.[2] Toward the end of her stay, Elsa Gebreyusus witnessed a vibrant free press for a brief time in Eritrea from 1996 until 2001. By 1997, several privately run newspapers would sell out every morning.[3] The atmosphere of freedom and optimism about Eritrea’s future impressed her and informed a series of artworks she developed 15 years later. By 1997, the government began implementing increasingly repressive measures. Even though in that year, a carefully written and debated new constitution that grew out of the fight for liberation was passed, it remains unimplemented to this day. The exhilaration and possibility of the newly independent Eritrean nation in 1991 had dissipated as another dictator had risen to power: Isaias Afewerki became president in 1993 and remains in power. Since the 1998 Ethiopia-Eritrea border war, the borders of Eritrea have been controlled or closed, with its inhabitants largely prohibited from crossing them. The nation-state’s disconnection from globalised processes is repressive. Elsa Gebreyesus eventually found it necessary to leave Eritrea in 1997, and she witnessed the continuation of the dictator’s takeover from her new diasporic home in the United States. Inspired by her observation of Eritrea’s free press from 1996 to 2001, she used her art to help her process Eritrea’s change of trajectory toward repression and global disconnection. The path to dictatorship in Eritrea occurred in a series of stages, reaching a culmination in 2001. The September 2001 state crackdown effectively distanced Eritrea from transnational processes, and it continues to this day. From the United States, Elsa Gebreyesus watched closely and anxiously as all independent newspapers in Eritrea were abolished, and all captured journalists were imprisoned in one fell swoop.[4] To this day, no one knows where they are imprisoned or whether they are alive or dead. The Guardian profiled each journalist in 2015 in a world-news article.[5] In contrast to the state newspaper, Elsa Gebreyesus’s collaged newspaper fragments for the Silenced series are from the independent, privately owned papers that existed in newly independent Eritrea during the few years of press freedom. The artist selected sections of newspapers with dates in order to mark the national liberatory moment, and she also chose articles related to mundane aspects of life.[6] The latter includes, for example, a bicycle race in Silenced V. Yet even such innocuous words have in effect been censored since these newspapers are not housed in libraries and institutional archives. The copies the artist used were smuggled out of Eritrea and given to her in the diaspora. Elsa Gebreyesus’s artworks reconnect the memory of these newspapers to her new African diaspora. It is only from her position in a diaspora that she possesses the ability to narrate this history. The disconnection or tear through the Red Sea produces tears of sorrow for many reasons. Yet within the artwork, the small pieces of newspaper remind us of the freedom to write.   [1] The naming tradition in Eritrea is to refer to a person by their first name. The surname is simply the first name of the person’s father. Because it would be awkward to refer to my artist as Elsa only, I take the naming convention that scholars follow, which is to always write the first and last name of the artist. So in my text, you will see ‘Elsa Gebreyesus’ throughout. [2] Elsa Gebreyesus, Telephone Interview with Andrea Frohne, 2 December 2015. [3] Gebreyesus. [4] European Asylum Support Office, EASO Country of Origin Information Report: Eritrea : Country Focus (Luxembourg: Publications Office, 2015), 22, https://www.easo.europa.eu/news-events/easo-issues-country-origin-information-report-eritrea-country-focus. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea; Report of the detailed findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva: 5 June 2015). https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/co-i-eritrea/report-co-i-eritrea-0. A principal finding of the United Nations commission is that, ‘[F]ollowing the 2001 crackdown, there has not been any press freedom in Eritrea. At that moment, the Eritrean Government suppressed the emerging free press by closing down independent newspapers and silenced journalists by arresting, detaining, torturing and having them disappeared’ (148). [5] Abraham T. Zere, ‘“If We Don’t Give Them a Voice, No One Will”: Eritrea’s Forgotten Journalists, Still Jailed after 14 Years’, The Guardian, 19 August 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/19/eritrea-forgotten-journalists-jailed-pen-international-press-freedom. Abraham Zere is a journalist who publishes articles about Eritrea from beyond its borders. [6] Gebreyesus, Telephone interview with Andrea Frohne.
European Asylum Support Office. EASO Country of Origin Information Report: Eritrea : Country Focus. Luxembourg: Publications Office, 2015. https://www.easo.europa.eu/news-events/easo-issues-country-origin-information-report-eritrea-country-focus. Gebreyesus, Elsa. Telephone Interview with Andrea Frohne, 2 December 2015. European Asylum Support Office. EASO Country of Origin Information Report: Eritrea : Country Focus. Luxembourg: Publications Office, 2015. https://www.easo.europa.eu/news-events/easo-issues-country-origin-information-report-eritrea-country-focus. Gebreyesus, Elsa. Telephone Interview with Andrea Frohne, 2 December 2015. Report of the detailed findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva: 5 June 2015). https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/co-i-eritrea/report-co-i-eritrea-0 Zere, Abraham T. ‘“If We Don’t Give Them a Voice, No One Will”: Eritrea’s Forgotten Journalists, Still Jailed after 14 Years’. The Guardian, 19 August 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/19/eritrea-forgotten-journalists-jailed-pen-international-press-freedom.
citation information
Frohne, Andrea, 'Tears through the Red Sea', Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog. Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, 23 January 2024, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/01/23/tears-through-the-red-sea/.
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‘Not only cast steel or chiselled stone; people can be monuments too’: an exploration of the Memory Person

cathrine bublatzky and franziska windolf

When we think of monuments, we think of statues, memories and events from the past. They are site-specific, solid, immobile. How can they represent cultural and collective memories that are remembered by many, often very differently, and that over time experience new readings? How can monuments installed by institutions, organisations and states speak to and for everybody?

What bodies can do the creative work of memory? How can the actual labour of memory be foregrounded, its training, sharing and transmission?[1]


These questions are relevant to agents in the fields of memory studies and memory production, such as artists, cultural practitioners, institutions, governments and, most importantly, for various communities and people in their everyday lives.

[It] … is on the ‘act’ of memory, … inquiring into the processes of making, constructing, enacting, transforming, expressing, transmitting cultural memory through art and popular culture. … The notion of ‘performing memory’ thus presupposes agency.[2]


The Memory Person (they/them), ongoing since June 2023, by artist Franziska Windolf offers a common form of memory production. The Memory Person performed memory as ‘an embodied and localised practice’[3] and was conceptualised in Munich during an artist residency at the Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect and in partnership with the ERC-funded METROMOD research project (Relocating Modernism: Global Metropolises, Modern Art and Exile at LMU Munich).

In their joint exploration, anthropologist Cathrine Bublatzky and artist Franziska Windolf explore how the Memory Person represented a striking tension between the concepts of memory, monument and performance.

A performative monument

The Memory Person strolled through the Giesing quarter, a former workers’ district in southeast Munich. The performance was enacted by different persons who embodied a variety of identities, genders and agencies. They were strikingly dressed, carrying several commemorative objects and memorabilia on their body. Each object has its own history, creators and memories. At the heart of the public artwork were ongoing and dynamic encounters between the Memory Person and passers-by, their lively and personal interactions, their shared stories and memories. The Memory Person was dedicated to creative people who have migrated or are living in exile, and anyone could participate.

Not only cast steel or chiselled stone; people can be monuments too.[4]


The Memory Person challenges the idea of ‘performing memory’.[5] As a performative monument, they work with what anthropologists call the agency of humans ‘to create and construct their own reality’ and to ‘collectively … shape themselves in their behaviours and beliefs’.[6] Performing the Memory Person entailed an uninterrupted metamorphosis in which their ‘form’ kept changing. Their performances merged practices of collecting, storing and re-narrating, all resulting in a changing monument.

The public artwork becomes and operates as a performance based on the material interaction and dialogue with people in the streets.


Those who encountered the Memory Person are diverse. Some have long lived in Munich, some have moved from another country, others have migrated or even fled war and other crises in their home countries. All have memories, often not shared with wider publics, as they are intimate and personal, sometimes even traumatic and frightening.


The Memory Person is a living monument that does not represent a particular memory or hegemonic narrative. They produced a host of memories of differently shared pasts in cities like Munich, shaped by migration and mobility.

A nomadic plinth celebrating diversity

The Memory Person is a practical invention. Due to the lack of publicly accessible knowledge about creative migrants, exiles and their work in greater Munich, memories and biographies must be actively sought out in order to become visible.

As a living monument, they stimulate an interplay of creative expressions and reflections. The collection of memories and memorabilia, and their endowment to people is open-ended.


The web of relationships between the memorabilia changed with each new contribution. The Memory Person decentralises and mediates whilst connecting shared memories with people. This flexible and responsive artistic form is open to renegotiation and emergent values. Their sharing and (re-)telling is on display, mediating memory culture as a lively, contested practice.

The Memory Person and their counterparts became ‘facilitators, knowledge producers, hosts and vision seekers’.[7]


The Memory Person as a performative monument is alive and constantly ‘becoming’.

But what is actually remembered in such unforeseen encounters?

Encountering the Memory Person

Often, curiosity and eye contact sparked encounters with the Memory Person. Their colourful, unconventional appearance, which defies stereotypical assumptions about a carnival or the Oktoberfest, attracted attention and made people wonder what the Memory Person was all about. Once they grasped the goal of the performance, many started to talk about their connections to Giesing and other residents, artists and migrants. They referred to creative people and places. Upon a second, deeper encounter, they contributed personal commemorative objects as fragments of their memories.

The creativity of the monument is very broad and includes music, tinkering, crafting, knitting, cooking, graffiti, etc.


Thus, the Memory Person addressed as many people as possible. Their objective was to raise awareness of the lack of memorials for migrants and creative people in the neighbourhood. Everyone was invited to celebrate and honour the creativity and work of past and present exiles and migrants by participating.

The initial performances of the Memory Person in June and July 2023 were a curated city walk to sites of exile in Giesing, revealing their continued relevance with a pre-selected audience. The spectators accompanied the Memory Person and witnessed their encounters and interactions with passers-by. Participants were invited to carry the memorabilia with the Memory Person and to contribute a wish for a future monument, a memory or a memento of a creative migrant who once lived or moved to Giesing.

The performances in August and September 2023 were more frequent, focussing only on encounters with residents and passers-by. The route through the district was more improvised, with time and space to revisit people and businesses, play table tennis, etc. On these occasions, the Memory Person collected memorabilia and commemorative articles devoted to creative exiles and migrants from anyone who wanted to commemorate.

How the Memory Person embodies the monument and interactions with participants in the artwork is shaped by three elements:

  1. The Memory Person opens encounters by approaching passers-by during a curated city-walk (June/July 2023) whilst strolling through the neighbourhood without a pre-selected audience (August/September 2023);

  2. Alternating subject positions between the Memory Person and passers-by/audience;

  3. Evolving artwork when the artwork is relationally produced with participants.


All three registers played out in each Memory Person performance. But the performances in June/July 2023 were less dynamic and open, as the Memory Person held a fixed position as the ‘guide’ to explain and share knowledge during the curated walk. The material contributions to the performative monument were largely predetermined (written notes on textile/foam rubber prepared by the artist).

The evolution of the artwork is produced more ‘by’ than only ‘with’ the participants.


By contrast, the performances in August/September 2023 provided more space for give and take, including returning moments and memorabilia. Due to the spontaneity of the encounters, the Memory Person and the passers-by had more freedom to participate and exchange objects.

Ethics of dialogue/‘commoning’

‘Commoning’ refers to art that is produced by, not only with, the participants. The Memory Person is the formation and interplay of relationships and their material effects that shape social space and animate memory cultures.

‘The wider challenge here is that of finding new ways of understanding forms of being-in-common that refuse or exceed the logic of identity, state, and subject. In other words: how to be in common without creating a community?’[8]


If ‘commoning’ is when people in a community or neighbourhood become equal in sharing their diverse memories, how does the prescribed content balance with individual conceptions of the monument?

The more reciprocal insights, the more equitable the dialogue and the more shared reflections and relationships can emerge.


Individual identities and property rights don’t apply, as is evident in the ‘materiality’ and ‘objecthood’ of the performative monument. The focus lies on togetherness and the common production of a new monument, whilst the particularities of each person involved gain space to express themselves.

‘The more reciprocal insights, the more equitable the dialogue and the more shared reflections and relationships can emerge.’[9]


The monument belongs to no one, though the objects the monument comprises signify belonging, which inheres in ‘commoning’.


All memorabilia engender the dialogues. They resemble amanat, which is a Persian word meaning something that one gives to another person as a custodian. This requires awareness and trust – a sense of the reciprocal capacity and will to build a meaningful relationship.

The object becomes a signifier of a shared moment of remembrance and a common (emotional) value that represents other things such as the conversation, a memory, a loss or a personal or communal journey.


The amanat contributes and ‘transforms’ the world, memories, exile and identification.

The emerging performative monument becomes a common gift to creative exiles and society from all participants.

The different materialities of the performative monument speak for the coexistence of different voices and situations to which the artwork responds or is created within.


The silver brooches, for example, are given away, so they should be as durable as possible. The Memory Person provides a platform for (re)composing and (re)evaluating the objects. Objects converse with each other and provide a ‘language’ for often ineffable stories. There is no definite way of ‘reading’ them.

Diversity is the core of the performative monument, representing an anti-hierarchical, even decolonising understanding of what the Memory Person as a ‘living monument’ embodies.


The actual labour that needs to be done when underrepresented/invisible knowledge is sought out emerges. Contrasting the glorious surfaces of conventional monuments, the Memory Person allows for the contradictions, detours and failures that occur when people are building relationships. The Memory Person responds to recent decolonial debates and demands for monuments and statues of a contested, colonial past to fall.

The past is created by and about participants’ voices. The Memory Person performs it without repeating it.

[1] Liedeke Plate and Anneke Smelik, Performing Memory in Art and Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 2013), 2ff.

[2] Plate and Smelik, Performing Memory, 3.

[3] Plate and Smelik, Performing Memory, 5.

[4] Sebastian Adler, Spectator of the performance, 24 June 2023.

[5] Plate and Smelik, Performing Memory, 7.

[6] Plate and Smelik, Performing Memory, 7.

[7] Vera Hofmann et al., Commoning Art — Die transformativen Potenziale von Commons in der Kunst (Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2022), 34. https://www.transcript-verlag.de/media/pdf/f2/e6/9e/oa9783839464045.pdf. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are by the authors.

[8] Harry Walker, ‘Equality without equivalence: an anthropology of the common’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 26, no. 1 (2020): 148, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.13183.

[9] Walker, ‘Equality without equivalence’, 147.



Hofmann, Vera, Johannes Euler, Linus Zurmühlen and Silke Helfrich. Commoning Art — Die transformativen Potenziale von Commons in der Kunst. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2022. https://www.transcript-verlag.de/media/pdf/f2/e6/9e/oa9783839464045.pdf.

‘global dis:connect’. Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, 2023, www.globaldisconnect.org.

Plate, Liedeke and Anneke Smelik. Performing Memory in Art and Popular Culture. London: Routledge, 2013.

‘Relocating Modernism: Global Metropolises, Modern Art and Exile (METROMOD)’. METROMOD, 2023, www.metromod.net.

Walker, Harry. ‘Equality without equivalence: an anthropology of the common’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 26, no. 1 (2020): 146-66. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.13183.

citation information:
Bublatzky, Cathrine and Franziska Windolf, ”Not only cast steel or chiselled stone; people can be monuments too’: an exploration of the Memory Person’, Ben Kamis ed. global dis:connect blog. Käte Hamburger Research Centre global disconnect, 12 December 2023, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/12/12/not-only-cast-steel-or-chiselled-stone-people-can-be-monuments-too-an-exploration-of-the-memory-person/.
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Field surveys, Western modernity and restituted global disconnections

andrea e. frohne

Fig. 01: The juxtaposition of the Kansas wheat field, the imported Afro-Italian cart and Dawit L. Petros’s hands suggests migration, mapping of territory and colonial settlement of the prairies.


Surveying a wheat field

The setting for figure 1 is a wheat field in Osborne, Kansas, which has a historic distinction that is central to its self-definition: it was designated by geographers as the geodetic centre of North America.[1] A national system based on coordinates came into use in the late-nineteenth century to survey the continent. A federal agency created what is called a triangulation station at Osborne, making it a fixed and central point. Networks of triangles are calculated eastward and westward from there to survey longitude, latitude, elevation and shoreline (fig. 2).[2] Osborne marks the point from which surveying and global positioning extend in all directions across North America.

Fig. 02: Triangulated mapping that emanates from Kansas as a means to survey the nation-state.

Dawit Petros’s work asks, ‘What is one’s relationship to place?’[3] He underlines through global conversation the complicated transnational, polycentric trajectories underlying a sense of place. One trajectory is a mapping system that contributed to modernisation in North America. As such, it is an end result of the colonisation process that claimed land from indigenous peoples across the North American continent. The artwork therefore engenders a disconnection regarding the stereotype that the Kansas prairie is occupied by European Americans, both historically and today. For instance, African American pioneers settled Kansas in the late-nineteenth century, and their descendants remain today. Another trajectory regarding the sense of place is Dawit Petros’s invocation of Clement Greenberg’s critical look at Western modernist painting, which dominates the methodological understanding of art in the field of art history. Figure 1 invokes a disconnection from this mainstream Western art history.

Surveying modern European art history

In a formative 1965 article titled Modernist Painting, Greenberg expostulated, ‘Flatness, two-dimensionality, was the only condition painting shared with no other art, and so Modernist painting oriented itself to flatness as it did to nothing else’.[4] The monochromatic square of colour in figure 1 is reminiscent of the history of modern Western art, including Abstract Expressionist American art from the 1940s through 1960s. The influential critic Clement Greenberg labelled the style of art ‘Color Field painting’. Artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Frank Bowling, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman painted large fields of single colours. The flat, solid colours, understood as pure and monolithic, became the sole subject matter of the artwork. Greenberg contrasted the Color Field artists’ treatment of space in terms of flat planes with the earlier representation of three-dimensional space by ‘Old Masters’ through one-point perspective and the horizon line. Dawit Petros refers to Greenberg’s framing of Western art history. The artist manufactured a set of barellas, or handcarts, used among Habesha peoples in the Horn of Africa.[5] He travelled with a three-dimensional barella to Kansas, photographing it against land (fig. 1). The artist aligned the top white wooden handle of an olive-green square against the white horizon line that divides the field from the sky. The alignment can only be observed by a slight interruption in the horizontal green line that splits the top half of the entire photograph into a field of white colour and the bottom portion into a field of green. Dawit Petros identifies the horizon line but stops short of using the one-point perspective perfected by Renaissance artists. Instead, he references the Color Field style.

Fig. 03: A photographic archive by Dawit L. Petros of earth, sky and built form from Ethiopia.

The flat, olive-green square in the centre of the photograph was sourced from images of Ethiopian land using a process of enlarging digitalised photographic details.[6] The photographed colours are in fact digitalised details of the ground and the earth from Ethiopia (fig. 3).[7] Dawit Petros photographed various patches of ground in Ethiopia, and in each one a dominant colour was brought forward. Dawit Petros then abstracted the colours from the photographs using computer software to generate a square of colour. By using photographs sourced from his visit to Ethiopia, Dawit Petros draws Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa into ongoing dialogues about modernity. The artwork effectively invokes a restitutive global reconnection. In figure 1, the olive-green plane or field of colour is placed on top of what at first glance appears to be another flat plane of colour. But on closer inspection, the bright green, flat colour ‘field’ that forms the background of the bottom half of the artwork is a field, in the literal sense, of Kansas wheat. Therefore, a photographed slice of Ethiopian land is held against a photographed section of land in Kansas. Because of the use of modernism’s two-dimensional flat planes instead of the Renaissance’s illusion of three-dimensional space, it appears as if the geographic distance between the green Kansas field and the olive-green Ethiopian-sourced colour field has now been collapsed and eradicated. In effect, the artist has disconnected the physical separation between two continents.

Reconstituting global processes

The artist stands in the middle of the wheat field behind the green square, and only his two hands can be seen (fig. 1). The bodily presence of the brown hands and the Ethiopian-sourced olive-green square inscribes an African presence into the work’s polycentric modernities in a way that does not objectify the black or brown body. The artist explained in an interview that he decided not to place the body on display, but used the barella to stand in for the body, and that ‘within that refusal is agency’.[8] The African presence in the middle of Kansas iterates a narrative of postcolonial migration and new African diasporas. Dawit Petros lived in Kansas for the duration of an artist residency, and his encounter with Ethiopia for this series reminds us of his emigration. Dawit Petros relocated several times after his birth in Asmara, Eritrea. When he was very young, his family moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and had to leave again during the Ethiopian Red Terror in 1977. The family finally moved to Saskatoon, Canada, where the artist would live out the rest of his youth. The Osborne work alludes not only to new African diasporas but also, through the barella, to colonialism and hidden migrant labour. Dawit Petros encountered a version of the square with handles that serves as a handcart for construction workers when he was in Ethiopia. The handcart was brought to the Horn of Africa through Italian occupation and retained the Italian name in its new home (fig. 4).[9]

Fig. 04: Two women in Ethiopia demonstrating a barella handcart to carry materials.

While barellas signify the Horn of Africa’s colonial history, Dawit Petros exploited the fact that their appearance also evokes works of Western modernism, particularly Piet Mondrian’s squares of pure colour. Dawit Petros was inspired by another Dutch artist named Bas Jan Ader,[10] a contemporary, experimental artist who himself had investigated and interrogated Mondrian in 1960s performance art. Mondrian’s work, created during the first half of the twentieth century, served as a predecessor for the Color Field artists. Dawit Petros disrupts the trajectory of European modernism again by sourcing colour from the Ethiopian land and by referring to Mondrian by way of Ader, himself an immigrant to the United States, in his case from Holland in 1963. This depiction within the artwork of the act of looking from the perspective of someone with a brown body supplants the presumed white male gaze that dominated Western modernism. The primacy given to Western modernity in the history of art is cancelled by the African specificity Dawit Petros brings through the presence of his brown body and Ethiopian-sourced colour fields. The artwork disconnects the idea of a solely white population from the state of Kansas by reminding us of Native Americans, new African diasporas, migrant farm laborers, and antebellum and post-antebellum people of colour living in Kansas. As a result, Dawit Petros decentres modernity into polycentric arenas that coalesce and co-occur by restituting global disconnections in the field of art history and in a Kansas field of wheat (fig. 5).[11]   [1] Dawit L. Petros, Barella & Landscape #3, Osborne, Kansas, 2012, archival digital print, 30 x 40” (76.2 x 101.6 cm), photo courtesy of the artist. [2] ‘Horizontal survey control network in the United States’ (June 1931), Wikimedia (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Horizontal_Control_Network_of_the_United_States_June_1931.jpg, 12.05.2023). [3] Olga Khvan, ‘“Sense of Place” Exhibit at the MFA Marks Homecoming for Dawit L. Petros’, Boston Magazine, 11 November 2013. [4]  Clement Greenberg, ‘Modernist Painting’, in Art and Literature 4 (Spring 1965): 193-201. Reprinted in Art in Theory 1900-1990, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell, 1993), 756. [5] Dawit L. Petros, interview with Andrea Frohne: Brooklyn, NY, 2014. Habesha refers to people of Ethiopia and Eritrea without specifying the name of a country. Traditionally, it referred to those who live in the highlands, a terrain that straddles the border. [6] Dawit L. Petros. [7] Dawit L. Petros, Notations (A Catalogue of Addis Ababa), Artist’s Archive, 2010, courtesy of the artist. [8] Dawit L. Petros, interview with Andrea Frohne: Brooklyn, NY, 2014. [9] Dawit L. Petros, photograph taken on a research trip from personal archive, n.d. Courtesy of the artist. [10] Dawit L. Petros, interview with Andrea Frohne: Brooklyn, NY, 2014. [11] Dawit L. Petros, Sense of Place series, 2012-2013. Barellas #1-6 in foreground, 2012.  Archival digital prints; enamel on MDF, sapele, and pine. Installation view in Encounters Beyond Borders: Contemporary Artists from the Horn of Africa at the Kennedy Museum of Art, Ohio University, 2016, photo courtesy of Ben Siegel.
Greenberg, Clement. ‘Modernist Painting’. In Art and Literature 4 (Spring 1965): 193-201. Reprinted in Art in Theory 1900-1990, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell, 1993. Khvan, Olga. ‘“Sense of Place” Exhibit at the MFA Marks Homecoming for Dawit L. Petros’. Boston Magazine, 11 November 2013. Petros, Dawit. Interview with Andrea Frohne: Brooklyn, NY, 2014.
citation information:
Frohne, Andrea. ‘Field Surveys, Western Modernity and Restituted Global Disconnections’. global dis:connect blog, 11 July 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/07/11/field-surveys-western-modernity-and-restituted-global-disconnections/.
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Atis Rezistans at documenta 15: St. Kunigundis meets Haitian Voodoo

peter seeland

Fig. 01: André Eugène: Gede Sekey (2009), here in the St Kunigundis Church in Kassel (while d15). while d15. Image: Čedo Dragomirovic, 21.06.2022.

A human skull opens its jaw. Maybe in an obscene laugh? Metal, cables and wire form its body, which is erect in a coffin. A metal phallus protrudes from the lap. It is a scene that is difficult to reconcile at first with the clearly Christian motifs in the stained-glass windows in the background. A skull without a reliquary in a church? On top with a huge phallus? We are on the periphery of documenta 15 in the Bettenhausen district of Kassel, in the Catholic church of St Kunigundis. We are looking at Gede Sekey, a sculpture of the Haitian collective Atis Rezistans, which is exhibiting here (figure 01). The church was consecrated in 1927 and is made of quarry stone and prestressed concrete. Built in the architectural style of the Heimatschutzarchitektur, the interior is decorated with mosaics and the exterior above the doorway with sandstone figures. The building has been renovated, and it reopened for the first time in 2022 for the d15 exhibition.[1] Atis Rezistans was founded in the 1990s in Port-au-Prince.[2] Today, members from all over the world create art from diverse media and forms. The central themes are Haiti's role in the global postcolonial liberation struggle and conditions in contemporary Haiti. The formal language is influenced by everyday Haitian culture, the social landscape and Haitian Voodoo.[3] The exhibition takes extends throughout the church grounds. An overarching theme is the Haitian Voodoo. A YouTube video gives an impression of the exhibition while the collective performs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDr3_PjcyWI&ab_channel=documentafifteen But what do Voodoo and Haiti have to do with a church in Kassel? The artworks guide us through the exhibition for answers. Two cross-shaped sculptures by Andre Eugéné made of stacked oil drums flank the entrance to the church (figure 02). The sculptures bear the names Bawon Samedi and Gran Brijit. They stand in front of the figures of Mary and the saints under the entrance.

Fig. 02: André Eugenè: Bawon Samedi (2022), here in front of the St Kunigundis Church in Kassel (while d15).
Image: Čedo Dragomirovic, 21.06.2022.

  To grasp the sculptures, a look at the structure of Voodoo helps. The world of Voodoo is divided into two parts: a mundane world with humans, animals and objects and a transcendent world of spirits and the dead. Homage is paid to the Lwa, the spirits. They were given to people to connect them to the transcendent world. The Lwa are divided into families, called Nasyon.[4] In the case of Bawon Samedi, the stamped patterns indicate his position. He is the head of the Gede, the Nasyon responsible for death and fertility. Through him, one can communicate with the deceased. As one of the popular Lwa, he is a popular motif in Haitian art.[5] In Voodoo, the shape of the cross stands for the crossroads between life and death. Bawon Samedi decides at the crossroads which path the faithful have to take. [6] Death occupies a special position in voodoo. When ancestors pass into the realm of the dead, it becomes possible to communicate with them. It enables a spiritual connection and transmission of tradition through the generations. Gran Brijit, Bawon Samedi's wife, is the guardian of graves and cemeteries.[7] Eugéné thus marks the exhibition site through Bawon Samedi and Gran Brijit as the Ounfo, or cult site, of the Gede. The location of the sculptures in front of a Christian church is reminiscent of Plaine du Nord in Haiti, a Voodoo pilgrimage site whose entrance is lined with a large cross. Colonial powers once forced Catholicism upon the enslaved people there and placed its symbols on Voodoo places of worship.[8] There is a striking reference to this past in front of St. Kunigundis: Haitians displaying Voodoo symbols in front of a church. It’s perhaps more an invitation to dialogue than an act of suppression. There is a transfer of ideas from contemporary, lived Haitian Voodoo to the middle of Europe. A transfer that surely displays aspects of dis:connectivity: just as the common, echoing colonial history connects, spatial and cultural distance simultaneously disconnects.

Fig. 03 : Lafleur & Bogaert: Famasi Mobil Kongolè (2019-2022), here installed in the Lady chapel of St Kunigundis, Kassel (while d15).
Image: Čedo Dragomirovic, 21.06.2022

Entering the church, we come to a Lady chapel with a wooden Virgin Mary flanked by two sculptures of Lafleur & Bogaert, an artist duo (figure 03). Plastic buckets were connected with tape and covered with coloured pills. Congolese flags are stuck between the pills. The title Famasi Mobil Kongolè reveals yet more: the artists allude to the mobile pharmacies of street vendors and so to Haiti's fragile health system. These vendors provide medical care to many Haitians in place of an intact health system. But what does the reference to Congo mean? The answer lies in colonial history. After the island was conquered by the Spanish, the western part, today's Haiti, was left to the French and the indigenous population was almost wiped out by epidemics and forced labour.[9] In order to continue operating the plantations, millions of enslaved people from Africa were forced to Haiti. At the end of the 18th century, 90 per cent of the population were enslaved Africans,[10] most of them from the Congo.[11] Famasi Mobil Kongolè thus refers to the historical connection of modern Haiti to the Congo but also to the disconnection through the diaspora. Objects of health are installed here as in a shrine around the Virgin Mary. Do they represent a plea for relief from the current misery in Haiti and the Congo caused by the colonialism? However, the Haitian reality is here juxtaposed with a Christian-European context. Where otherwise Catholics present petitions, here it is followers of Haitian voodoo who erect a shrine. Leaving the Lady chapel behind and entering the nave, we gaze upon an abundance of sculptures and paintings. Anthropomorphic figures populate the space usually occupied by the pews where the congregation attend services (figure 04, figure 05). At second glance, one sees that the figures are formed from human bones held together by recycled wire, cloth, mechanical objects and plastic. At third glance, one notices artworks in the side niches and a floating platform between the ceiling and the floor.

Fig. 04: View into the St. Kunignudis Church while Atis Rezistans exhibition at d15.
Image: Čedo Dragomirovic, 21.06.2022

Fig. 05: View into the St Kunignudis Church while Atis Rezistans exhibition at d15.
Image: Čedo Dragomirovic, 21.06.2022.

Turning to the niches, we see a sculpture floating in the air at eye level (figure 07). There, where the Passion of Christ is usually depicted, hangs a doll sitting on a horse. Dressed in dark robes and laughing, the right hand wields a cardboard sword. Sen Jak Maje, Saint James the Great, is the title Katelyne Alexis gave to her work in 2015. How is this childlike knight connected to Saint James, who is known as a pilgrim with a dog and a cape? If we look deeper into the Christian-European iconography of Saint James, similarities emerge. According to legend, James stood by Iberian Christians as a warrior against Muslims.[12] Bringing the depiction of George the dragon-slayer and this legend together, the depiction of James as a riding warrior developed in ninth-century Spain.[13] Named Santiago Matamoros, he was invoked primarily in confrontations with Muslims or in the conquest of America,[14] for example, in the sculpture above the main altar of the Church of Santiago in Logroño , which can be compared with the Sen Jak Maje in Kassel. However, Sen Jak Maje does not point his sword at Islam but swings it towards the altar.

Fig. 06: Katelyne Alexis: Sen Jak Maje (2015), here in the St. Kunigunis Church, Kassel (while d15).
Image: Čedo Dragomirovic, 21.06.2022.

But how did a Catholic Saint end up in the title of this work? And how does its iconography relate to an Ounfo? The history of Haitian Voodoo may helps to understand its relationship to Catholicism. Haitian Voodoo has two main origins, both in Africa: The Rada Cult, originated in Dahomey and the Petro Cult, which originated in the area of modern Congo. Neither cult is not clearly defined, and local varieties can differ greatly. These cults came to Haiti on slave ships. There they met in a confined space and syncretism occurred. The new cults synthesised in the melting pot, forming the basis of Haitian Voodoo and differing from each other as much as from their origins.[15] The Catholic colonial powers used the strategy of cultural amnesia to break the people and make them submit. Before being abducted to Haiti, they had to circumvent the so-called tree of oblivion to turn their backs on their cultures.[16] The Christian mission entailed imposing Catholicism by using laws and religious prohibitions to compel the slaves.[17] But instead of mere Christianisation, the cults developed under this repression. It led to some standardisation of the cults and the formation of identities.[18] But violence led also to the adaptation of Catholic elements in Voodoo through forced estrangement and complying with new rules as a means of survival.[19] The cults thus include Catholic saints in their pantheon, merge them with African-rooted deities and incorporate Catholicism into cult practice. In doing so, the Catholic is complementary and superficial rather than dominant.[20], However, iconographic or attributive similarity also often promotes a synthesis rooted in compulsion and steers it in certain directions.[21] This explains Sen Jak Major: Ogún, a Yoruba war divinity, who is considered one of the oldest and most popular West African deities.[22] He is depicted as a warrior on horseback.[23] Thus, he resembles Santiago Matamoros and is associated with him under the name Ogou Feray by early Voodoo, which is also contains Yoruba influences.[24] Sen Jak is thus a syncretism of Santiago Matamoros and Ogún. [25] So, an African god, wearing a Catholic mask through colonial history, turns his sword towards the altar. He points to the religion that committed crimes against his people and culture. Is he drawing attention to the fact that colonialism has not yet been overcome? Is he encouraging the inexhaustible struggle for freedom? Throughout Haitian history, Voodoo consolidates and serves as a retreat and social identity in times of fear and misery.[26] It has also exerted great influence on Haiti's independence efforts and revolutions. Voodoo priest Dutty Boukman is said to have preached about ‘freedom or death’ in 1791 and thus instigated one of the first revolts.[27] Today, Voodoo still stands for the struggle for freedom. The society is still roughly divided into a small, wealthy, Catholic and Westernised elite and an impoverished majority with Voodoo beliefs. The Catholic Church continued its campaign against Voodoo into the 20st century, violent repression continued in 1942. [28] Today, most Voodoo believers are baptised Catholics, and Catholicism is an integral part of Voodoo. Since 2003, Haitian Voodoo has been the official national religion.[29] The altar area is unusually open. Where priests normally say mass, we encounter further sculptures by Jean Claude Saintilus. Notre Dame de Sept Doleurs (figure 07). To the left of the altar she sits on a plastic chair. Blue textiles veil the body, head and shoulders. Only the face of a human skull peers out from the headscarf. Her eye sockets are filled with metal. Around her neck she wears a clock In the lap lies a nest made of wire, on which an unclothed doll with dark skin is bedded. The doll wears a shell necklace. Between the watch and the doll is an open Bible. Matthew 27.20 to Matthew 28.6, the condemnation, mocking and crucifixion of Jesus until the resurrection, are visible. The sculptures immediately bring to mind representations of Mary and baby Jesus.

Fig. 07 : Jean Claude Saintilus : Notre Dame de Sept Doleurs (2015), here in the St. Kunigunis Church, Kassel (while d15). Image: Čedo Dragomirovic, 21.06.2022.

The Catholic reference is obvious. One interpretation could be that the Bible passage and the Child (Jesus?) in combination with the clock are symbols of life approaching death. Many iconographic details seem to indicate that the specific role of death in Voodoo and the image of man linked to it are brought together with Christian ideas. This is also reflected in the synthesis of the formal languages: a Christian Mary made of classical Voodoo cult materials, like recycled material and human bones. The syncretism reaches a climax here. Voodoo iconography is in a constant state of change, and the Catholic influence is one of many.[30] Atis Rezistans are no exception, and they find their own formal language. They imbue bones and waste with spirit and religious ideas. By decorating the bones with objects of the present, they, like the Lwa, span a bridge between death and life, history and the present. That the exhibition, its works and artists inside have sprung from contemporary Haiti is also evident in the ceiling installation Floating Ghetto made of metal, cardboard boxes and cables. Church, sculptures and the installation intertwine in the shadows. It seems to run parallel to the artists intertwined with history, culture and Catholicism. Floating Ghetto depicts the area around Boulevard Jean-Jaques Dessalines in Port-au-Prince. The adjacent neighbourhoods are populated by the poor, and this is where the recycled material comes from. It connects different historical, geographical and social spaces and is understood as a symbol of the city. This is where Atis Rezistans and their works come from. Many of the people whose bones are used spent their lives on these streets. These bones are provided with recycled remains of a global and local economy, so the sculptures are placed in the Haitian history and a global present. The descendants of people who were exploited to generate the wealth on which the modern Western economy is partly built locate themselves in this world. Placed in the middle of Europe, they thus draw attention to their history and the present and invite us to broaden our perspective. On several levels, the exhibition reveals a global dynamic of ideas involving change and syncretism: slavery forces African cults into Haiti. A dis:connective relationship emerges: the cults are connected to their homeland through cultural tradition and religion and simultaneously disconnected through the diaspora and the pressure of repression. Haitian Voodoo emerges under this dis:connectivity. Atis Rezistans brings the contemporary lived Haitian Voodoo through art to Europe. The locally lived Voodoo is embedded in a local Catholic space as a result of global processes of dis:connectivity. Atis Rezistans proceeds cautiously, allowing cultural exchange and avoiding unilateral imposition. Africa, Haiti and Europe all find a place here under one roof. The Gede and St. Kunigundis are in lively dialogue.   [1] Georg Dehio, Handbuch der deutschen Kunstdenkmäler. Hessen 1, Regierungsbezirke Gießen und Kassel (München: Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, 2008), 103. [2] Detailed information can be found on the website of the collective: http://www.atis-rezistans.com/ [3] Rafael Camacho, ‘Photo Essay: Atis Rezistans: Preserving Haiti’s Anticolonial Resistance’, NACLA, Report on the Americas 50, no. 2 (2018): 188–93. [4] Turine Gael and Laennec Hurbon, eds., Voodoo (Tielt: Lannoo Publishers, 2010), 11, And:; Emmanuel Felix, Understanding Haitian Voodoo (Milano: Xulon Press, 2009), 54–56. [5] Gael and Hurbon, Voodoo, 182. [6] Gael and Hurbon, 182. [7] Gael and Hurbon, 221. [8] Gael and Hurbon, 100. [9] George Kohn, Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence. From Ancient Times to the Present. (New York: Infobased Publishing, 2007), 160. [10] C.L.R James, The Black Jacobins (New York: Penguin Modern Classics, 1963), 55; Andrian Kreye, ‘Napoleons Schmach: Die Wurzeln des Elends liegen in der Vergangenheit: Haiti bezahlt immer noch für seine Befreiung vor 200 Jahren: Auch damals nahmen die Wichtigen der Welt den Insel-Staat nicht ernst.’, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19 January 2010. [11] Gabriel Debien, ‘Les Origines Des Esclaves Des Antilles’, Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Afrique Noir, 1963, 396. [12] Klaus Herbers, ‘Politik und Heiligenverehrung auf der Iberischen Halbinsel: Die Entwicklung des „politischen Jakobus“’, in Politik und Heiligenverehrung im Hochmittelalter, ed. Jürgen Petersohn (Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 1994), 233–35. [13] Adám Anderle, Hungría y España. Relaciones Milenarias. Szegedi Egyetemi Kiadó (Szaged: Szegedi Egyetemi Kiadó, 2007), 16. [14] Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, ‘La Auténtica Batalla de Clavijo’, Cuadernos de Historia de España 9 (1948): 94–139. [15] Luc de Heusch, ‘Kongo in Haiti: A New Approach to Religious Syncretism’, Man 24, no. 2 (1989): 290. [16] Gael and Hurbon, Voodoo, 11. [17] Rosa Amelia Plumelle-Uribe, Victimes Des Esclavagistes Musulmans, Chrétiens et Juifs. Racialisation et Banalisation d’un Crime Contre l’humanité. (Paris: ANIBWE, 2012), 112. [18] Katherine Smith, ‘Sean Jean Baptiste, Haitian Vodou, and the Masonic Imaginary’, in Freemasonry and the Visaul Arts from the Eighteenth Century Forward. Historical and Global Perspectives, ed. Reva Wolf and Alisa Luxenberg (New York: Bloomsbury Publisher, 2019), 243. [19] Daniel Douglas, ‘Pioneer Urbanities: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Fransisco’ (Philadelphia: University of California Press, 1980), 136. [20] Heusch, ‘Kongo in Haiti: A New Approach to Religious Syncretism’, 291. [21] Heusch, 291. [22] See: Baba Ifa Karade, The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts (Maine: Weiser Books, 1994). [23] Hans Gerald Hödl, ‘Afrikanische Religionen II – Einführung in die Religion der Yorùbá’ (Lecture Summer Term 2003, Universität Wien, Wien: Memento Internet Archive, 2003), 10. [24] Hödl, 294. [25] Heusch, ‘Kongo in Haiti: A New Approach to Religious Syncretism’, 291. [26] Heusch, 290. [27] Ghetto Biennale Atis Rezistans, ed., ‘Booklet St. Kunigundis’, 2022 See: Haitian History. [28] Heusch, ‘Kongo in Haiti: A New Approach to Religious Syncretism’, 294. [29] Alfred Métraux, Voodoo in Haiti (Gifkendorf: Merlin Verlag, 1994), 291. [30] Smith, ‘Sean Jean Baptiste, Haitian Vodou, and the Masonic Imaginary’, 245.  
Anderle, Adám. Hungría y España. Relaciones Milenarias. Szegedi Egyetemi Kiadó. Szaged: Szegedi Egyetemi Kiadó, 2007. Atis Rezistans, Ghetto Biennale, ed. ‘Booklet St. Kunigundis’, 2022. Camacho, Rafael. ‘Photo Essay: Atis Rezistans: Preserving Haiti’s Anticolonial Resistance’. NACLA, Report on the Americas 50, no. 2 (2018): 188–93. Debien, Gabriel. ‘Les Origines Des Esclaves Des Antilles’. Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Afrique Noir, 1963. Dehio, Georg. Handbuch der deutschen Kunstdenkmäler. Hessen 1, Regierungsbezirke Gießen und Kassel. München: Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, 2008. Douglas, Daniel. ‘Pioneer Urbanities: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Fransisco’. Philadelphia: University of California Press, 1980. Felix, Emmanuel. Understanding Haitian Voodoo. Milano: Xulon Press, 2009. Gael, Turine, and Laennec Hurbon, eds. Voodoo. Tielt: Lannoo Publishers, 2010. Herbers, Klaus. ‘Politik und Heiligenverehrung auf der Iberischen Halbinsel: Die Entwicklung des „politischen Jakobus“’. In Politik und Heiligenverehrung im Hochmittelalter, edited by Jürgen Petersohn, 177–275. Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 1994. Heusch, Luc de. ‘Kongo in Haiti: A New Approach to Religious Syncretism’. Man 24, no. 2 (1989): 290–303. Hödl, Hans Gerald. ‘Afrikanische Religionen II – Einführung in die Religion der Yorùbá’. Wien: Memento Internet Archive, 2003. James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins. New York: Penguin Modern Classics, 1963. Karade, Baba Ifa. The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts. Maine: Weiser Books, 1994. Kohn, George. Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence. From Ancient Times to the Present. New York: Infobased Publishing, 2007. Kreye, Andrian. ‘Napoleons Schmach: Die Wurzeln des Elends liegen in der Vergangenheit: Haiti bezahlt immer noch für seine Befreiung vor 200 Jahren: Auch damals nahmen die Wichtigen der Welt den Insel-Staat nicht ernst.’ Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19 January 2010. Métraux, Alfred. Voodoo in Haiti. Gifkendorf: Merlin Verlag, 1994. Plumelle-Uribe, Rosa Amelia. Victimes Des Esclavagistes Musulmans, Chrétiens et Juifs. Racialisation et Banalisation d’un Crime Contre l’humanité. Paris: ANIBWE, 2012. Sánchez-Albornoz, Claudio. ‘La Auténtica Batalla de Clavijo’. Cuadernos de Historia de España 9 (1948): 94–139. Smith, Katherine. ‘Sean Jean Baptiste, Haitian Vodou, and the Masonic Imaginary’. In Freemasonry and the Visaul Arts from the Eighteenth Century Forward. Historical and Global Perspectives, edited by Reva Wolf and Alisa Luxenberg, 243–63. New York: Bloomsbury Publisher, 2019.
citation information:
Seeland, Peter. ‘Atis Rezistans at Documenta 15: St. Kunigundis Meets Haitian Voodoo’. global dis:connect Blog (blog), 27 June 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/06/27/atis-rezistans-at-documenta-15/.
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Dear Tutu: a letter by Palestinian artist Vladimir Tamari on exile, friendship and globalisation

nadia von maltzahn
Dear Tutu, Hello! How are you. At home your letter is hidden under a pile of books, papers, tools & a thousand other things — in our unconditioned house my desk which faces southish is too hot to work at — so I’m writing in this dubious oasis of Western civilization. It is cool & predictable & has a non-smoking floor, — also soft Hawaiian music — did you read Melville’s “Typee” on south sea island — at that (mid 19th c.) time Hawaii was known as the Sandwich islands & its destruction culturally was well underway — it’s all heartrending in a way because Palestine too was a kind of primeval lagoon forgotten for a few centuries by history (Napoleon in Jaffa does not count, too brief!) Your absent-minded & hurried letter was welcome — glad all my vague & precious fulminations about the state of my life & art slid over your head. Let me restate it in simpler terms. I’m too scared, broke, lazy, confused & perhaps am unable to move from this tinsel & transistor paradise where I’ve very uncomfortably & awkwardly parked![1]
  This is how the Tokyo-based Palestinian artist Vladimir Tamari (1942-2017) starts his letter to his friend Tutu, aka Soraya Antonius (1932-2017), who was in Normandy at the time. Written over several days between 2 and 13 August 1991 in suburban Tokyo from a McDonald’s, using a branded paper placemat as stationery for the opening page, the letter addresses questions of exile, friendship and globalisation (figure 1). It demonstrates what ephemera such as this correspondence can teach us about networks, relationships and dis:connectivities in the frame of artistic production.

Fig. 1: Vladimir Tamari: Letter to Tutu, 2 August 1991, cover page recto and verso.

Dis:connectivities here denote the contextual connections and ruptures in which artists create. Dis:connectivity also relates to physical ephemera, their locations, accessibility, fragility, languages and the references they contain. Tamari’s letter could easily have been lost to oblivion, and it has only surfaced by chance.[2] Here the questions arise: what role do ephemera such as this letter play in (art) history? Who should be responsible for preserving them? Should they be considered private objects that belong in private archives?[3] Or should they be archived as part of an artist’s biography and trajectory — classifiable scientific objects? These are questions we are dealing with in the LAWHA research project (Lebanon’s Art World at Home and Abroad), which investigates the trajectories of artists and their works in and from Lebanon since 1943.[4] Let us examine Vladimir Tamari and his letter to Tutu as a case in point.

The artist: cultural references and networks

Who was Vladimir Tamari? In an autobiographical essay published in the same year as the letter, Tamari describes himself as a Palestinian Arab artist, inventor and physicist, born 1942 in Jerusalem and educated at a Quaker school in his hometown of Ramallah, before studying physics and art at the American University of Beirut. He completed his formal education at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London and the Pendle Hill Center of Study and Contemplation, a Quaker institution near Philadelphia. Between 1966 and 1970 he worked with the United Nations in Beirut until he moved with his Japanese wife to Tokyo, where he lived and worked until his death in 2017. In the essay, he emphasises four main influences on his thinking:
  1. church life and rituals (coming from an Orthodox Christian family),
  2. the culture of Islam that surrounded him in Ramallah and Jerusalem,
  3. Palestinian and Arab nationalism and
  4. what he calls ‘a veneer of European “modern” culture and values’.[5]
The cultural references Tamari makes in his letter to Tutu recall these influences. He speaks of the ‘Christian concept of suffering’, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the ascetic St Simeon in Northern Syria. The impact of European ‘modern’ culture and history on his writing is obvious, with references to d’Artagnan, Pablo Picasso, Napoleon, William Wordsworth and Richard Wagner. ‘Global’ classics such as the work of Herman Melville, the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace are mentioned in the letter with the same familiarity as the contemporary Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish, the classical Persian poet and scholar Omar Khayyam and the Lebanese writer Amin Malouf. While the cultural references and his language — he writes in English — are testament to his Western-oriented missionary education and his cultural environment, the people he mentions in his letter show what social circles he shares with its recipient: his family, closely linked to the intellectual and cultural scene of the West Bank (his sister Tania and her husband Hanna Nasir, long-time president of Ramallah’s Birzeit University; his other sister Vera, also an artist); Jordanian artist and pro-Palestinian activist Mona Saudi (1945-2022), who spent a large part of her life in Beirut; John Carswell (b. 1931), artist and professor of fine arts at the American University of Beirut; Lebanese artist Fadi Barrage (1939-1988), and Yuzo Itagaki, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Tokyo and ‘one of those rare individuals who is all friendship & love for one & all’ and ‘has followed closely Palestinian affairs’, whom he wanted to put in touch with Tutu for a potential Japanese translation of her latest novel. The partial reduction of family names to their first letter shows the mutual familiarity of Tamari and Tutu with each other’s networks.

The predictability of globalisation

In Tamari’s life and letter, globalisation is a double-edged sword. It is represented by McDonald’s, which runs through the five-page letter like a red thread. Most notable is the stationery of the first page; Ronald McDonald and the unmistakable golden arches immediately allow one to locate the paper visually, but Tamari also directly references this symbol of globalisation as an expression of Western civilisation. Without initially calling it by name — it needs no further explanation — he dubs it a ‘dubious oasis of Western civilisation’ as well as ‘dubious paradise’. McDonald’s embodies his frustration and tense relationship with the globalised Western world. On the one hand, it is questionable, on the other it is a refuge for him — cool and predictable, he knows what to expect and keeps returning to it.[6] While global brands are easily found in Japan, this does not translate into an openness to the world. The account of an Egyptian journalist traveling to Japan in 1963 accentuates this disjuncture. He writes that ‘in Japan, one finds all of Europe and all of America. (…) But at the same time, one observes that Japan lives in total isolation. Or rather, it is concerned only with itself and pays almost no attention to the existence of others’.[7] Whereas the first McDonald’s had opened in Japan in 1971, as stated on its official website, the country did not boast a large expat community in the early 1990s. Globalisation in Japan might thus heighten the sense of isolation, as it only provides superficial connectivity. Being a Palestinian in Tokyo was a solitary affair, especially if one was not looking for formal political activism. The Palestine Liberation Office (PLO) operated a Japan office from 1977 to 1995,[8] but having left Beirut for Japan ‘in a spirit of disillusionment’,[9] Tamari limited his pro-Palestinian activities mainly to designing posters on relevant occasions, such as PLO-leader Yasser Arafat’s visit to Japan and the third anniversary of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, with reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[10]

Exile and friendship

In his letter, Tamari openly voices his discomfort with life in exile in Japan. He speaks of being ‘scared, broke, lazy, confused’ and of his wish ‘to compress the 20 years in Japan to a few representative years’.[11] He feels isolated and misses what he calls a ‘community of the faithful’ — a local network of like-minded friends, with whom he can digest the news from his home country (‘For me — in my imaginations, the very news became a pain & I’ve stopped reading magazines & newspapers lest I be offended by yet another word of misunderstanding of our cause or, yet read of another facet of American official stupidity! Without the shield of a “community of the faithful” in which I can quench the flaming darts of the smug West, I feel every barb deep in my bones, so out of a sense of survival I rejected a lot of what I heard of’).[12] He struggles with himself and the skin he was born in, with all the baggage he perceives goes along with being a Palestinian, but he cannot let go of despite his efforts (‘What am I trying to say to you, to myself … nothing perhaps but just another feeble attempt to take off this hair shirt I was born with’). In this sense, there are clear limitations to his integration in a country in which he has ‘very uncomfortably and awkwardly parked’. At the same time, he sees the irony that his daughter’s Japanese passport allows her to visit his birth town of Jerusalem as a tourist (‘God help us’). Tamari clearly expresses his loneliness and lack of a network of solidarity in Japan.

Fig. 2: Vladimir Tamari: Letter to Tutu, 8 August 1991 (excerpt).

Tamari emphasises the importance of a network of likeminded people, even in a globalised world that supposedly facilitates circulation, the role of friendships and a form of continuity that one can rely on (‘you too, too too, have also created a shell of comfort & friendship & silence in your French retreat’), the ‘capstan on shore’ as he refers to Tutu’s presence in France ‘while [he] floats in this Japanese marsh!’ (figure 2). Imagining her in her house in Normandy comforts him in a world in which he perceives many obstacles to friendship. He knows that his addressee understands him and that she is in a similar situation. They share part of their trajectory — like him, she was born in Jerusalem, British-educated and spent a long time in Beirut, where they consolidated their friendship. Both were fighting for the Palestinian cause to varying degrees and were interested in the arts (figure 3). Thus, the correspondence between Vladimir and Tutu presents a form of connectivity that also has its limits. The immediate experience of life in Tokyo can be described, but cannot be lived from a distance. Their friendship helps him to express his loneliness, but not to surpass the perceived and real disconnectivity that separates Tamari from his network and ‘community of the faithful’.

Fig.3: Vladimir Tamari: Poster designed for the Palestinian novelist Soraya Antonius for the exhibition Palestine in Art, London May 1969. (from: The Palestine Poster Project Archives (PPPA), accessible at https://www.palestineposterproject.org/poster/palestine-in-art-catalog-cover)


Being a Palestinian artist in Japan

In his letter, Vladimir Tamari keeps returning to his artistic practice and discloses how he works and archives. He seems to share copies of his artworks with his correspondent regularly, and it is important to him to discuss his technique and the content of his work (‘there is much, technically & thematically, of interest to the discerning observer (you)’). He refers to the quantity of his sketches and drawings (‘thousands & thousands’), through which one can really get to know an artist, and hints at material for a possible biography that could be written one day. What I find particularly insightful is his description towards the end of the letter about a painting of Jerusalem that he ‘juiced up’, although he considered the simple drawing a better work (‘The other day I made a really nice painting, based on a pencil drawing I probably sent you a copy of — stones roughly arranged to say in Arabic القدس AL-QUDS [Jerusalem] — anyway I juiced it up with color & gold foil, but the pencil drawing remains better’). The subject of much of his oeuvre remained Jerusalem, even after years of exile (figure 4).

Fig. 4: Vladimir Tamari: Arab Jerusalem, 1982, 528 x 728 mm (from: The Palestine Poster Project Archives (PPPA), accessible here https://www.palestineposterproject.org/poster/jerusalem-rock-original-painting)

In this he was not alone, nor in depicting a symbolic version of his hometown. As Makhoul and Hon write about the Palestinian artist and art historian Kamal Boullata, for example, the latter’s representation of Jerusalem as geometric is ‘understandable as an exile’s idealization of a place of origin, but we are left with the feeling that this idealized origin has not only replaced the lost place of his birth but that it also eclipses the present city as a Palestinian urban centre’.[13] Taking this further, the authors suggest that ‘the representation of Jerusalem as a place that can somehow be dislodged from the land, or as a place that is already an image of itself’ is found throughout Palestinian art, exemplified by Sliman Mansour’s Jamal al Mohamel (1973), in which the homeland is being carried as a kind of burden. [14] This connects back to Tamari’s futile attempts to ‘take off this hair shirt [he] was born with’. While his place of birth remained very present in his art works, the use of bright colours and gold foil that one can see increasingly after he moved to Japan suggests an influence of his surroundings in Japan, a place he refers to as ‘tinsel and transistor paradise’ in his letter. Although he considered the simple version the better work, he felt a need to embellish it.

The role of ephemera in writing art history

The letter reveals a range of connections, connectivities and disconnectivities. It transports the reader into 19th-century Hawaii and Napoleon’s France, takes the author back to Palestine of the 1950s and 1960s, connects to Beirut and Ramallah and testifies to the author’s ambivalent relationship to his place of exile and, on another level, to Western civilisation. It bears witness to the entanglements that Tamari shared with his correspondent, and at the same time it shows the limits of its medium — a letter cannot replace the physical presence of a community of like-minded friends. Another aspect of the letter as an object relates to its locality and its potential for dis:connectivity. The letter-as-object embodies dis:connectivity in that it can be displaced, lost, found, sent away and travel long distances. It can end up in an archive, where it becomes part of a larger narrative and subject to scholarly investigation if made accessible. Correspondence, diary entries, notebooks, sketches and other ephemera can divulge the context of artistic production and allow us to see the artists and their works in relation to aesthetic and political discourses, personal encounters and their socio-political and cultural surroundings. As this letter has shown, ephemera provide clues to the personal side of artistic production and bridge gaps in our understanding. To conclude in the words of Vladimir Tamari, ‘perhaps human progress may only be measured by how much each one of us can contribute to shorten the distance between two poles’.[15]   [1] Letter from Vladimir Tamari to Soraya Antonius (Tutu), 2-13 August 1991, 5 pages. Private archives, France. All subsequent quotations that are not separately referenced are from this letter. [2] The letter is part of the collection of Soraya Antonius’s private papers that I manage. [3] Compare to: Sherene Seikaly, ‘How I Met My Great-Grandfather. Archives and the Writing of History’, CSSAAME 38, no.1 (2018): 6-20. [4] This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 850760). See https://lawha.hypotheses.org. [5] Vladimir Tamari, “Influences and Motivations in the Work of a Palestinian Artist/Inventor,” Leonardo 24, no1 (1991): 7-14. [6] I am grateful to Peggy Levitt, Cresa Pugh, Andreja Siliunas, Kwok Kian Chow and Joanna Jurkiewicz for their precious comments while we looked at this letter collectively as part of the Global (De)Centre platform. [7] Anis Mansour as quoted in : Alain Roussillon, Identité et Modernité : Les voyageurs égyptiens au Japon (XIXe-XXe siècle (Arles : Actes Sud, 2005), 149. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are mine. [8] ‘Japan Palestine Relations (Basic Data)’, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, June 2015, https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/middle_e/palestine/data.html. [9] Vladimir Tamari, ‘The Birth of the Logo for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’, Vladimir Tamari, August 2016, http://vladimirtamari.com/pflp-logo.html. [10] These and other political posters are available from the Palestine Poster Project Archives at https://www.palestineposterproject.org/artist/vladimir-tamari. [11] Interestingly, he longs for some Polynesian paradise to spend the rest of his life in, rather than wishing to be back in the Middle East. [12] Like subsequent quotes set in brackets, this quotation comes from Tamari’s letter to Tutu. [13] Bashir Makhoul and Hon Gordon, The Origins of Palestinian Art (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), 111. And: Kamal Boullata, Palestinian Art. From 1850 to the Present, London (Saqi, 2009). [14] Makhoul and Hon, Origins, 115. [15] Vladimir Tamari, ‘Al-Rasm Bi-l Ab’ad al-Thalatha’ (Drawing in Three Dimensions)’, Mawaqif 16 (1971): 269.  
Boullata, Kamal. Palestinian Art: From 1850 to the Present. London: Saqi, 2009. Makhoul, Bashir and Gordon Hon. The Origins of Palestinian Art. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013. Roussillon, Alain. Identité et Modernité : Les voyageurs égyptiens au Japon (XIXe-XXe siècle. Arles: Actes Sud, 2005. Seikaly, Sherene. ‘How I Met My Great-Grandfather. Archives and the Writing of History’. CSSAAME 38, no. 1 (2018): 6–20. Tamari, Vladimir. ‘Al-Rasm Bi-l Ab’ad al-Thalatha’ (Drawing in Three Dimensions)’. Mawaqif 16 (1971): 152–56. ———. ‘Influences and Motivations in the Work of a Palestinian Artist/Inventor’. Leonardo 24, no. 1 (1991): 7–14. ———. ‘The Birth of the Logo for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’. Vladimir Tamari, August 2016. http://vladimirtamari.com/pflp-logo.html.  
citation information
Maltzahn, Nadia von. ‘Dear Tutu: A Letter by Palestinian Artist Vladimir Tamari on Exile, Friendship and Globalisation’. Global Dis:Connect Blog (blog), 13 June 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/06/13/dear-tutu-a-letter-on-exile-friendship-and-globalisation/.
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Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag written by Lili Körber and designed by John Heartfield (cover): burnt books, exiled authors and dis:connective memories

burcu dogramaci
  In her work Die Bücher (2019/20, fig. 1 + 2), the artist Annette Kelm compiled photographs of book covers of volumes that were destroyed in the ritual book burnings of the National-Socialist era. In the campaign Wider den undeutschen Geist (Against the Un-German Spirit) promoted by the German Student Union, book pyres were erected and set alight in numerous German cities on 10 May 1933.

Fig. 01: Kunsthalle zu Kiel, exhibition view Annette Kelm. Die Bücher, 2022 (© Kunsthalle zu Kiel, photo: Helmut Kunde). Lilli Körber’s Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag on the far left.

Fig. 02: Kunsthalle zu Kiel, exhibition view Annette Kelm. Die Bücher, 2022 (© Kunsthalle zu Kiel, photo: Helmut Kunde).

The published lists of books ‘worthy of burning’[1] also included those photographed by Annette Kelm. Her photographs show the covers of 50 first editions of the publications that were burned in the auto-da-fé.[2] The inkjet prints, measuring 52 x 70 cm, show these books in the same bright illumination, with a drop shadow visible that emphasises their three-dimensionality, indicating that these are photographs of objects (not just of the front cover, for example). The photographs show the absent real object, whose contents remain illegible, as Robert Kehl points out in his review in the journal Texte zur Kunst. This shifts the accent from the book as an object of remembrance to the aesthetic diversity of book design, referring to the network of artists and designers of the Weimar Republic and thus problematising the never-linear act of commemoration.[3] In his argumentation, Kehl contrasts the factual and conceptual colour photography with the black and white of the historical photographs of the book burnings.[4] However, Annette Kelm’s expandable series contains more complicated implications that apply equally to Nazi book burning, persecuted writers and destroyed books as well as to the displacement of people and objects. I argue that, through Kelm’s photographic conceptual art, a contemporary audience can re-connect to the dis:connected publications and designs that were dispersed and therefore lost to a German audience due to Nazi persecution. Among the photographs (and, thus, also among the burned books) are several covers designed by John Heartfield: F.C. Weiskopf’s Umsteigen ins 21. Jahrhundert (1937) and Upton Sinclair’s Das Geld schreibt (1930), both published by Malik publishers in Berlin. Also tossed upon the pyre was Lili Körber’s Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag from 1932, which was published by Rowohlt Verlag with a book cover by Heartfield and is the starting point for my reflections (fig. 3).

An author, a graphic designer and a book – entangled histories

The literary scholar and writer Lili Körber was born in Moscow in 1897 as the daughter of an Austrian merchant family, and she later lived in Vienna. She was a member of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, the Union of Socialist Writers and the League of Austrian Proletarian Revolutionary Writers. This political commitment was also expressed in her journalism; Lili Körber wrote for leftist print media, such as the Wiener Arbeiter-Zeitung, the Rote Fahne and the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ). [5] Together with Anna Seghers and Johannes R. Becher, she accepted an invitation from the Moscow state publishing house to travel to the Soviet Union in 1930. Fluent in Russian, she decided to get to know the living and working conditions of the people by serving as a driller in the Putilov tractor works in Leningrad for several months. It was a factory with a ‘well-known history of revolutionary resistance during the tsarist era’.[6] Körber published her experiences as Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag (A woman experiences the everyday life of the Reds), a book published by Rowohlt Berlin in 1932 that runs to 239 pages. The author worked in the genre of documentary novels by reproducing documents such as pay slips and pages from her work logbook in addition to passages from her diary, which convey authentic and personal experiences (fig. 4). The book was a bestseller and was reviewed in the press by, for example, Siegfried Kracauer in the Frankfurter Zeitung, and the run of 6000 copies was sold out in four weeks.[7] No further editions were ever published.[8]

Fig. 03: Lili Körber. Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag. Berlin: Rowohlt, 1932, cover design by John Heartfield, cover, spine and back (Archive Burcu Dogramaci, © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023

The book cover was designed by the artist John Heartfield. The volume was published as a paperback with a dust jacket. Heartfield used three photographs for the cover, spine and back (fig. 3): at the front are two women with short haircuts measuring a milled steel piston. The photograph is cropped against a coral background that connects the three outer edges of the cover. The spine displays a square, with people walking in groups in the same direction (downwards in the picture) towards a common goal that lies outside the field of view. It could be a factory gate. On the back cover workers are erecting a large Soviet star and painting it with white Cyrillic letters; the lettering ‘There is metal’ refers to the accelerated construction of the metalworking industry in the Stalinist five-year plan.[9] Stalin’s likeness is presumably attached to the top. The three photographs work with dynamic lines. In front, the women look downwards, while tools and processed material point from the left to the top right. The crowd strides towards the bottom of the picture, the workers and the star are dynamically arranged from bottom left to top right. Heartfield’s design alludes to the content of the book: Körber’s experiences as a driller are echoed in the motifs of the workers, with the Soviet context on the back of the book. The dynamic composition again refers to the author and heroine's constant struggle with social and political circumstances as described in the blurb, which reads: ‘In workshops and hospitals, in furnished rooms and on the street, she fights day after day, with pleasure and agony, the heated lovers’ quarrel between the individual with the collective. Again and again balance is restored, and again and again the quarrel resumes’.[10] In addition, the cover in particular conveys an image of contemporary women and female workers in the Soviet Union, who outwardly resemble the New Women of the Weimar Republic.[11]

Fig. 04: Lili Körber. Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag. Berlin: Rowohlt, 1932 (Archive Burcu Dogramaci).

For his book and magazine covers, John Heartfield worked with the technique of photomontage, combining existing and specially taken photographs such that new meanings emerged. On the title page and in the pictures inside the AIZ, Heartfield brought together photographs from different contexts in one pictorial space. Through ‘the aesthetic closure of the cuts between the different photographic parts’[12] a new pictorial logic emerged, as Vera Chiquet notes. Heartfield’s photomontages for the AIZ used artistic means and pictorial constellations to expose the economic entanglements of National Socialism, the viciousness, the aggressiveness, the anti-Semitism of Nazi ideology. In his book covers, produced from 1920 onwards for publishers such as Malik (the publishing house run by Wieland Herzfelde, Heartfield's brother), Neuer Deutscher Verlag and Rowohlt, Heartfield used photographic material to translate books’ contents into artistic forms. [13] The ‘seductive aesthetic’[14] attracted attention on display tables and bookshop windows, and it drove sales along with the content, which was advertised via blurbs and reviews.

Dispersion – John Heartfield and Lili Körber in exile

Due to his political work, Heartfield had to flee to Prague as early as 1933, before continuing his artistic work for the AIZ. Like Heartfield, Körber, as a political author, quickly found herself in the crosshairs of the new rulers. Her 1934 novel Eine Jüdin erlebt das neue Deutschland (A Jewess Experiences the New Germany) ‘one of the first anti-fascist books’,[15] takes place in the transitional period between the end of the Weimar Republic and the establishment of the Nazi state, incisively observing the ideological suffusion of society. The list of harmful and undesirable literature (here as of October 1935), contains ‘Sämtliche Schriften’ (all writings) by Lili Körber.[16] In 1933, Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag was among the books burned.[17] A trip to Japan and China in 1934 found literary expression in the travelogue Begegnungen im Fernen Osten (Encounters in the Far East, Biblios publishers, Budapest, 1936, fig- 5) and in Sato-San, ein japanischer Held. Ein satyrischer Zeitroman (Sato-San, a Japanese Hero. A contemporary satyrical novel, Wiener Lesegilde, Vienna, 1936), which is a reflection on Japanese fascism that can also be read as a parody of Hitler. It thus becomes clear that the burning and banning of her books under National Socialism did not deter Körber from publishing political works.

Fig. 05: Lili Körber. Begegnungen im Fernen Osten. Budapest: Biblios publishers, 1936. Cover. (Archive Burcu Dogramaci).

Farewell shortly after the annexation of Austria, Körber fled Vienna to Paris via Zurich, where she wrote for Swiss newspapers and the Pariser Tageblatt.[18] From April 1938 onwards, the social-democratic newspaper Volksrecht in Zurich published the serial novel Eine Österreicherin erlebt den Anschluß (An Austrian woman experiences the annexation), in which Körber, under the pseudonym Agnes Muth, processed her observations in the proven form of an autobiographic novel. Finally, in June 1941, with the support of the Emergency Rescue Committee, she emigrated via Lisbon to New York, where Körber worked in a factory worker and as a nurse.[19] In addition to a few newspaper articles in, for example, the émigré newspaper Das andere Deutschland (The Other Germany) published in Buenos Aires, she also published the serial novel Ein Amerikaner in Russland (An American in Russia) in the New York ‘Anti-Nazi Newspaper’ Neue Volks-Zeitung in 1942/43.[20] Körber fell off the radar in Germany and Austria; her disappearance was the result of political persecution, the confiscation and destruction of her books and her emigration.[21] On the occasion of her 125th birthday, Lili Körber, who died in exile in New York in 1982, was described in a February 2022 newspaper article as ‘none forgotten, but today even a virtual unknown’.[22] This radical judgement must read in the context of the growing scholarly attention paid to her work in recent years. In the 1980s, two of her books were reissued in the wake of ascendant research on women writers and a burgeoning interest in exiled women. In 1984, persona publishers in Mannheim published Die Ehe der Ruth Gomperz (The Marriage of Ruth Gomperz), a re-edition of Eine Jüdin erlebt das neue Deutschland under a new title, and in 1988 the Brandstätter Verlag in Vienna reprinted Eine Österreicherin erlebt den Anschluß.[23] Körber’s book Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag has not been re-published to date, but it has been discussed in a number of academic papers.[24]This attention to Körber’s book can be attributed to the fact that male perspectives dominated reports on Russia until 1933, among other reasons. In the approximately 100 German-language reports published on Russia, there were only five other women besides Körber. [25]Nevertheless, the 1991 essay by the art historian Herta Wolf is entitled ‘Lili Körber – An Emigration into Oblivion’,[26] and the literary scholar Gabriele Kreis, who knew Körber personally, stated in 1993: ‘For the Austrian Lili Körber, exile meant the end of her existence as a writer. It turned her into a writing nurse. [...] When I asked her why she became a nurse, she answered: “It was the feeling that you can really do something in this profession, that you are needed.” As a writer, Lili Körber was no longer needed in Germany and Austria’.[27] As for John Heartfield, art history has undoubtedly not forgotten him. Rather, he is especially popular exponent of the Weimar Republic. His exile work, on the other hand, long received less notice. It was seen as subordinate and less political. John Heartfield fled from Prague to London in 1938, where he continued his work in various fields, as a member of the Free German League of Culture for example, composing title pages for magazines such as Picture Post, but above all as a designer for book covers. Heartfield designed numerous book covers between 1941 and 1949, especially for the publishing house Lindsay Drummond. These display both the continuation of his artistic means as well as the political orientation in his work.[28] The Lindsay Drummond publishing house, founded in 1937, had an anti-fascist programme that included books by politically active émigré authors. Not every book Heartfield designed for Drummond had a political impetus, but numerous publications were directed against the Nazi regime and its expansionist policies; they were devoted to wartime England and the Future of the Jews.[29] The book jacket of Wilhelm Necker's Hitler's War Machine and the Invasion of Britain (1941) shows a tank driving away from the viewpoint. The soldiers are captured from behind; parachutists and an aeroplane can be seen in the sky above. Soldiers in ranks, tanks and uniformed men marching are visible on the reverse. The visual symbolism depicts the Nazi army as technically advanced and disciplined; man and machine converge in this logic.

Fig. 06: Paul Duner. A Year and a Day. London: Lindsay Drummond, 1942 , cover design by John Hearfield (Archive Burcu Dogramaci, © The Heartfield Community of Heirs / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023).

A Year and a Day by Paul Duner (1942, fig. 6), on the other hand, is dedicated to the author's escape from occupied Belgium in October 1940 and the subsequent passage until his arrival in England in October 1941. Heartfield, who signed the cover with his name, juxtaposed photographs from the countries on Duner’s escape route to form a mosaic. On it is a circular map, with Paul Duner’s route into exile drawn in red. Heartfield's work for Lindsay Drummond in particular contradicts the view widely held by art historians that the artist was less noticed in English exile because his work was too modern or radical.[30] That view ignores the fact that the book, like the magazine, was a mobile medium that was bought, read, shared and mailed. Even during the Second World War alone, Lindsay Drummond published 157 books, many of which were designed by Heartfield.[31] Heartfield’s work for the publisher gave him visibility and allowed his work to circulate in the public domain, often with Heartfield’s signature on the covers.[32] Heartfield’s last published work for Lindsay Drummond dates to 1949, and he relocated to East Germany a year later.[33] Though all too often devalued in the literature as him just earning a paycheque, Heartfield cherished his work for Lindsay Drummond, as proven by the many framed covers and motifs adorning the walls of his Berlin flat in Friedrichstraße after his remigration.[34]

Dis:connected objects and actors: reframing exile history

Lili Körber’s book Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag thus opens up two exile stories that stand for dispersion, dislocation and new beginnings. Although the book fell victim to Nazi book burning and was confiscated from German libraries, a few copies can still be found in used-book shops. My search was also successful, even ending in a rare copy with a preserved dust jacket. By the way, Lili Körber carried the book with her on her various exile stops. When Gabriele Kreis visited her in New York in May 1980, Körber showed her a copy of Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag, but distanced herself from the book because her view of the Soviet Union had long since changed.[35] In a questionnaire sent to emigrant writers in 1959 by the publicist Wilhelm Sternfeld, Körber listed her book Eine Jüdin erlebt das neue Deutschland (1934) as her first publication.[36] She had thus broken with her burnt first work during her exile. Incidentally, Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag can also be found in John Heartfield’s estate.[37] The artist thus took it into exile and carried the book with him when he remigrated to the SBZ. This makes it a book with its own history of exile, a moving object, reproductions of which have been repeatedly shown in reproduction at various exhibitions in recent years as part of Annette Kelm's work Die Bücher (2019/20). In conclusion, this also allows us to reflect on the connective and dis:connective. Lili Körber’s book Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag is connected to the publication landscape of the Weimar Republic, to the book burnings in National Socialism (and thus denied literary reception in Germany after 1933 and from 1938 onwards in Austria) and to histories of emigration. It is disconnected, though, from the local literary landscape in New York and London, because Körber’s books were not known there and were not available in translation. The book is connected to two actors who remained unconnected/dis:connected due to their global dispersion. Annette Kelm, in turn, has reacquainted the contemporary art scene and a contemporary art audience with Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag –- an audience that gains its own access to the dis:connected objects through Kelm’s photographic conceptual art.[38]   [1] On such verbrennungswürdiger Bücher, see: Angela Graf, ‘April/Mai 1933 — Die “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” und die Bücherverbrennungen, 9–22. Bonn: Bibliothek der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2003’, in Verbrannt, geraubt, gerettet! Bücherverbrennungen in Deutschland. Eine Ausstellung der Bibliothek der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung anlässlich des 70. Jahrestages (Bonn: Bibliothek der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2003), 12. All translations from German are by the author. [2] The project was produced in 2019 as part of the exhibition Tell me yesterday tomorrow at the NS-Dokumentationszentrum, Munich. Cf.: Udo Kittelmann, Nicolaus Schafhausen, and Mirjam Zadoff, ‘Probleme in die Zukunft retten’, in Annette Kelm – Die Bücher, ed. Udo Kittelmann, Nicolaus Schafhausen, and Mirjam Zadoff (Cologne: Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, 2022), 139–40. [3] Robert Kehl, ‘Überlebende Bücher’, Texte zur Kunst, 28 August 2020, https://www.textezurkunst.de/articles/robert-kehl-uberlebende-bucher/; see also: Jan-Holger Kirsch, ‘“Das Buch wird Bild”. Annette Kelms Fotoausstellung “Die Bücher” im Museum Frieder Burda, Salon Berlin’, Visual History, 17 August 2020, https://visual-history.de/2020/08/17/das-buch-wird-bild/. [4] Robert Kehl, ‘Überlebende Bücher’. [5] Cf.: Walter Fähnders, ‘Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag. Lili Körbers Tagebuch-Roman über die Putilow-Werke’, in Der lange Schatten des ‘Roten Oktober’. Zur Relevanz und Rezeption sowjet-russischer Literatur in Österreich 1918–1938, ed. Primus-Heinz Kucher and Rebecca Unterberger, Wechselwirkungen. Österreichische Literatur im internationalen Kontext, 22 (Berlin: Peter Lang, 2019), 118–19. [6] Viktoria Hertling, Quer durch: Von Dwinger bis Kisch: Berichte und Reportagen über die Sowjetunion aus der Epoche der Weimarer Republik (Königstein: Forum Academicum, 1982), 95. [7] Siegfried Kracauer, ‘Aus dem roten Alltag’, Frankfurter Zeitung, 24 July 1932, 2. Morgenblatt, 5; see also: Fähnders, ‘Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag’, 120; Hertling, Quer durch, 93. [8] The book has also been translated into English, Bulgarian and Japanese. Cf.: Viktoria Hertling, ‘Nachwort’, in Eine Österreicherin erlebt den Anschluss, by Lili Körber (Vienna: Christian Brandstätter, 1988), 151–57. [9] Cf.: Fähnders, Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag, 122–23. [10] Lili Körber, Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag (Rowohlt, 1932), Blurb. [11] Cf.: Hertling, , Quer durch, 96. [12] Vera Chiquet, Fake Fotos. John Heartfields Fotomontagen in populären Illustrierten, Edition Medienwissenschaft, 47 (Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag, 2018), 19. [13] On the book covers see above all: Lux Rettej, John Heartfield. Buchgestaltung und Fotomontage. Eine Sammlung, ed. Friedrich Haufe (Berlin: Rotes Antiquariat and Galerie C. Bartsch, 2014). On the website https://heartfield.adk.de all book covers kept in the estate are available, often also different versions. [14] Chiquet, Fake Fotos, 123. [15] Hertling, ‘Nachwort’, 154; Lili Körber, Eine Jüdin erlebt das neue Deutschland (Vienna: Verlag der Buchhandlung Richard Lanyi, 1934). [16] Reichsschrifttumskammer, ed., Liste 1 des schädlichen und unerwünschten Schrifttums. Gemäß §1 der Anordnung des Präsidenten der Reichsschrifttumskammer vom 25. April 1935. (Berlin: Reichsdruckerei, 1935), 67, https://digitale-sammlungen.ulb.uni-bonn.de/periodical/pageview/6670278. [17] ‘Bibliothek verbrannter Bücher’, accessed 13 February 2023. http://www.verbrannte-buecher.de/. [18] Gabriele Kreis, ‘Lili Körber. Leben und Werk’, in Die Ehe der Ruth Gomperz. Roman, by Lili Körber (Mannheim: Persona, 1984), 10. [19] For a description of route Lili Körber and her partner Erich Grave took into exile, see: Viktoria Hertling, ‘Farewell to Yesterday. Lili Körbers Exil in New York zwischen Fiktion und Wirklichkeit’, Dachauer Hefte. Special Issue ‘Überleben und Spätfolgen’ 8, no. 8 (1992): 205–7. [20] I thank Silke Wehrle for making this serial novel accessible to me. [21] Cf.: Hertling, ‘Farewell to Yesterday’, 208. [22] Christiana Puschak, ‘Eine von ihnen. Auf Entdeckungsfahrt in die Wirklichkeit. Vor 125 Jahren wurde Lili Körber geboren’, Junge Welt, https://www.jungewelt.de/artikel/print.php?id=421489. Accessed  April, 2023. [23] Lili Körber, Die Ehe der Ruth Gomperz (Mannheim: Persona, 1984); Lili Körber, Eine Österreicherin erlebt den Anschluß (Vienna: Brandstätter, 1988). [24] See: Hertling, Quer durch; Herta Wolf, ‘Lili Körber. Eine Emigration in die Vergessenheit’, in Eine schwierige Heimkehr. Österreichische Literatur im Exil 1939–1945, ed. Johann Holzner, Sigurd Paul Scheichl and Wolfgang Wiesmüller (Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft, 1991), 285–298; Fähnders, Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag; Katharina Schätz, Alltag im Arbeiterviertel. österreichisch-russische Tagebuchrealitäten bei Alja Rachmanowa und Lili Körber (Vienna: Paesens Verlag, 2019). [25] Cf.: Fähnders, ‘Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag’, 121. See also: Matthias Heeke, Reise zu den Sowjets. Der ausländische Tourismus in Russland 1921–1941. Mit einem bio-bibliographischen Anhang zu 96 deutschen Reiseautoren (Münster et al.: LIT Verlag, 2003), 561–637. [26] Wolf, ‘Lili Körber’, 285–298. [27] Gabriele Kreis, ‘”Schreiben aus eigener Erfahrung...” Drei Schriftstellerinnen im Exil: Lili Körber, Irmgard Keun, Adrienne Thomas’, in Zwischen Aufbruch und Verfolgung. Künstlerinnen der zwanziger und dreißiger Jahre, ed. Denny Hirschbach and Sonia Nowoselsky (Bremen: Zeichen+Spuren, 1993), 67–71. [28] Anna Schultz, ‘Uncompromising Mimicry. Heartfield’s Exile in London’, in John Heartfield. Photography Plus Dynamyte, ed. Angela Lammert, Rosa von der Schulenburg, and Anna Schultz (Exh. Cat. Akademie der Künste, 2020), 76–71. For John Heartfield’s work in London, see also: Burcu Dogramaci, ‘John Heartfield’, Metromod, . accessed 14 February, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/1470/object/5138-9615821 [29] The exiled Norwegian historian Jacob S. Worm-Müller published Norway revolts against the Nazis (1941, 2nd ed.) with Lindsay Drummond. The Austrian writer Felix Langer, who had lived in exile in London since 1939, published Stepping Stones to Peace. On the problems of post-war relations with Germany (1943). The volume The Future of the Jews was edited by J. J. Lynx in 1945. [30] See among others: Jutta Vinzent, Identity and Image. Refugee Artists from Nazi Germany in Britain (1933–1945), Schriften der Guernica-Gesellschaft, 16 (Weimar: VDG, 2006), 134; Barbara Copeland Buenger, ‘John Heartfield in London. 1938–45’, in Exil. Flucht und Emigration europäischer Künstler 1933–1945, ed. Stepahnie Barron and Sabine Eckmann (Munich: Prestel, 1997), 74. [31] See entries in the catalogue of British Library: http://explore.bl.uk/, accessed 14 February 2023. [32] Anna Schultz writes in ‘Uncompromising Mimicry. Heartfield’s Exile in London’, 197: ‘The firm’s (Lindsay Drummond) directors clearly wished to capitalize on Heartfield’s reputation, and his name was prominently displayed on the covers he designed.’ [33] Almost no information can be found about Drummond. On the one hand, it is said that he founded his publishing house in 1938 and died in 1949: John Krygier, ‘Russian Literature Library’, A Series of a Series: 20th-Century Publishers Book Series, accessed 14 February 2023, https://seriesofseries. owu.edu/russian-literature-library/. On the Wikipedia entry of his father, see ‘Laurence Drummond’, Wikipedia, accessed 14 February 2023, https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Drummond. [34] Anna Schultz, ‘Uncompromising Mimicry’, 202, footnote 23. [35] Gabriele Kreis, ‘Lili Körber. Leben und Werk’, 7. [36]Ibid., 7. [37] See https://heartfield.adk.de/node/4466, accessed 14 February 2023. [38] This research on John Heartfield was conducted with the support of the author’s ERC Consolidator Grant project ‘Relocating Modernism: Global Metropolises, Modern Art and Exile (METROMOD)’ (European Research Council (ERC) under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, 2016), grant agreement No 724649 – METROMOD.  
Akademie der Künste, ‘Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag: Ein Tagebuchroman aus den Putilovwerken’, Heartfield online. Accessed 14 February 2023. https:// heartfield.adk.de/node/4466. ‘Bibliothek verbrannter Bücher’. Accessed 13 February 2023. http://www. verbrannte-buecher.de/. British Library, ‘Explore the British Library’. Accessed 14 February 2023. http:// explore.bl.uk/. Chiquet, Vera. Fake Fotos. John Heartfields Fotomontagen in populären Illustrierten. Edition Medienwissenschaft, 47. Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag, 2018. Copeland Buenger, Barbara. ‘John Heartfield in London. 1938–45’. In Exil. Flucht und Emigration    europäischer Künstler 1933–1945, edited by Stephanie Barron and Sabine Eckmann, 74–79. Munich: Prestel, 1997 Dogramaci, Burcu. ‘John Heartfield’. Metromod, 20 June 2021. https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/1470/object/5138-9615821. Fähnders, Walter. ‘Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag. Lili Körbers Tagebuch-Roman über die Putilow-Werke’. In Der lange Schatten des ‘Roten Oktober’. Zur Relevanz und Rezeption sowjet-russischer Literatur in Österreich 1918–1938, edited by Primus-Heinz Kucher and Rebecca Unterberger, Wechselwirkungen. Österreichische Literatur im internationalen Kontext, 22., 117–32. Berlin: Peter Lang, 2019. Graf, Angela. ‘April/Mai 1933 – Die “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” und die Bücherverbrennungen , 9–22. Bonn: Bibliothek Der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2003.’ In Verbrannt, geraubt, gerettet! Bücherverbrennungen in Deutschland. Eine Ausstellung der Bibliothek der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung anlässlich des 70. Jahrestages, 9–22. Bonn: Bibliothek der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2003. Heeke, Matthias. Reise zu den Sowjets. Der ausländische Tourismus in Russland 1921–1941. Mit einem bio-bibliographischen Anhang zu 96 deutschen Reiseautoren. Münster et al.: LIT Verlag, 2003. Hertling, Viktoria. ‘Farewell to Yesterday. Lili Körbers Exil in New York zwischen Fiktion und Wirklichkeit’. Dachauer Hefte. Special Issue ‘Überleben und Spätfolgen’ 8, no. 8 (1992): 202–12. ———. ‘Nachwort’. In Eine Österreicherin erlebt den Anschluss, by Lili Körber, 151–57. Vienna: Christian Brandstätter, 1988. ———. Quer durch: Von Dwinger Bis Kisch: Berichte und Reportagen über die Sowjetunion aus der Epoche der Weimarer Republik. Königstein: Forum Academicum, 1982. Kehl, Robert. ‘Überlebende Bücher’. Texte zur Kunst, 28 August 2020. https://www.textezurkunst.de/articles/robert-kehl-uberlebende-bucher/. Kirsch, Jan-Holger. ‘“Das Buch wird Bild”. Annette Kelms Fotoausstellung “Die Bücher” im Museum Frieder Burda, Salon Berlin’. Visual History, 17 August 2020. https://visual-history.de/2020/08/17/das-buch-wird-bild/. Kittelmann, Udo, Nicolaus Schafhausen, and Mirjam Zadoff. ‘Probleme in die Zukunft retten’. In Annette Kelm – Die Bücher, edited by Udo Kittelmann, Nicolaus Schafhausen, and Mirjam Zadoff, 139–40. Cologne: Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, 2022. Körber, Lili. Begegnungen im Fernen Osten. Budapest: Biblios publishers, 1936. ———. Die Ehe der Ruth Gomperz. Mannheim: Persona, 1984. ———. Eine Frau erlebt den roten Alltag. Rowohlt, 1932. ———. Eine Jüdin erlebt das neue Deutschland. Vienna: Verlag der Buchhandlung Richard Lanyi, 1934. ———. Eine Österreicherin erlebt den Anschluß. Vienna: Brandstätter, 1988. Kracauer, Siegfried. ‘Aus dem roten Alltag’. Frankfurter Zeitung, 24 July 1932, 2. Morgenblatt. Kreis, Gabriele. ‘Lili Körber. Leben und Werk’. In Die Ehe der Ruth Gomperz. Roman., by Lili Körber, 5–13. Mannheim: Persona, 1984. ———. ‘”Schreiben aus eigener Erfahrung...” Drei Schriftstellerinnen im Exil: Lili Körber, Irmgard Keun, Adrienne Thomas’. In Zwischen Aufbruch und Verfolgung. Künstlerinnen der zwanziger und dreißiger Jahre, edited by Denny Hirschbach and Sonia Nowoselsky, 65–80. Bremen: Zeichen+Spuren, 1993. Puschak, Christiana. ‘Eine von ihnen. Auf Entdeckungsfahrt in die Wirklichkeit. Vor 125 Jahren wurde Lili Körber geboren’. Junge Welt, 25 February 2022. https://www.jungewelt.de/artikel/print.php?id=421489. Reichsschrifttumskammer, ed. Liste 1 des schädlichen und unerwünschten Schrifttums. Gemäß §1 der Anordnung des Präsidenten der Reichsschrifttumskammer vom 25. April 1935. Berlin: Reichsdruckerei, 1935. https://digitale-sammlungen.ulb.uni-bonn.de/periodical/pageview/6670278. Rettej, Lux. John Heartfield. Buchgestaltung und Fotomontage. Eine Sammlung. Edited by Friedrich Haufe. Berlin: Rotes Antiquariat and Galerie C. Bartsch, 2014. Schätz, Katharina. Alltag Im Arbeiterviertel. Österreichisch-russische Tagebuchrealitäten bei Alja Rachmanowa und Lili Körber. Vienna: Paesens Verlag, 2019. Schultz, Anna. ‘Uncompromising Mimicry. Heartfield’s Exile in London’. In John Heartfield. Photography Plus Dynamyte, edited by Angela Lammert, Rosa von der Schulenburg, and Anna Schultz, 194–202. Exh. Cat. Akademie der Künste, 2020. Vinzent, Jutta. Identity and Image. Refugee Artists from Nazi Germany in Britain (1933–1945). Schriften der Guernica-Gesellschaft, 16. Weimar: VDG, 2006. Wolf, Herta. ‘Lili Körber. Eine Emigration in die Vergessenheit’. In Eine schwierige Heimkehr. Österreichische Literatur im Exil 1939–1945, edited by Johann Holzner, Sigurd Paul Scheichl, and Wolfgang Wiesmüller, 285–98. Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft, 1991.  
citation information:
Dogramaci, Burcu. ‘Eine Frau Erlebt Den Roten Alltag, Written by Lili Körber and Designed by John Heartfield (Cover): Burnt Books, Exiled Authors and Dis:Connective Memories’. Global Dis:Connect Blog (blog), 30 May 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/05/30/exiled-authors-and-disconnected-memories/.
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