While some of my blogger friends accompany their art across borders and oceans I often feel like I’m turning round and round in the dip a blunt needle made on a map (and yes, my mien is somewhat green). From here I try to make every little thing go a long way – materials&making,energy&concentration, communication&procrastination. Actually, there is not much room for the latter, I practically lie in wait for muscles to move and brain cells to spin for a wee while.
I am so hungry for more. And delighted that some art/life-conversations have started to intensify. This week I had a little flurry of encounters, one face-to-face when the lovely Rosalind Davis visited and shared art, texts, insight, and enthusiasm; and on-line with Sonia Boué, Helen Le Brocq, Kate Murdoch, Elena Thomas and Jean McEwan. These exchanges augment my thinking&feeling in every respect.
It was interesting to me that my last post should get such strong reactions. The sentence “I would never want to be held forever accountable to who I was as a 17year old” pierced me and made me wonder if that’s what I’m doing, hold my father accountable (in many ways I was glad that someone else felt protective towards him). It’s an important question and points to a dilemma at the heart of my explorations, namely if and how to pull apart the personal and the collective when they are so closely intertwined; and how to explore the surrounding themes of responsibility and culpability, and ultimately guilt.
This is how I formulated it a while ago (post#102): “Sometimes what I’m doing feels like an act of aggression against him, a posthumous dismantling. And if I feel for him (and myself), does that mean I don’t feel for those who were starved, worked to death, murdered?” I often think I’m dizzily walking on a tightrope made from a single silken thread, and can but fall, and only to one side.
The impetus to remember is different for those who were persecuted (who can’t bear to recall what they and others were subject to) and those on the perpetrators’ side (who want to excuse and justify). And the gap between lived experience and what is told of it, is huge on both sides, again for very different reasons. The fact that both war and holocaust were possible because of the involvement of ‘normal’ people from all layers of society is what makes this so hard. It is much easier to think of Gestapo and SS as sole perpetrators, and this is how we learned it at school, but what about the soldiers, civil servants, train conductors, secretaries, and all those who remained silent when race became the foremost identifying factor and the Jewish population was expelled from universities, professions, hospitals, department stores, their shops raided, their assets stolen? I struggle with the horror of history, at a remove from me by just one generation, and the unanswerable question of what I might have done had I been alive then.
My dad was not a nazi, he had no part in bringing the regime about, was sent to war before he could vote and thus sucked into the regime’s dark heart… Whatever he did or didn’t do, he, who was so young, was there (and came back traumatised). Through him I too am directly connected to that time.
That I have chosen to make him the centre of my explorations imbues me with a power which I am very, very uncomfortable with, and maybe the fact that I am putting him in that context in front of all of you is already an aggressive act. There are questions I have to ask myself: Do I let him stand in for Reich and Volk? Do I direct at him my anger about this abject heritage? Oh, I hope not. This project stirs up complex, even extreme emotions, and I won’t pretend that I can begin to spell them out. Yet for someone whose family was murdered in the holocaust my contortions may seem ridiculous. One thing is sure: when I find my dad wanting I find myself wanting too.
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