- DAAD Gallerie
The new DAAD Gallerie is situated a few hundred metres from Check Point Charlie and at the end, or, if you wish, the begginning of Zimmerstrasse, where, built with white lustre and lit with a gravity of flares – The Berlin Wall has reappeared. The oddity being that for 10 years the wall had vanished to be now rebuilt as historical place of import. The Frederichstrasse with its once-arms outstretched-guillotined embarkation or return of passage, is newly tarred.
To the West crucifixes mark the loss of life in attempting to reach a promised land. When directly mirrored by the east the Zimmerstrasse disapears like all roads, obsolete. And the white enameled beacon, the hut of the guards, stands centre stage, unporoused, mid thoroughfare. A pure white lie of fabrication should it offend. Postcard perfect sandbags, are placed west, wreathes peppered at their base. This newly stenciled sitenow inhabits where once tentative and great global schisms, became a physical manifest. This architecttual regurgitation was only possible-Shinto-like-after a near to fifteen year of further revisions of histories. A gap in the one road,ever pervasive-the great divide. Susan Hiller’s The J Street Project is installed and screened and falls luminous on the sidewalks from the DAAD Gallerie on Zimmerstrasse. The title is Hiller’s quest to locate and shoot, over a three-year period, all the existing street names in Germany that pertain to Juden(Jews): Judenstrasse, Judenweg, Judengasse.
5 to 10 second-long shots are woven together with longer out-takes. A still camera’s gaze lounges at a drinking fountain at the base of the steep decline of one of the medieval beer-and-whore soaked picturesques we are so familiarly sold as reproduction water colours on coasters – the romantic and flush Germania herself – emptied.
Next, a car pulls up to a blonde brick house, a symmetrical row of three. The house is a two-storey squash, the front door glass, tinted and patterned to burn amber within from the afternoon sun. The haunting begins. A couple get out, far-stretched fields behind, far far faraway dislocations. Judenweg is foreground. The man shuffles with his keys and they enter. The camera, a surreal voyeur, a motionless eye, lies in wait. Momentarily the man re-opens his door, opens the aluminum-cased letterbox by the door’s side, retrieves the mail, slams it shut, re-enters and closes the door, a mundane action lived out on a horizon of anywheres. This anywhere we are reminded by the dropped heavy bottomed letter J, or its formation in a jeery jilt, our eyes trained in the gothic script through a deluge of WWII film archive memories to draw upon, this could only be Germany. The question that comes to mind is how and when was this small street, a possible cul de sac for cars, or all the other J Streets named, and why.
In Dresden, a little red train of tourists absurdly propped, pass a kiosk, possibly a Jewish proprietor, which a hint of a yarmulke and prayer shawl may suggest – it matters not, yet curiously enough you are watching for sign after sign (clue after clue???) – as the little red caboose traverses a foreground of Judenstrasse. Boys on scooters in a green spring light, racketing down a sharp decline of concertinaed steps, Judengasse.
A skateboarder, his shadow cut solidly on the Judenweg tar. The orange burnt light of an autumnal sunset. In real time we see the dissolve of the street named Jew, when suddenly a flare of headlights suggest a hint of something menacing flashing, fast approaching in this sudden disquietude.
This is an intriguing testimonial. These streets. These hidden histories. The lives past and present, just as the municipal street swabs that massage the streets clean, are all occupants of the incidental, the camera’s gaze. The tension between the pictorial plane, the camera never moving, is insistent on your gaze to consider the subject-those traces of the hauntings- what these signs evoke and conjure in their ignored, unseen, familiar and well-lived in moment, When, given our historical insight, a bizarre yet canny testimony to the victims of the Holocaust and the systematic persecution of the people whose street names bore their religious marking. It is on these very streets there was a removal, a shift, a dislocation, and a crime.
Susan Hiller has sought a complexity of theory and practice in her large oeuvre of work. There is a particular side, maybe of which the artist is unaware, or particularly searching. Two years ago I was invited to relay a short description of a near death experience to be used by Hiller in a planned audio installation of distortions and echoes, mumblings and some crystalline sentences describing the experience, and the wonderfully spiraling distillation of an experience – profound, that the artist was aware she would invoke in each of the recallers, her subjects. The experiencing of the installation itself was like an underbelly of breaths from afar, so too were the memories, quietly, infrequently informing, the teller given sudden voice. A setting and a given vocabulary in which to sculpt the experience.
Susan Hiller’s work has struck me at its strongest when she is investigating the tenuous, ethereal bridge between altered states. Reality shaped by a beyond. In the poignant and unsettling Sisters of Menon, are traces of channeling on cheap drawing paper; this the uncertain dialogue, and then later to be found on large canvases glued with the wallpaper from her son’s bedroom. A medium. A chaneller. Titles dismissed by the skeptical, known only to the artist herself. A tenuous sleight of hand of codifying that which seems impossible and/or implausible to grasp. Paintings, birthed, were incinerated for the reliquary of jars. This seemed a stubborn act, a defiance of cycles and yet, in its being, the ashes trapped, the investigation spells a process of being and rebeing. Formed, unformed, formed. And it is the transitional, implausible and impossible, that the artist in her strength relinquishes most, and yet finds resource to signal the signal. Like Raskanilkov’s lifted arm for the hammer’s blow frozen indelibly on the moneylenders eye, her last vision. That vaporous mystery, that blind bridge is what Susan Hiller does best in giving to visual and sensory language.
The hidden mapping contained within The J Street Project is that which most fascinates me, and what lies within is the hidden trajectory that led from one J Street to another. An aerial mapping comes into play, from one to two to three to four, what other histories were spelt in the street names that could have led to this investigation. What men and women, whose legacies in shaping a national culture-pride and prejudice. Are they the next street, or at the next turn. After the immediate understanding and disconcerting graphic force of the black+white street signs, its subtle play of the inconsequential state of its being, its reading or meaning, of the people inhabiting the landscape, or lack thereof, of a time of the incomprehensible nature of the barbarous, obscene, absurd horror and these witting or unwitting testimonies that lay within the midst. of J Street. There is indignation in the present and a scream from who knows where.