Opening of the exhibition by the artist Michaela Melián: Heimweh in cooperation with the Dresdner exhibition space S T O R E run by Konstanze Schütze and Paul Barsch. Michaela Melián has previously presented an extensive artistic work dealing with the history of the displaced persons camp Föhrenwald near Munich and the people who lived there. Between 1946 and 1948 it was one of the largest DP camps in the American occupation zone with around 5,600 inhabitants. The piece was also on view on the grounds of the synagogue and was awarded one of the most important German radio play prizes.
Glass objects are arranged on a table, everyday things such as different tumblers, bowls, bulbs, vases, acrylic packages, CD covers etc., as well as prisms cut to geometrical bodies, such as cuboids, cylinders and pyramids, made specifically for the show. The objects are illuminated by a slide projector that turns them into an abstract urban landscape. A cut prism on a small motor rotates in front of the slide projector’s lens creating a kind of film along the walls of the room in which the projected city permanently changes in a flowing motion. At the same time, configurations of spectral colors alternate on the surface of the table between the glass objects.
The slides running through the rotating projector create a specific rhythm. Around two thirds of the slide frames are empty and function as a pure source of light illuminating the glass objects and the projection of the city. Between the empty frames are slides of greatly enlarged details of Else Lasker-Schüler’s drawings and texts. Her work is fed into the slowly rotating projection and fragmented and refracted by the glass objects.
The third element of the spatial installation is an audio track with a recording of Heimweh written by Else Lasker-Schüler in 1909 in Berlin. The poem is read in German and, in a phonetic adaptation, also in Hebrew and Arabic and is embedded in a composition produced from the sounds of a glass harmonium.
Installation with slide projection and audio track, 2012
Glasses, prisms, slides, projector, motor, audio track
Voice: Juno Meinecke
Hebrew coach: Noi Fuhrer
Translation into Arabic: Husein Chawich
Arabic coach: Safaa Nisani
Voice recordings: Michael Heilrath
Music: Michaela Melián
Historical and theoretical background of the slide and audio installation
For the title of the Hebräische Balladen (1912), Else Lasker-Schüler made a drawing of her artistic alter ego, Jussuf, Prince of Thebes, holding a miniature city in his arm. In iconographic respect, this depiction is reminiscent of those of patron saints of a city.
Her artistic figure Jussuf, a synthesis of Yussuf (12th surah of the Quran) and Joseph (Genesis), stands for being foreign in the sense of exile, but also for being foreign among one’s own people. The place of longing, Thebes, a mythical projection from the Oriental-biblical past, imagines the model of a future community.
In a life-long appropriation process, Lasker-Schüler reformulated found material in her texts and pictures. Through accentuations and collages, she dissolved the borders between the European and Oriental, Jewish and Arabic, one’s own and the other. Religions, spaces, times, genders, and ethnicities are transcended in the location of Thebes and the figure of Jussuf.
Lasker-Schüler dispenses with perspectival constructions in her pictures, she emphasizes contours and confines herself to what is essential. Basic geometrical shapes, square (palace) and circular arc (temple) are combined as modules to form the Oriental city of Thebes. She uses everyday materials, such as metal foils, forms, envelopes, postcards, and perforated, lines, squared and cut pages for collages. Even her drawings are cut and reassembled. Lasker-Schüler’s performative readings include sound effects and an invented language, which as ›mystical Asian‹ is meant to allude to Hebrew and Arabic.
Like many assimilated Jews in Germany, Else Lasker-Schüler constantly experiences that they are viewed by others, by non-Jews, as ‘totally un-German’ without ‘Germanic blood’, as not belonging. Against this anti-Semitic background, many Jewish intellectuals and artists begin looking to the Orient and romanticizing—like many of their non-Jewish colleagues as well—the supposed authenticity of Far eastern and African art and culture.
This attitude is embedded in the zeitgeist: In the wake of national colonial policies around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, objects of everyday use and cult objects are exhibited in ethnological museums and even people in the anthropological displays at fairs. Stereotype of exotic peoples are constructed in popular culture (cinema, cabaret, circus, costume festivals, popular literature).
After Lasker-Schüler had to leave Germany in 1933 and began living in Palestine from 1939 onward, she adheres to the orientalizing depiction of her figures, juxtaposing Arabs and Jews of different Oriental and European origin as ‘twin tribes’ that can be distinguished only by the way they dress.
She is interested in an ethically legitimized community that assumes ‘true international’ responsibility in a binational state.
Michaela Melián 2012