Death and the Maiden

A visual poem in three parts: FRAGMENTS, GULAG, and FUGUE of DEATH.

In the two cavernous rooms where two parts of the exhibition take place, the Askania AG, under the codename “Lore 3” manufactured electronic steering parts for the German radar defense system and also for the V2 rocket,the first missile. The Askania AG conscripted about 50 Ukrainian women and an unknown number of Hungarian jewish women for the hard labor. The fate of these women is unknown.

In the room titled FRAGMENTS, series of images, many of them portraits, explore the role of women in history and in warfare. Woman is represented not only as victim, but also as collaborator, as Valkyrie and mistress of death.

In the room titled GULAG large color diptychs and triptychs of the Solovetsky archipelago dominate the smaller black and white prints that show the death of all individuality in labor and penal camps. No portraits hang on these walls. The individual is lost in the faceless mass as well as in the eternal woods and vast spaces of the landscape. The altar piece on the wall opposite the entrance pays homage to the countless victims of the past. It is a reminder that people today still slave in such camps.

The photographs of the FUGUE of DEATH pay tribute to the poems in Paul Celan’s “Poppy and Remembrance”. They are installed in the former air raid shelters of the brewery in such a way as to impress on the viewer almost viscerally the perversity of any form of aerial bombardment. The process of depersonalization that began in the images of the GULAG ends in the anonymous piles of the bodies of the slain.

The installation has a dual structure. Life/Death, Destruction/Rebirth, Nature/Man and Woman, East/West, Flowers/Bombs, Magda Goebbels/Sophie Scholl – they all dance a Pas de deux to the basic theme of the exhibition: Who represents Death and who the Maiden. It is also a dance macabre of lesser acknowledged victims of recent history – the victims of Imperial Japan, of Bolshevism, the Roma and Sinti in the “Third Reich”.

The sheer beauty of the landscape images in the exhibition is intentional. They are photographs of battlefields and other sites of conflict. Viktor Frankl describes in his book “Say Yes to Life in Spite of Everything” how the beauty of nature consoled his soul and gave him strength to live for another day. The beauty of the photographs is supposed to instill in the viewer the desire to protect nature, to treasure life and to declare war on war – because war is ugly.

Bettina WitteVeen