knowing for real,
beneath the skin
Rewriting stories with empty lines.
My story and yours
still separate, frozen
are starting to melt:
Letters flow away,
sentences gather in puddles…
Our story, one slow current,
trickles into new patterns,
seeps into the ground or evaporates
save for a bit of dust,
and falls down as rain, somewhere.
For the series of photographs “story, written on ice” I wrote on a bloc of ice with Indian ink. I chose two different fragments of German text, one from a family saga by John von Düffel, whose writing usually has to do with water. The other line is from a poem which is better known as the song “The miller’s joy is wandering”. Here are the translations:
Impossible to say, how often I thought of these rivers, how often I dreamt of them, how many nights I was drawn to them, when I was passing through sleeping towns, dry, riverless towns, on the search for water, on the search for the movement of water,(…). My translation from: John von Düffel “Vom Wasser” (On water).
Not all the books that I am transforming are telling enchanting stories (as the fairy tales here). And I cannot look at all of the stories in the neutral attitude that I had for the zoo tales.
One such difficult book is “Der Wind stirbt vor dem Dschungel” (The wind dies before the jungle) by Harry Thürk. It tells the story of the colonial wars and persecution of communists in Malaya in the 1950s. I opened the pages at a part where one of the heroines is threatened with cruel torture. As a child in the GDR I foremost recognized the story as another version of the fable from the good, upright communists. I knew this pattern well enough and discarded the novel. Today I see it as a tale of conflict and war that had to be told and that is now ready for alchemic transformation.
With mixed feelings I took to a copy of “10 days that shook the world” by journalist John Reed. He witnessed the October Revolution in Russia 1917 first hand and wrote his influential book about it. Yet, to me it has the aura of instrumentalized GDR literature. Which, of course, is not fair towards the American Reed, who already died in 1920.
The altered book manifests breakup and dissolution: Fixed structures are ripped open, walls fall down and there is a glimpse of hopeful gold beneath. Yet, the fragments are bound and it is totally open, what new texture will eventually evolve. Just as it was with the October Revolution in 1917 and as it still is with the revolutions and upheavals of today.
Another difficult story is “Der Brief aus Odessa” (The letter from Odessa), a tiny book by GDR children’s book author Anne Geelhaar. The story is placed at the end of the Second World War in a German village and basically tells about the fear of the approaching Russians, from the perspective of a little girl. Of course, the Russian soldiers turn out to be trustworthy good men. I was interested in the pattern of fear, which is not restricted to this particular story. I wanted to show it as a pattern that is nothing but a pattern among others.
The starting point for “signs of departure” have been a few cracked eggs which I altered with Indian ink and scraps of text. The moment of breaking the egg, the departure itself, is already over, but it can still be deduced from the shells that are left here.
The second altered book is ready for departure. It has packed its valuables into a bundle. The most important thing for the new adventure has been placed at the top, where it is easy to access. And that “und” – German for “and”.
Memories of an earlier departure influence the third book that is undergoing transformation. I transferred a photograph of a stack of wood – complete with marks for further processing – to the left side. The pattern of stacked circles and marks repeats on the pages on the right side. What the next processing phase will bring is yet unknown.
Lately I have been working a lot with a Reclam paperback from 1984: Hans Christian Andersen. Fairy Tales and Stories. The pages are thin and yellowed and they hold beautiful words. For instance “the flowers were dancing on the stems” or “the dresses turned into feathers”. Perfect for creating something new!
But an Andersen tale in one piece is not inspiring to me at all. So circuitous and verbose. So morally instructive. And look at the heroines who remain in memory basically as nice and sweet-natured. Despite the disappointment that Andersen has in store for them: The little mermaid, the little match girl or Gerda, who goes all the way to the Snow Queen.
At any rate, this book has reached a new phase in its life. Maybe i hit puberty. It became a little savage, defiant. It is also feeling insecure, as yet. And it still loves to play as I found out when doing the pictures.