Monday, May 05, 2008

Susan Silas

Some interesting work by Susan Silas came my way recently.

I am particularly taken by Helmbrecht's Walk, 1998 - 2003:

Helmbrechts walk, is a visual representation of the act of walking through a landscape marked by the historical specificity of the forced march of 580 Jewish women prisoners at the end of the Second World War. This book is a document of that endeavor - walking for 22 days and 225 miles in Germany and the Czech Republic on the fifty third anniversary of those events. A historically accurate reconstruction of the march route was possible with the help of the German trial transcript of Alois Dörr and historical maps housed in the New York Public Library.

Her two bird projects are also somewhat intriguing - yard bird and bleeding bird. As well as Re-unifications 2001

Each print couples an image from the Olympic Stadium, in what was once West Berlin with an image from the Jewish Cemetery at Weißensee, once in East Berlin.

She also has an extract from the Meditations accompanying Helmbrecht's Walk:

In a meeting with the scholar Dora Apel who was working on a book about artists born after the conclusion of the war who have made work about the Holocaust, these excursions into Manhattan from suburbia with various Hungarian immigrants - some of whom could barely speak English -came up. She too had seen Dr. Zhivago in her teens. Given the number of times I had seen the film back then it came as a surprise to me to discover that I could only remember one scene in the film with any clarity. It is the scene in which the young girl, played by Rita Tushingham, is asked by her father’s half -brother , played by Alec Guiness, “How did you come to be lost?” It is the scene that opens and closes the film.. And she replies “I was walking with my father (.....) and he let go of my hand. He let go of my hand! And I was lost.” This scene was also the only scene that my scholar friend Dora remembered...

... In 1945, Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect and later his Minister of Armaments, was tried by the war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg, along with numerous high-ranking Nazi officials. Unlike most of the others, who were found guilty and sentenced to death, the urbane, handsome, charming and self-serving Speer was sentenced to only twenty years in prison.

Spandau prison was located in Berlin and was administered by the four occupying powers: the British, the French, the Soviets and the Americans. In the summer of 1947 the Americans gave the prisoners (all German war criminals) permission to garden the exterior space at Spandau - then described as “a 6000 square meter wilderness”. This wilderness was later described by one American colonel as “Speer’s Garden of Eden”.

Speer had laid out a path in the garden he created. It began as an exercise path but in September of 1954 he decided to think of his exercise rounds as a walk from Berlin to his home in Heidelberg. “I had worked it out - if I did thirty circuits of the path I had laid out in the garden, that would be seven kilometers a day. I asked Hess, who sat and watched me, if he would mark down each time that I passed him, so that I wouldn’t lose count. He had a marvelous idea. He gave me thirty peas and said, ‘Put these in one pocket and move one to the other pocket each round. That will do it’. It was a more imaginative goal than just completing the circuit thirty times as I had been doing. That was successful, so I kept on going across the mountains to Italy, and finally decided to see how far I could get. After preparing for the walks by studying maps, travelogues, and art history books, I focused imaginatively on the differences in the landscapes, the rivers, the flowers, plants, trees and rocks. In the cities I came through, I thought of churches, museums, great buildings and works of art.” He determined what he thought to be the shortest route around the world at 40,000 kilometers and so the goal became a “Walk Around the World”.

September 29, 1966 was the last day Speer spent walking in the garden. He was released from Spandau the next day - having served 19 years in prison. In the twelve years since he had begun he had walked a distance of 31,936 kilometers. At midnight on his last night at Spandau he had sent a close friend the following message: “Please pick me up thirty-five kilometers south of Guadalajara, Mexico.”

The next day I saw him on television. I was thirteen years old.

1 comment:

rabelais said...

After his release, Speer got in touch with the Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. He proposed a meeting in Switzerland, where they would talk. He also proposed that R. B Kitaj sketch the encounter. Safdie declined. He found the idea creepy.