Floating Bodies, 2017, Iwalewahaus, Bayreuth
“I remember the Rhine coming down in flood and all the old city was substantially underwater. There was a monastery connected to one of the churches lying in the old city. A somewhat bizarre memory of those days… in the flood area the corpses of the monks which they had kept in concrete enclaves started floating out of the monastery along the streets… but these are early memories”
Gunter Samson, 1998
This extract comes from a recorded interview of my grandfather speaking about his childhood in Duisburg, before he fled Nazi Germany in 1936. Along with 536 others, he arrived in South Africa on the Stuttgart, the last chartered ship of German Jewish immigrants to be allowed entrance into the country.
Floating Bodies is a meditation on the above anecdote. It takes as its starting point the natural power of the flood to unearth long-buried bodies. The exhibition uses sandbags as a metaphor for the human imperative to create barriers, borders and walls as protection from the deluge. There is a powerful tension between the excess of water, its uncontainable fluidity and the heavy sand bags, which function to restrict and contain, but are often overcome by the overflowing water.
Extending this metaphor to the context of the history of German Jewish immigration to South Africa in the 1930s, the exhibition aims to disrupt the often forcefully separated narratives of the persecution of European Jews and the lives of those who escaped, who would then find themselves in places like South Africa, where they became ‘white’ under the conditions of colonialism, white supremacy, and in the South African example, Apartheid. This speaks to the force of history; it’s potential for excessive fluidity, and the man-made barriers that are constructed to keep these waters at bay, precariously holding in place accepted constructions of historical events.
‘Floating bodies’ alludes to the fluidity of identity, as immigrants literally crossed the sea by boat. The man-made borders that separate and divide, and the water, with its ability to seep through the cracks between sandbags. Taking into account the current refugee crisis in Europe, I wish to muddy the waters and complicate the relation between polarized identities.