Fragmented Narratives always seem to involve an element of loss. But what if a word could be a sanctuary? A spark of hope in the face of adversity, an anchor for collective memory, a piece of music?
The word ‘Pitshipoy’ – a term from Yiddish folklore, brings together all of these, like a live text with different layers of meaning and directions.
While Elianna Renner opens them up for us to interpret ‘Pitshipoy’ and find ways to experience and react to this word through an installation, Sharon Paz lets us take a closer look at the political implications of words. ‘Dare to Dream’ speaks to the links between politics and competition, fiction and truth -treading a fine line from stage to reality.
Both Elianna and Sharon’s works explore the ambiguity of memory and the malleability of our thoughts. As we navigate the show, the mind maps we create may take us off course, or off guard. Our perceptions, our reactions are ambivalent. Renner and Paz’ enquiries keep us on the edge between fact and fiction, raising questions for us to stay alert, and dig deeper into truth and history through these visual stories in fragments.
The exhibition “Fragmented Narratives” is on now at alpha nova & galerie futura, until the 6th of November.
We spoke to Sharon and Elianna to find out more!
The title ‘Dare to Dream’ suggests a range of meanings: from our life aspirations to the mystery of our consciousness when we are asleep, or even deliberate distortions of remembrance…What links and contrasts do you see between ‘dreaming’ and ‘daring’: what does this idea ‘to dare’ mean and how is it reflected in your work?
The title “DARE to DREAM” talks about hope and success, relating to the ambition to win both in sport and in art. This title was the slogan of the Eurovision song contest that was hosted in 2019 by Israel.
At the time there were voices of protest against participating in this event, because of its political agenda.
This type of international event creates international recognition and support which normalizes a situation that many consider to be problematic.
The use of this title turns these questions around the legitimacy of boycott, into a dialog.
The underlying connection between politics and international competitions is one of the topics I am keen to explore.
The act of taking a knee for instance -athletes kneeling as protest against racism- has been seen in sport events around the world.
In response to this, walking a fine line between politics and free expression, the International Olympic Committee published guidelines on what shall or shall not be expressed.
This idea is hidden in the work’s title “DARE to DREAM”, behind the innocent ideas of daring to accomplish an individual dream, but also suggesting the use of these events as a political stage.
“The soul never thinks without a mental picture”
[Frances A. Yates, in The Art of Memory]
Can you tell us more about the interactive element of this video installation that combines storytelling with tech: how can it spark ‘mental pictures’ for our memory, to trigger it but also to raise questions around the politics of memory and ‘truth’, of history and fiction?
The format of an interactive video is relatively new. I choose this as a non-linear storytelling, so as to bring these topics of real and fiction to the foreground of the work. As the viewers navigate through the work they constantly face a choice and can only see part of it.
The work is based on two women’s biographies, Margaret Lambert (Gretel Bergmann) and Leni Riefenstahl, both linked to the Olympic games in 1936 in Berlin.
One is an athlete and the other is a filmmaker. The script was taken from films about them, and I used both quotation and invented text so that as a viewer you are confronted with the question of whether it is true or not, of what did happen and what didn’t.
The choices you make also differ across questions, answers and topics.
The different paths lead to different themes, which then connect the two characters’ life stories as well.
What would have happened if…?
In terms of your creative process and ‘behind the-scenes’, how did you go about your visual research with these interviews and archival testimonies, and what was the most enlightening part of this project for you? What surprised you perhaps as you delved into this subject?
The research process focused mostly on online material, looking into existing images and videos of both women. I then worked over the pre-filtered material, added a layer of my own and edited it all again.
I used drawing to study the material, examining different women athletes from that time, and various objects that were used in the Olympic games, like the medals and stamps. Looking at the interviews, I studied the women carefully and transcribed selected parts that related to my chosen subject -one that is relevant for today, in terms of conflicts of moral issues, questioning the relation between art and politics.
I was surprised to see some common ground between the two in the way they were both very invested in their careers.
I decided then to film the same actress for both Leni and Margaret: I was looking for an actress and found Ruth Rosenfeld who is part of the Schaubühne Ensemble. Ruth was amazing to work with, she studied the films and mimicked the voices, and what she noted from posters and these women’s physical appearances.
Combined with the dramatic make up change and the costumes we could create two very different visuals for the characters.
In the exhibition I display this research in the shape of a mind map of the script printed as a poster, combining various layers of images from this enquiry, including screen shots of the different films.
The visitors are invited to take a copy of the poster away with them.
I like the audience to experience, feel and think about this ambiguity.
The use of an interactive format gets the viewers into an active position, they need to react and not just absorb the content or stay outside of it.
Fragmented Narratives, Opening, 2020, photo: Ceren Saner
It was great to see in the exhibition opening how people are becoming involved, how they initiate a dialogue or start acting in teams, trying to influence each other’s paths.
I also work with repetition and slight changes which relate to memory: the viewers may ask themselves, whether the answer they heard was similar or not, taking them to a state of alertness, of heightened perception.
The work uses those contemporary ideas of interactive perception, shifting the viewers’ perspectives from passivity to interaction.
Are there aspects of cinema, literature or music that inspired you for this work, or new inspirations which this project opened up for you?
I am inspired by German post war literature on the one hand and Black Mirror, the British series on the other, I love exploring new technological innovation such as AR and VR that pour into those entertainment formats.
I find this kind of content quite meaningful, working with layers of interpretation to find points contact between past and present, connecting the two. I draw my inspiration from performance that stretches the boundaries of theatre, such as the Berlin-based group Rimini Protokoll.
I love to explore and change the way I produce my work, creating a new experience and reinventing formats.
I always like to include the spectators, in previous video installations I created a space for the visitor to enter the work physically using projection and playing with shadows, I also worked with performances where the audience was active.
In DARE to DREAM the visitors operate the work and influence the story.
The word ‘Pitshipoy’ resonates so strongly with us today in terms of escape and the power of the imagination… Can you explain its context, and your own relationship to Yiddish, to your mother tongue(s) and other languages you may have learnt or appreciate, and why? How did you integrate text and sound, voice in this installation?
I came across the word Pitshipoy through a novel, “And you didn’t come back”, written by Marceline Loridan-Ivens. The novel was related to her biography, the detention camp Drancy, and a note she received from her father in Auschwitz. She spent her life trying to recall her memory in order to decipher the note.
In the book, Pitshipoy appears at the beginning and describes a Yiddish word that refers to an unknown destination.
This word has not left me alone since then. Maybe because for the first time it didn’t sound Yiddish to me. Maybe because I associated Pitshipoy more with a child’s language…
I was fascinated by the thought that a word like Pitshipoy had made its way into the collective memory of the prisoners in the Drancy concentration camp, where it became a source of hope.
None of the detainees had heard of Ausschwitz, they did not know where they were being deported to.
But they were all connected by a word that was translated as an imaginary place.
In this context, I asked myself whether in other contexts concrete words also exist as bearers of hope for an imaginary place. And in the vocabulary of groups of people who are degraded and mistreated. At least that was my motivation to go on a research of the word.
I assumed that a prehistory exists.
Pitshipoy is part of the migration of Yiddish speaking Jews who immigrated to France in the 19th and early 20th century. A word of folklore that is sung in nursery rhymes, among other things. But it is also used as a fixed concept of an imaginary place.
I come from a multilingual household. In our house German was based on Yiddish. Out of family and historical interest I learned Yiddish at a later stage. My projects deal a lot with historical research in many languages. Since 2012 Yiddish has been a permanent feature.
Pitshipoy is an onomatopoeic word. When I read it, I hear it.
In the installation I wanted to create space for the tone and sound of the word.
That is why I separated the sound from the text.
The Pitshipoy installation consists of five elements that correspond together:
- A sound shower with a sound recording of the word Pitshipoy spoken in different pitches and pronunciations. Yiddish poems and rhymes are sung and spoken. The recordings move between field research and Kurt Schwitters. The dadaistic impression is created by the rhymes because of their onomatopoeic character. You have to be familiar with the language to be able to locate “Etsch Metsch Pitshipoy”.
- A display installed in a window frame, with an airplane pulling the word Pitshipoy behind it. The focus of the film is on the word and the resulting choreography in the air.
- A display cabinet presenting a video, with the display cabinet mimicking a museum cabinet where the research material reveals itself: every 15-20 seconds hands exchange the research material and compose a new image.
- A book consisting of descriptions, stories, poems and historical events about the research and the word Pitshipoy. The design plays with the onomatopoeic character of the word.
- A vasisdasBox, a small box with a peephole hanging on the wall, and a film playing inside it. The sentence “Pitshipoy iz azoy groys vi a floy” (Pitshipoy is as big as a flea) is written on the skin again and again in ballpoint pen, cleaned away with a sponge and rewritten. Over time, the sentence leaves traces of memory on the skin.
I came across the sentence during my research and could not locate it. It appears in the book and it corresponds with the one opposite the window-plane film.
In the performance we see in the video recording, you ‘wrote’ this word in the sky as it floated and flew over key sites in Berlin… With ‘flight’ there is this idea of looking up at the sky, away from the digital advertising on our smartphone screens, and these ‘heights’ and skies might also evoke an ‘unknown’ territory? What drew you to it now perhaps more than before?
I liked the idea of Pitshipoy flailing across the sky for a short moment. It flies by like the wind and turns in circles.
At the same time the word raises questions and leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
What kind of word is that? How is it pronounced?
The audience is the city, and pitshipoy is back, seeping into everyday life. It can be assumed that before the Shoah, Pitshipoy was also in the mouths of the Yiddish speaking population.
Now it returned briefly, 400 meters above the ground, as a carrier of hope, a place of escape for everyone..
This performance shifts our gaze completely, lifting it up to open new perspectives… has aerial photography or other creative and scientific disciplines involving the skies made an impact on you for your work?
No. Although of course the question for me was technically speaking, how should the performance be documented?
I decided to focus on the word. The movement of the word, in the wind, blowing away –
also on an abstract level that creates space for poetry and makes Pitshipoy dance in the sky with a soft engine and wind sounds.
What were the challenges and highlights for you in preparing for the performance itself, and in your research –
perhaps also in light of this quote by Michel-Ralph Trouillot:
“The production of traces is always also the creation of silences.”
Pitshipoy was a very intensive and interesting work, accompanied by the constant feeling of looking for a needle in a haystack. A word that is hardly found in any dictionary, a word that is often reinterpreted over and over again and thus receives different levels of meaning.
I would not call it contradictory. The power of Pitshipoy lies in subjective perception. I can play Pitshipoy as I like. The imaginary place is individually designed. It’s a playful place.
But it is also the story of a forgotten place, a forgotten word, a forgotten time…
I work a lot with historical stories and narratives that deal with the untold. I am interested in the incomplete. Here Pitshipoy joins the narrative.
A word that appears as a secondary scene in various historical moments.
It transports hope, but remains with its imaginary status and is lost in obscured memory.
Last but not least, can you share with us some insights about this show with Sharon Paz: on your work with Katharina Koch und Sylvia Sadzinski and on the exhibition space?
The cooperation was fruitful, intensive and exciting. There was a lot of exchange with all participants and it was a lot of fun to rack our brains together on individual issues.
It was good teamwork, both in terms of content and technically. Ironically, the anti-Corona movement provided us with a good platform for conspiracy theories. Which is anyway part of the exhibition concept.
Sharon Paz & Elianna Renner; curated by Katharina Koch and Sylvia Sadzinski
Exhibition on display until November 6th, 2020
Opening times: Wed- Sat. 4-7pm
30.10.2020 // 19:00-21:00
with Sharon Paz & Elianna Renner, moderated by Elena Zanichelli
6.11.2020 // 19:00