Overlapping Narratives

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June 1, 2012
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Marion Kahnemann

I live in Dresden, a midsize city in Eastern Germany. While I have a difficult relationship with this place, that difficulty has a significant impact on me and my art. The city’s history is full of ruptures — fascism, the firebombing in World War II, capitalism — and the narratives they have created. We can’t choose our history, but we can learn from it; for that to happen, we must make visible a place’s ruptures. Otherwise, an undifferentiated view of history and the memories about what happened in a place can open the way — as has happened in Dresden — to a revisionist history and xenophobia. Here is one example: On February 13, 1945, Dresden’s inner city — including the historic center — was almost entirely destroyed. Two days before the bombing, the last Jews in Dresden were to be deported, but because of the bombing the deportation was postponed. To this day, the public feels traumatized by the destruction of the city — even though little of that destruction remains. The deportation of the Jews from the city has been lost. I feel that the city has not memorialized both narratives — the destruction of the city and the deportation of its Jews.

“Acher II” (below), constructed of metal and other materials, responds to this dual narrative. I am also preoccupied with the dual meaning of “acher,” who is the “other” — and to whom the “other” is other. After the expulsion from Gan Eden, Adam recognized that Eve was no longer only a part of himself but also an independent person — an “other” — in the best sense, a counterpart. In Hebrew, the words for freedom, “herut,” and responsibility, “akhrayut,” differ only by one letter, the “alef,” the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and also the first letter of Adam, the human being. Within the word “akhrayut” is the word “akher,” the “other.” Responsibility requires the “other.”

I resonate to questions about multiple and floating identities, foundations of identity, encounters and lost opportunities to meet. As a Jew, I belong to a minority. In official language, I am a “co-citizen.” Of course, if one were to see me walking down the street, that identity would not be obvious. Within the Dresden Jewish community, I am a minority because I grew up here; most Jews are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. To them, I am a “German,” with all that that identity holds.

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