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The Bellotograph

In the final part of her blog series, Sarah Pogoda (University of Sheffield) explains her upcoming project “Bellotograph” and explores how, and where, we might locate alternatives to institutionalised commemoration rituals.

Throughout this blog series I have explored the issues surrounding acts of commemoration and remembrance. The question that remains, however, is how we can avoid turning our culture of remembrance into a culture of forgetting. The Animatograph project “Bellotograph” approaches this question and aims to provide a space for anyone who is interested in exploring alternatives to commemoration rituals and the politics of remembrance, in order to approach a past that we know only through transgenerational memories, education, and media coverage.

The Animatograph – moving pictures, moving souls

Originally, the Animatograph was an early form of motion picture projector developed in the late 19th century. In more contemporary terms, however, the Animatograph is an artistic multimedia installation situated on a revolving stage. Christoph Schlingensief (1960-2010) created this device to combine diverse artistic expressions such as film, theatre, music and visual art. The “Bellotograph” project will make use of Schlingensief’s Animatograph as a framework to explore issues of commemoration. This means that the project will not only involve an exhibition, in the form of the Animatograph, but it will also involve a separate process of exploration. Having said that, I have to admit the interdependence of both processes given that the nature of commemoration and its exploration, and the employment of the Animatograph are inextricably linked.

Schlingensief Installation - 'Animatograph Parsipark' (2005)

Schlingensief Installation – ‘Animatograph Parsipark’ (2005)

Exhibiting an Animatograph means putting moving pictures, photos, projections on display, but not in a linear way or with proper cinematic screens. Rather, a revolving stage attempts to melt time and space; time becomes space, linearity becomes simultaneity. The Animatograph projects images onto diverse surfaces, be it either the exhibition pieces themselves, or indeed the act of the spectator accessing the revolving stage. This means the spectator becomes part of the Animatograph; the spectator brings the device to life. The Animatograph transforms not only by the process of revolving but also through the engagement of individuals, as well as the cohort of spectators. In this way, we can see the Animatograph as a “life-machine”.

Images, Icons, Identity

By this point it should be clear that images play an important role in the project. Indeed, this is where the exploration part comes into play. As mentioned in my last blog post, the ending of World War II, and especially its commemoration in Germany and Britain, acted as the starting point for the project. The way that the end of the war was perceived in 1945 differed dramatically in both countries. On May 8th Britain celebrated “Victory in Europe” (and later Victory in Japan), not Liberation of Europe. The end of war was perceived as a victory, whereas most Germans understood Germany’s surrender as capitulation. It was only in 1985 that the Federal president of Germany, Richard von Weizsäcker, declared 8th May 1945 to have been a moment of liberation.

As a result postwar discourses, and particularly the images that remain from World War II, differ, and at times contradict, one another. Britain is the hero, whereas Germany is the villain, Britain looks back on a time of pride, whilst Germany looks back on the atrocities and genocide it is responsible for. Both cultures of remembrance, however, share the importance of images. This hardly comes as a surprise, given that World War II and its atrocities were well documented through photography and film. Among the first visual images published and spread in occupied Germany by the allied forces were pictures of a heap of bodies in concentration camps. These photos remain iconic visual images of the Holocaust. However, these pictures evoked, and probably still do, a different set of emotions and thoughts in Germany than they did in Britain. In Britain, photos of Churchill’s victory salute – most significantly the one shot from his back, facing London’s crowd when he held his victory speech in Whitehall on May 8th, 1945 – took pride of place.

Churchill waves to crowds in Whitehall on the day he broadcast to the nation that the war with Germany had been won, 8 May 1945

These photos are only two among an impressive gallery of iconic images that we connect with the end of World War II. With generations born after 1945 not having any direct memories of the war, these visual images are what is remembered. It is these images that we grew up with, that we dealt with in school and that we saw on TV, recolored in Britain thanks to the BBC, remaining forever in black and white in Germany.

This aspect of post-memory studies, however, has already been explored in great depth. So why is it important for the Bellotograph project?

Projected images and projecting images in motion

Based on the notion of post-memory, the Bellotograph project tries to explore the visual universe that arises when thinking of the end of World War II. With this in mind, the project focuses on commemoration and remembrance and not on the war itself. As we saw in my last blog post, the Happening “Germany surrenders” challenged existing practices of commemoration and, in this way, might be seen as representative of how the Bellotograph project can be realized.

Groups of three to five people will be approaching the issue of commemoration in whichever artistic, documentary, historical or any other format they feel most appropriate. The tension between the arsenal of commemoration practices and visual imagery in Britain and Germany presents a disruptive element – throughout the timescale of the project as a whole, as well as during the exhibition of the Bellotograph. The Bellotograph itself will display the ‘artefacts’ produced or found during the process of the project, but at the same time the Bellotograph is not a completed artefact but rather, as I have mentioned before, an artistic device.

To summarize, although the Animatograph sets the framework and provides space and time (the development and composition of this space and time will be determined by the participating groups and their collection of sources), it will be the spectators who will activate the Animatograph and complete the artistic experience. The Bellotograph aims, so to speak, to create a social sculpture based on the works of Joseph Beuys and Christoph Schlingensief. At the same time, the Bellotograph is based on a social sculpture, namely the post-memories of Britain and Germany after World War II.

Participation

Being an intercultural and intergenerational project, the Bellotograph hopes to find participants of different ages with diverse backgrounds, who are based in Sheffield. Since the project is not a scientific study there is no need for a representative cohort,  we simply seek engaged and committed participants willing to meet as a group and share their ideas and thoughts and to work on contributions for the final exhibition.

We will approach students of Germanic Studies, History and English, members of the University of the Third Age, and local Sheffield groups of artists.

The exhibition – planned for November – will run parallel to the travelling exhibition ‘Germany’s Confrontation with the Holocaust in a Global Context’. Both exhibitions will attract different audiences but could direct their audience to each other’s exhibitions. Of course, the exhibitions will not complement each other and we hope that they will be thought provoking in their contradictions.

For more information about the Bellotograph project: 

www.bellotograph.de

To get involved with the project contact:

s.pogoda@sheffield.ac.uk

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