My name is Nobody 2017

Art-intervention for Jewish Week, Leipzig June 2017. Sited at the Grassi Museum, Leipzig, my work was to explore with local audiences, comprised of residents and newly arrived asylum-seekers, the design of a new, multi-faceted and transcultural society.:

“My name is Nobody”.

A Clay Odyssey – an artistic response to the Holocaust and contemporary issues of Hospitality.

The piece has a working title: My name is Nobody – Clay Odyssey. This reflects the theme of Hospitality embodied in the invitation to me from the city of Leipzig to return to the place of my mother’s birth, which was also the site of the removal of my grandparents by the Nazis to be murdered. Like the travails of the Homeric Greek Odysseus, it will address ideas of journey and hospitality. These are reflected in the narrative of Odysseus/Ulysses as he voyages around the Aegean, planning his return to Ithaca. Odysseus, (like me as an artist), is  a man, looking to return home, while his home has been appropriated by ‘guests’, who did not follow the basic rules of hospitality. On his travels Odysseus has many encounters (with Nausicaa, Circe, etc.) which offer him the opportunity to be a good guest; in some of these encounters he behaves well and in others his own actions are seen to be wanting! In others the duties of the host are seen to be lacking – Polyphemous, the Cyclops, kills and eats Odysseus’s men, a symbolic presaging of the Holocaust. Odysseus manages to blind the sleeping giant with a fire-hardened stick, and when Polyphemous wakes in agony and asks who has plunged him into darkness, wily Odysseus answers: “My name is Nobody.” Thus when asked by his fellow giants , Polyphemous tells them: “Nobody did this to me”.

The title: My name is Nobody – Clay Odyssey allows us all to view ourselves as immigrants, since our ancestors all came from elsewhere, even if our families have lived in the same place for generations. The association of  Homer’s Ulysses/Odysseus travelling by Boat seems very relevant to some of the new migrants. The other famous association with Ulysses is the James Joyce novel, Ulysses, about Leopold Bloom, itinerant Jewish  anti-hero, who is ‘at home’ but alienated.

My name is Nobody – Clay Odyssey  will not only glance backwards at the terrible events of the last century, and the total failure of the Nazis to behave like civilized hosts, but it will also critically examine, through art-creation and performative art-making, the present situation in Europe, where there are again many displaced persons: some are seeking sanctuary, (like my mother found in the UK through the Kindertransport). Others are economic migrants seeking a better life than the ones they left behind. My grandparents arrived in Leipzig in the early 1900’s – it was a place that welcomed them; they were distant from the pogroms that had engulfed their lives in Eastern Poland. Ton Odyssey will address the issues of that time (when the Jews tried to assimilate, and many Germans showed great hospitality, while some did not); it will additionally focus on the current situation of asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants who are all seeking a better and safer life in Europe/Germany/the UK. Theoretically it will consider the ways in which the other is dealt with by cultures; it will mediate that reception through the use of clay (dug from the Earth) and modern technologies. I propose working with various interest groups – ordinary citizens, refugees, migrants, survivors. This last group is of particular interest to me: the Christian TOS group, who hosted us one evening, when I attended the programme for the former citizens of Leipzig and their next generations; Stefan Haas, the pastor of the organization the March of Life, has indicated an eagerness to collaborate with us in the art-work. The organization TOS (and its symbol The March of Life) can be considered to be  ‘2nd. Generation Perpetrator Survivors’; their parents /grandparents were the killers/abusers. For them their journey is so very difficult as they did not necessarily suffer loss or harm from the actions of their parent; by contrast the ‘2nd. Generation Holocaust Survivor’ has a tangible trauma, based on the absence of relatives and friends murdered by the Nazis. It is a time for all of us to work together, collaborating in the creation of a better future

The work will involve a short time of preparation while we build a piece together examining aspects of our shared histories – My name is Nobody – Clay Odyssey will be symbolic of the hospitality that I have found again in the city – a traveller returned from a foreign country, where I was born, now invited to participate in addressing some of the mistakes of the past, in  the city of my mother’s birth.

In addition to fashioning items from clay (both artist-made and created in collaboration, using very simple techniques, I have been experimenting with utilizing simple digital, interactive devices that can enable us to use digital media in the piece to link to diasporas beyond the city  of Leipzig – linking the work to places where  the new-comers have arrived from, as well as the destinations that the former residents of the city have been dispersed to. These will involve movement-activated sensors that when an element of the installation is moved, or a light beam broken, it will generate a video or sound recording. These are memory traces of past events and crimes against humanity. Lost songs and images of former lives, lived together. It can also be used to create a link to websites and a direct contact with individuals in other countries.