Thematizing the discrimination of lesbian, gay and transgender persons, Ines Doujak’s MAHNWACHE (VIGIL) was the first project in a series of artistic interventions dedicated to the scene and the memory of the persecution of sexual minorities in the Third Reich.
The artist understands memory and remembering as unfinished processes rooted in permanent renewal and change. This is why she conceived a vigil and thus developed a project characterized by mobility. Every Friday from five to six p.m. people carrying placards positioned themselves on Morzinplatz in Vienna’s first district, where the Gestapo had their headquarters during the Third Reich. The placards displayed collages based on photographs of crying persons bleeding from their ears.
The visual turbulence created by the artist challenged the public and sometimes was even too much for it. Thus, Ines Doujak endowed the memory of the horror associated with the place with a physical presence. By analogy with the cultural theorist Homi Bhabha’s ideas – who says that “remembering is never a quiet act of introspection. It is a painful re-membering, a putting together of the dismembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present” – she does not regard memory and remembrance as a primarily introspective and contemplative individual act. She rather understands remembering as a collective process founded upon renewal and transformation which is controlled by emotions and can be manipulated.
Relying on the montage techniques characteristic of her practice, Ines Doujak’s intervention dealt with issues concerning the construction of memories, identity, and (gender) politics.
Though the pictorial tenor of her collages was ostentatious in a modern sense, the placards could not be read in a linear way. While their subjects and gesture of protest definitely related to the idea of a political demonstration, the collages – contrary to the picture and texts placards traditionally used in demonstrations – complicated the statements possibly implied. Because of this intricacy and the almost succinct performative attitude of the intervention (the vigil and the memory ceased to be physically present when there were no people), the project was able to fathom its own conditions and boundaries and to extend the potential of memory work this way.
In addition, postcards from an eight-part series were distributed. What the people let out in the pictures was given a form in the postcards: snakes. In the Bible and in Christian iconography, snakes stand for the evil and the devil. In other cultures, however, the snake is a symbol of healing and wisdom, a carrier of good fortune and the ancestors’ representative. The collage technique made it possible not to suggest a definitive reading, but to use the snake as an image accessible to all viewers that invited a direct, often very strong emotional reaction.
Text: Matthias Herrmann
Morzinplatz, 1010 Vienna
*1959 in Klagenfurt (AT), lives and works in Vienna.
Susi Krautgartner, Johannes Schoiswohl
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