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Artist Feature

Every week an artist is featured whose single image was published by Der Greif. The Feature shows the image in the original context of the series.

Elena Helfrecht - Plexus

Apr 15, 2020

‘Plexus’ is a photographic case study through archival still lifes, highlighting the effects of inherited trauma and postmemory, and providing a familiar terrain to explore the influence of the family on psychological and cultural processes within history. In this work, I investigate the complex routes of my ancestors using my family home and archive. Finding documents and artifacts which lost their history and became indecipherable, I add my own narrative to what is left unknown, to create a metaphor transgressing personal and national boundaries. When attempting to reconnect these fragments, the term ‘remembering’ becomes literal: I piece together the limbs of a body of events I have never fully seen or experienced, to understand the past, the present, and ultimately, the impact this kind of baggage has had on myself and the world around me. I use the objects and architecture of the house as parabolic proxies, turning them into gates connecting the past and the present. This creation of dream-like environments and symbols interlinks all that is remembered and simultaneously forgotten. Even though history never repeats in the same way, I can observe cyclical patterns reappearing, and catch myself repeating the behaviours of my mother and grandmother that so greatly influenced me. Creating a new sense of identity by confronting the past, spanning across four generations, provides grounds for a detailed investigation of postmemory, mental health, war, and history.


Artist Blog

The blog of Der Greif is written entirely by the artists who have been invited to doing an Artist-Feature. Every week, we have a different author.

Photography, imagination and reality

Apr 20, 2020 - Elena Helfrecht

Like most of my work, the basic idea and initial impulse for ‘Plexus’ emerged years before I started working and researching for it. I envisioned the project concretely for the first time in 2017, right before the start of my MA in London, but the seeds were planted even earlier. It was the next logical step and a result of my own concern with inherited trauma and postmemory, stemming from experiences, memories, and conversations.

 

My mother is an important contributor to this body of work, and I am grateful for her participation and support, from helping with research to assisting me in the making of the images. We started to talk more about how both of us were influenced by my grandmother, who passed away a few years prior, and previous generations’ experiences, and how many gaps were in the stories we thought we knew everything about. Together, we started to dig deeper into archives of documents and photographs found in the house and into my grandfather’s recollection of the events.

 

In my work, I weave my autobiographical experience into a network of imagination, dreams, and memory. This process allows me to expand the narrative I’m looking at with extended perspective and context, which outgrows what simple documentation of my personal experience could do alone.

 

For ‘Plexus’ I shoot in and around my grandparents’ house in Bavaria, which has been owned by my family for roughly 200 years, and which I hope to renovate and move into in the future. Several generations have lived there, each adding their stories to what appears to have become a growing organism of memories and objects. Some of the documents and artefacts I find in the house surround me since childhood and make me connect with their innate and fragmentary history, juxtaposed with the new context of my present, to form a narrative around the way history and trauma is recorded and passed down, and in return how I am influenced by it. With this series, in a way, I re-enact the passing on of knowledge and experience by staging the images. What has once been an object of everyday life or stories of a long-gone time, slowly turns into a myth, altered every time it gets retold, turning into a new memory and opening the theatre of the mind to a stage ready for new thoughts and associations to create an entirely new play.


On building and creating

Apr 19, 2020 - Elena Helfrecht

Since my childhood, I have always enjoyed building things and I was constantly intrigued to find nests and other homes around me. I used to build miniature caves and houses for frogs and insects I would find at the edge of the river and be endlessly fascinated by the miraculous larval cases of caddisflies. I also used to build little huts for myself and my friends in the forest and made caves out of blankets in the living room, inside which I would often curl up listening to my favourite tales on my portable cassette or CD player (among many ‘Grimms Maerchen’, read by Manfred Steffen, or Schariwari’s ‘Rauhnacht’, which immersed me in the myth and lore of Bavaria before I could even read). Many times in my room I arranged books like little houses and created whole cities with Legos, later on discovering Sims (never really ‘playing’ the game, just building houses one after the other—none of them ever satisfying me). Today, it seems like I never got rid of this repetitive habit of building, destroying, and rebuilding, in search of something I could never find.

 

By now, I understand this habit even more in-depth in connection with my work and with art in general, and I find Bachelard’s and Jung’s analogy of the house and the mind in The Poetics of Space and Memories, Dreams, Reflections very fitting in this regard. I extend myself into it, I store things, I interact with the treasures I collect and with guests. The space of the image relates to this comparison and, for me, is never two-dimensional. Instead, an image is a room to be entered and a fragmentary space that is furnished and completed with the viewer’s stories and associations. When looking at paintings and photographs, I understand this as an invitation to step into someone else’s home, to see through someone’s eyes and connect, confront or disagree—to communicate.


Conversations, from Plexus, 2018

Reading list for the isolated mind

Apr 18, 2020 - Elena Helfrecht

Now, in isolation, I turn even more towards art, sometimes as an escape, sometimes as a companion. Books have always been a safe place for me. Here I want to share some reading recommendations for this surreal time, which provide a wonderful distraction while fitting with the current mood and events. All of them are at the threshold between escapism and confrontation.

 

 

The Doll’s Alphabet, by Camilla Grudova

 

The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard

 

Der Steppenwolf & Siddhartha, both by Hermann Hesse
(recommended to be read in this order)

 

Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, by Walter Moers

 

Nothing, by Janne Teller

 

The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers

 

The Complete Tales of the Unexpected, by Roald Dahl

 

Uzumaki, by Junji Ito

 

The Black Hole, by Charles Burns

 

American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis


Making an image

Apr 17, 2020 - Elena Helfrecht

“Der Vogel kämpft sich aus dem Ei. Das Ei ist die Welt.
Wer geboren werden will, muss eine Welt zerstören.”


“The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world.
Who would be born must first destroy a world.”

 

Hermann Hesse, Demian (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2002), pp. 86–87

 

 

For me, there are two streams for making an image, flowing into the same river of thought. Both involve creating, rather than taking an image. Sometimes, images find me in my (day)dreams, while reading or looking at something, or they appear as erratic flashes, staying with me like a constant whisper that will only vanish when given a body of its own. These images involve a certain amount of planning. They have to be built from scratch and are often a struggle, as the creative action of extracting an idea and giving it a shape is always a process of translation. As such, something gets lost, and I use photography as the way with the least possible damage.

 

The second way of making an image is more spontaneous and involves looking at the world without searching. Wherever I look, I cannot escape the filter of my consciousness, sometimes looking at things and seeing something else. When this happens, something in my mind locks in place and the outer and inner realities at once overlap like the red and green of an anaglyph, revealing a new dimension. It is impossible to plan or foresee this phenomenon, but I believe the image is created nonetheless, as choosing the framing, altering the light, and making other changes, are conscious manipulations of reality as-is. Given its sudden nature, this process implicates a shorter distance from thought to image and is, therefore, much simpler.

 

Nonetheless, the underlying process of both ways of creating is the same, and I wrote about this in my MA thesis last year. Inner space is extended through the camera into the image, cut off, and materialised as an entity and space of its own. Making an image, for me, is both creation and destruction, and I found the association of the photographer as a mother, their mind as a womb, the camera as a birth canal and the image as a child to be a helpful model for understanding my process. The idea or vision is the first seed. The camera then becomes a connecting medium, a door between inside and outside, through which the image is delivered into its newfound existence. The shutter slices and silences the reality in front of the lens, forging what Barthes describes as a flat death in Camera Lucida. Somewhere in this extraction, a piece of myself has died and has been given a body of its own, which can be encountered by the viewer and become something new once again.


Inwards

Apr 16, 2020 - Elena Helfrecht

“Outside and inside form a dialectic division, the obvious geometry of which blinds us as soon as we bring it into play in metaphorical domains. It has the sharpness of the dialectics of yes and no, which decides everything. Unless one is careful, it is made into a basis of images that govern all thoughts of positive and negative. Logicians draw circles that overlap or exclude each other, and all their rules immediately become clear. Philosophers, when confronted with outside and inside, think in terms of being and non-being.”

 

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), pp. 227–228

 

 

When thinking about self-isolation and quarantine, the concept of inside and outside changes its weight and context. The current circumstances force me to retreat inside in a double sense: into the house and into myself, as being secluded from the outside world and all its distractions is an invitation for introspection, which is almost impossible to decline. Moreover, I am hiding inside because I fear something from the outside might enter my body or the body of those I love; an uninvited guest, a thing unpredictable inhabiting me, making a home within my flesh and nesting in my breath, until there is no space left for me. As Bachelard remarks, now more than ever the house returns to its maternal qualities:

 

“Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house.”, p. 29

 

Like a caring mother, the house protects, shelters, but losing the choice to step outside makes it difficult to enjoy the warmth it provides, and its bosom slowly begins to feel like a cage. Especially now, the camera becomes more than a tool. The lens turns into a door, and following the spiralled pathway into myself, I exit through the smallest point in the centre, the little hole the camera pierced into the spiral’s fabric.

 

Here the world lies bare and silent, and it becomes easier to overlook the bars. When I photograph, I switch into an oneiric state and my interior spills into what lies outside of my body. Realities merge, and I cannot tell apart any longer what was shared and what was just within myself. The walls dissolve. Most importantly, I do not feel the necessity to separate, as everything blends into the image and materialises as a new space to enter.