Photo print and text piece, 2010
Nostalgia does not possess any inherently positive connotations from my childhood. My mother is not a person who stores things – she taught us from quite an early age to get rid of materialized emotional burdens and all kinds of petrified memories - Things you get attached to that provoke sentimental longing, a wistful affection connected to a time or place with personal associations. We were moving a lot when I was a child and I remember once a year my mom and us kids would go through the inventory of our playroom to consider if certain toys had had their time with us. Practicality was favored over sentimentality and lacking was considered a better feeling then disorder and overflow. I remember entering my tidy room afterwards and experiencing conflicting emotions of both relief and loss. The assemblage of sorted things that would find new owners at a flea market, or among the younger kids in the neighborhood remained there for some time. My brothers and me were then creeping back to it, to rescue an old teddy bear and place it back into the row of its fluffy friends. The sense of loss was haunting us even if we were encouraged to resist it. The notion of preserving material memories was restricted to never exceed the size of a box, kept in the basement to create a natural distance. Within those dimensions the content was not questioned but it was well thought through and resembled the importance of a black box for air traffic. As an adult this box would contain photos, some letters and memorable things on paper – before all of this became digital. The placing of that box was like an anchor. Even if it was a storage place, we knew that this site needed to be kept as a place of reference.
This well kept box was delivered to me, when my parents were moving out of the country again. It found a home between the thick walls of an old basement in a very run down building in Berlin, where I was living. We were a group of people using the house as studios and partly squatted the place. The building was in bad shape, which was befitting to my provisional condition at that time. The box changed places from one basement to another, as if it was shy of light – moving from the safe, protective parental cellar to an environment, which was a bit too moist and dodgy for being a shelter. But at that time I did not give it much thought. The building was not taken care and at one point we realized the basement was flooded. The water level rose and became knee-deep. We were afraid of the hanging electric cables, which were submerged in the water and did not even dare to enter. After a while the overwhelming smell of mold took over and repressed the very idea of ever getting a sight of the stored things again and losing all the images I took as a teenager up to my early twenties. At that age my camera was glued to me and it was a tool of observation. I was an observer to all the different living conditions and travels my parents were exposing us to. My feeling of detachment in these ever-changing social contexts and new encounters were partly overcome by taking photographs. It gave me the possibility to link to the situation and re-position myself into an outsider’s perspective. The process of framing, focusing and exposure was a way to understand and analyze situations. It came to my mind that these photos were not only to be understood as documentation but also as companions. This thought had diverse connotations, as it felt strange to be dependent on objects with such a physical appearance. But losing them meant possibly giving up on the idea of the connectivity to my scattered past. I wanted to understand the notion of these links preserved on a piece of film kept in a basement as a logbook rarely taken into the light. Whenever the deadness of these reproduced incidents caught a glimpse of life, it was only to be able to prove their existence and then allowed to disappear again into the darkness.
I was not in the country when I was informed that our building was sold to an investor and everybody had to move out immediately. We could not take everything with us in the given time constraints but I could not refrain from looking after the things that had existed in an amphibian state in the basement. I was quite appalled when I opened the box with my photos, which were covered with a white layer of fungus. The pictures were spotted with mold and glued together by the moisture. Trying to separate them destroyed their fragile surfaces. The images were disfigured with a moiré-effect from the dissolved gelatin that had eaten itself through the faces of people, a variety of places as well as the connectivity to the moment. Shortly after I switched modes to the more rational condition of my mother, overcame my sentimentality, and left the box where it was. It was an immediate but determined decision to leave all this behind. The pictures were in a state, which I, at that moment, could not comprehend as an interesting or valuable transformation.
I had spent much time far away, without any ties to my past, and I felt an urge to reconnect to it. I returned with the idea of building up a more autochthonous existence. I realized, I had accepted that these photos had a notion of time erosion and could even recognize a sense of beauty in it. I had a slight hope to find them, since the building had not yet gone under renovation. From the huge pile of trash in the backyard I deduced that everything that remained in the building had been thrown out. I started turning over pieces of old furniture, dug into soppy cartons and went through numerous trash bags. Here and there I could find traces, but nothing connected to the photographs until I found a paper bag labeled “Bariloche 1997”. My handwriting on it was pale on the crumpled paper. All the images from that time were passing in front of my eyes when I took out a framed slide. The contents of the image were hanging in flakes in the bag and off the slide – I looked through a clear film, which had some residue of the colored coating. It was impossible to trace this image back to any of the photographs I had imagined. It remained a frame and an empty surface. Through time the process of exposure had been reversed. The image had fainted and now resumed back to the state it once had, before there was a connection between me and the given situation - but still something of it was remaining. The vanished content revealed the nakedness of the media, now again resembling the analytical approach I had when taking this picture. The emptiness of the frame came as a relief and the authenticity of this result felt complete. This frame had become a screen to all potential images: a bare openness shining through the erosion of time, tracking back to the memorable - overcoming tangible nostalgia.