Polonia. Know the Forest

2005-2006
Projection of: C-Prints. B&W Prints. LightJet Prints
(13 cm x 20 cm – 120 cm x 123 cm)

 

While I was in Berlin in the fall of 2005, I decided to visit Poland for a day. Since the border wasn’t far I took the train in the morning and was able to get back by the evening.
I wanted to see what it looked like ‘over there’, how crossing the border would feel like, so I could keep that experience for a later time – like one would put some leftovers in a freezer for future days.
When I returned to Berlin that evening everything still looked the same, yet everything felt different. What I saw that day, starting with a bus trip from hamlet to hamlet through forests and meadows, was unbelievably identical with old impressions that I carried within me. I saw places and landscapes as if cut out of my brain. I felt an eerie déjà vu. All of a sudden memory (how come?) and imagination were congruent with the outer world. There was an absolute feeling of simultaneity. Soon after this first short trip longer trips followed.

For years I carried this Poland project within me not (only) because -strangely enough- there is a Polish Museum in my hometown in Switzerland, but because I came accross Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoa. Even though I was horrified by some very ill-natured statements of Polish witnesses of the time I also got deeply disturbed by something else.
I was extremely unsettled by the beauty of the nature, the beautiful woods and landscapes surrounding the concentration camps. It seemed as an unacceptable discrepancy.
Unconsciously, I must have thought that places where atrocities occurred would be instantly identifiable as such or that they’d be immediately diagnosable through a certain ugliness, like horrible scars or incurable wounds in a human face.

Several trips followed. I only took pictures on the way to and from the camps. Up to May 2006, I crossed all of Poland, I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oświęcim) and from there to the very east, I visited  Chelmno, Majdanek and Treblinka. The latter lies in the middle of a huge and quiet and uncanny forest.