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BACKGROUND INFORMATION & ANNOTATIONS
• The PLANTAIN (Plantago lanceolata) is a perennial, herbaceous plant. The plant's distribution occurs via its glutinous seeds that stick to paws, shoes and wheels. In times when there were no paved roads, the plant was used as a way guide, as it was rumoured that it grows only where someone or something has gone, driven or ridden before - along the way.
• In the tree-scene of the MINNA episode, a photo-negative shows the image of the first house the family had built after the war.
• In the same episode, the mirror labyrinth shows a work of artist Seamus Farrell with engravings of two film titles in Italian (English titles: The Working Class Goes to Heaven, 1971, and The World's Most Beautiful Swindlers, 1964).
• The factory in the background of the first scene of the FRANZ episode shows the Heide refinery, where Franz worked after his return from WWII.
• The scene of the drowning man of the same episode, was shot at the Vistula Lagoon. There, refugees crossed the frozen lagoon during the evacuation of East Prussia in winter 1945. Thousands of them were killed or broke through the ice on their way to the west, under attack by Soviet fighter aircrafts.
• In the KARL episode, the Morse code in the beginning says repeatedly: "I love you – I am sorry – Please forgive me – Thank you", while the image shows replicas of the Battle of Königs-berg (at display at the Bunker Museum, Kaliningrad).
Another scene shows the artist pulling an original camouflage suit off the ground, with the Morse code questioning "Where are you?"
The final scene shows a hill of shoes from the Stutthof Concentration Camp, with the sound of the artist's cry and breath, and the Morse code "I'm sorry - Please forgive me".
• The initial account of the KARL episode is taken from a book about the German Luftwaffe. This book includes personal annotations and comments by Stenke's grandfather Karl, who in WWII served as a radio operator for the German Luftwaffe.
• The final scene of the KARL episode shows the artist melting bullets in his hand over the official military discharge paper of Karl. The paper lists his possessions at the moment of dis-missal: one shirt, one pair of underpants, one pair of socks or foot cloth, one handkerchief, one pair of lace-up shoes; loaned: marching suit consisting of field cap, field blouse with collar binding, long cloth trousers, belt buckle.
• The Russian woman telling her family story in the TRUDI episode is Vlada, who now lives at the Insterburg Castle and has turned it into a Cultural Centre and museum. She answers to the artists' question of what is home to her.
• In the same episode, the violinist walks into the sea while the woman dressed in black is clinging to a tree trunk. This scene recalls the massacre of Palmnicken: In the last major Nazi Holocaust crime, the SS murdered about 3,000 prisoners of the Stutthof Concentration Camp, mainly young Jewish women from Poland and Hungary, in January 1945. They forced them to the beach and chased them into the Baltic Sea with machine-gun fire. Who was not hit by bullets drowned in the icy water.
• The full-body suits and mask are made of natural rubber latex and are exact copies of the artists' bodies.
• In the epilogue is whispered the Agnus Dei liturgy. Ending with Dona nobis pacem, "peace" is therewith the very last word of the film.
The urgency to undertake the month-long performance walk and the resulting film, Plantain, came about after the unexpected death of my father in 2011. I was left with boxes of yellowed photographs and personal annotations about the exodus of my family from East Prussia in 1945. Together with Andrea, we imagined bringing light to this story – all the while being aware that revisiting history through the recollections of the others can be fraught with mis-perceptions and misleading interpretations. However, personal life stories have the potential to be universal, and individual accounts are like atoms of a comprehensive whole partaking of historic context.
The lived experience is determinant to our artistic practice: being performance artists, we define the others, the world, and ourselves through our bodies. To realise the film, in May-June 2015, we walked the escape route that my family had forcibly undertaken 70 years before, retracing the journey in reverse from West to East. Along the way, we kept a diary of reflections on encountered people and places, the draft for the stream-of-consciousness dialogues of the film. We gathered original footage and performed site-responsive, location-specific enactments of true events of the exodus – our presence and actions at the service of the moving image.
The film collects splinters of memories in seven episodes linked by shifting contexts and the ephemeral appearances of a woman in white, a woman in black and one Everyman. Each episode is inspired by one of my ancestors.
Performance art is strictly linear in space and time, where – just as in life – the process reveals itself in the time passing. However, film can function as a kind of wormhole, where space-time deludes by effacing trivial boundaries, and where – just as in life – the process reveals itself by finding links between apparently disconnected actions. The combination of both art forms allow us to question our perception of reality, and how we process and store infor-mation in our minds, bodies and souls.
For us, Plantain is an opportunity to engage with the recent past while in the present, and interweave a necessary dialogue between generations and cultures. We reflect and interpret life, corporeal life, wishing to lift up and to heighten the faith in the human spirit.
The 20th century is marked by genocides, forced displacements and world wars. Today we’re witnessing global powers indifferent to human ideals. We have spent years and years thinking and saying the worst about ourselves, but history proves that, despite our imperfections, evil prevails only when we mistake it for the norm, and the human spirit is evidence of kindness and courage.
The stories we tell ourselves, whether false or true, are in the end real. Memory shapes these stories, and finally, a shape comes by that which looks different, as if to say that a new generation is the missing piece of the previous one, waiting in turn for the next one to come: a lasting continuity. We made of the search of memory the meaning itself, retracing a historic path. And rather than retracing, our action here is to restart.