POSTCARDS FROM A NON-PLACE
MATERIALS Cardboard, printed stickers, photos made of overlapping projected slides
DIMENSIONS 8 cm, 11 cm, 1 cm
A picture-postcard-set (with 10 miniature postcards) referring to postcard-sets as published in North-Western Europe in the 1950’s. These picture postcard-sets were used as souvenirs for tourists and tried to cover the main attractions of a city in one set of 10 pictures.
The Photos used are taken of overlapping slides who were bought from people in the Netherlands and Belgium via eBay. Pasted on small postcards templates with a typeface of my deceased Grandfather. Gained from his claim for compensation for his time as prisoner during World War II. Through this picture-postcards I try to reveal the notion of Heimat as a desire for a non-place and display the historical and ideological dubiousness of the notion.
Heimat: As part of strategies of belonging I investigated in the notion of Heimat. A German word that can be and sometimes is translated as sense of belonging. It is used as a demand by people who are identifying with the imagined community of the nation state in Germany. Right wing parties using the notion as something that they want to give back to the country.
During my research it occurred that mostly when people are asked about the notion of Heimat, they talk about memories. Sensations that they can remember from their youth. A lot of these sensations are based on continuity. On the awareness that time goes on. One remembers that a period of one’s life has irrecoverable past. I understood the desire for a place called Heimat as the desire for a place that is excluded by the passing of time. A place that stays the same. A Garden of Eden.
Professor Bernhard Schlink calls Heimat is a non-place, an utopia. “By trying to make the non-place into a place, because memories and desires cannot bear to be desires and memories, the word will be denatured. And it can become an ideology.”
According to a survey of the magazine Der Spiegel 31% are saying that this notion for them is related to the place they live, 27% say to the place of birth, 25% to the family, 11% to the nation and 6 to friends.
The images: I worked with slides that I bought from different people (in the Netherlands and Belgium) via eBay. With two projectors I created an overlap of different images. Through this technique I tried to evoke the feeling of a nostalgic desire for a non-place. Every picture contains elements that are pointing to distance outside of the actual picture. This could be a street, a window or a horizon. These elements represent the distance that is needed to engage with the feeling of Heimat. Even though the images seems to have a personal character, they are not personal at all. They are only related to something that could evoke a nostalgic feeling for me. They capture landscapes, places where one could live and people who could be family or friends. Through the emerged pictures the images are becoming surreal, just like the desire for a place based on memories is surreal. For the documentation I made a selection of photos of these double-slides.
The format of the picture-postcard: Picture-postcards are often send during trips or travels to the home address of friends or relatives. In this way they are used when the person who is writing is distanced from the place he is sending it to. The word Heimat is in general strongly connected to its antipodes like being abroad, homesickness, nostalgia, the exile or the diaspora. It appears as social and cultural origin if it is not available any more. The loss of Heimat can not only be experienced by displacement, but also by destroying, occupation, serious changes of social structures or even by an imaginary thread.
I tried to capture the distance and the desire for a place called Heimat through this format of the picture postcard.
The picture-postcard has the tension between being a personal message and a standardised template. In this way it captured for me the tension of the notion of Heimat being a personal feeling on the one hand and an institutionalized desire on the other (Germany has since 2018 a Ministry of Heimat).
The small format of the picture-postcard (A7) combined with the inscribed back side make the postcards dysfunctional for personal use. This emphasis that the places shown on the postcards are not existing and that the postcards are not more than reminders of this. The use of a standard template also devalues the personal desire to a broader sensation.
I chose to leave the place for the stamp open in order to avoid to combine the feeling within an actual place or even a nation.
The typeface: During my research I felt a contradiction between my own nostalgic desires concerning my sense of belonging and my urge to deconstruct them. That’s why I decided to use an element that is related to me in a personal way, but can also be associated in a political way. The typeface is made of the handwriting of my deceased grandfather, gained from his claim for compensation for his time as prisoner during World War II. The typeface shows elements of Fraktur-Script, a typeface that is often related to Nazi-Germany. It was officially used till 1941. In 1941 Martin Bormann declared Fraktur to be Judenlettern (Jewish letters) and prohibited their further use. The reason for this declaration was most probably the difficulties in communication with the new occupied territories. This change of typeface shows the ease of handling the invented tradition within the nation state.
The notion of Heimat was used during in Nazi-Germany as propaganda. The NSDAP and the Hitlerjugend organised the so called Heimatabende, where they cultivated patriotic and chauvinistic ideas and traditions.
After the Second World War the notion of Heimat came to be discredited. The sense of belonging had been abused. But since a lot of people had lost their homes the desire for this place grew. In this time the Heimatabende had been meetings where displaced German citizens try to comfort each other with memories about their lost territory (mostly the region of Poland). Since some of them asked contemplation for their loss, the notion even became more negatively loaded. Since my grandfather used to live in former Poland and had been fighting for Nazi-Germany, his handwriting in a claim for compensation seemed to be a fitting element as a reminder of the exploitation and the danger of the notion of Heimat.