Roland Schefferski – Artistic Strategies for Cultural Memory

Roland Schefferski
Roland Schefferski

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Roland Schefferski was born in Kattowitz/Katowice in 1956. From 1971 to 1976 he attended the artistic grammar school in Breslau/Wrocław. Following this, from 1976 to 1981, he continued his studies in the city by following a course in free art at the State College of Visual Arts. In 1984 he moved to Berlin where he still lives and works.

At the start of the 1980s Schefferski turned to object and installation art and since then he has been working on cycles of work. He is interested in searching for traces and processual developments in public spaces. He does this by bringing together abandoned objects (work cycle: Registration of a discarded Reality, starting in 1981) and installations in public spaces (work cycle: Space Identification 1981-84). In the 1990s he began working with everyday historic relics like photos, furniture, old newspapers, banknotes and used clothing that served him as a “trigger for memories and associations“ (Schefferski). They built a "bridge to the original users or owners […], of whom all other traces have long since been swept away”. The artist liberated the objects from their original context by rearranging them with new objects. Sometimes he mutilated them by cutting pieces out of them, breaking them up or embroidering them.

Since 1993 he has been working under the title Sediments with photographs that he first sears into porcelain before storing them in glass vessels full of water. Since 1994 these vessels have been standing in a display cabinet in his installation Retrieved from Memory (ill. 1), that the artist set up in a Berlin apartment gallery along with other pieces of furniture and individual objects that he brought along. Later he burned photos into glazed earthen ware, broke them up and also placed them in vessels full of water. His object “Women of Danzig“ (ill. 5) (1999) features shards of a family photo. These arrangements resemble anatomical compounds and, in doing so, pass on traces of unknown people for posterity. They play a major role in two installations: Events that remain Anonymous (2000), one in the Ostdeutsche Galerie Museum in Regensburg (ill. 6 a, b) and the other, Empty Images (2007) in the Łaźnia Centre for Contemporary Art in Danzig/Gdańsk (ill. 7 a, b). Here they take up the complete space beneath old kitchen wash stands and display shards featuring colour portraits of young people. They focus our attention on the fate and identity of individuals, whereas other objects or the whole environment are inspired by historical and political connections.

Thus in in his exhibition Wiped out images (1997) Schefferski placed sixteen artistic objects consisting of “devotional objects” and everyday furnishings from the former GDR in a Berlin antiquities and junk shop, all of which were related to the Nazi period or the history of the GDR. Several “conserved” silk scarves featuring a portrait of Karl Marx were placed under a bell jar (ill. 2). By contrast, in 1998, in an exhibition in a Danzig antiquities business entitled Fragmentaryczność Pamięci/Fragmenting the Memory visitors were confronted with a defamiliarised relic from Polish history, a banknote from which the artist had cut out the word “Proletariat“ and framed it in three medals (ill. 4 a, b). Both in Berlin as in Danzig visitors have the impression that “scarcely before they were conscious of the fact, they were less in their own present situation and much more in the corresponding “historical continuum”. In 2000 the artist presented a twin installation for the exhibition hall in Regensburg, one part of which was Polish and the other German. Whereas on the Polish side the national colours were whitewashed (ill. 6 a), the objects on the German side were commentaries on National Socialism and the GDR. Here ladies’ costumes, kitchen and lounge furnishings (ill. 6 b) serve to pinpoint the middle classes of both nations as being responsible for their corresponding political conditions.

In 1997 the Berlin exhibition Wiped out images marked a new eponymous work cycle for Schefferski (ill. 3). He cut up private photos from the Nazi period that he had found in photo albums in flea markets in such a way that the only thing left from the picture was its narrow edge. For Schefferski this was a simple strategy indicating the process of repression that had taken place in Germany during the post-war era. Visitors were given the opportunity to consider in their own minds what remained of images of the time in their own memory. In his Danzig exhibition entitled Fragmentaryczność Pamięci/Fragmenting the Memory visitors were asked to associate similar images of the German past in Poland that they had attempted to wipe out of their memory after the war. In an interactive action with the viewer the Wiped out images appealed to the cultural and collective memory of both the nations involved. Schefferski’s action Stwórz sobie własny obraz Berlina/Make your own Picture of Berlin, shown in Warsaw in the year 2000, worked with the collective memory of the Polish people. On fifty poster walls the artist showed nothing but the borders of official Berlin advertising and invited the inhabitants of the Polish capital to check the possible clichés in their own image of the Germans (ill. 8).

A huge number of Schefferski’s artistic actions touch on interactive processes and intervene temporarily, unexpectedly and sometimes scarcely perceptibly, in the art business or in everyday life. In his action entitled Berliners, that he presented between 2000 and 2012 in exhibitions in Warsaw, Los Angeles, Berlin and Kraków (amongst others), he invited viewers to exchange their coats and jackets at the cloakroom with coats and jackets that he had previously embroidered with the silhouettes of real persons living in Berlin (ill. 9). In doing so he created a symbolic interaction between partially separated places and groups of people. He stimulated discussions between artists and random passers-by and visitors during festivals in Milan (1998) and Linz (2002); in 2003 on the occasion of his installation Inwentaryzacja/Inventory in the Lebuser Landesmuseum in Zielona Góra (ill. 15 a, b), and 2006 in Berlin-Neukölln under the title Conversation in the Green Area (ill. 12).

His installations in public places stimulate viewers to discuss their perceptions of specific places. He “revived” the ruins of the old town centre of Küstrin/Kostrzyn with furnishings and furnishings from a domestic lounge along with a sound installation of conversations between a German and a Polish family (ill. 10). His 2006 installation What does a Fir Tree do (ill. 13 a, b) in the former Steinhöfel mansion garden questions our dealings with nature and offers visitors the chance to leave their own objects. In his intervention Our Garden (2008) in a newly laid farm garden in Zempow (ill. 14 a, b) he installed critical comments from an Internet forum on the same theme and set them in relationship to the forecast of “flourishing landscapes” in the “new” (i.e. East German) federal states. Two of his interventions have social and political backgrounds: This Concerns You /To dotyczy ciebie (2005) in Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice (ill. 11 a, b), as well as Money isn’t Everything/Pieniądze szczęścia nie dają (2009) in Warsaw. Here he deliberately removed the slogans stamped into coins in order to stimulate passers-by who found them to think more about their common European future and the state of society in the global market economy.

Two projects are linked to his artistic exploration of cultural memory at the end of the 1990s. In 2003 he presented an exhibition entitled Inwentaryzacja/Inventory in the Lebuser Landesmuseum in Zielona Góra, (formerly Grünberg), which featured cultural and historical objects of German origin from the museum’s stocks (ill. 15 a, b). Here Schefferski was not so much interested in documenting the objects themselves, as in making an “inventory” of thoughts and reflections triggered off in the minds of German and Polish visitors. One of the questionnaires he organised confirmed the presence of these objects in the cultural memory of both groups of visitors. True, a forum with invited artists, cultural managers and academics brings “polemics, emotions and national pride” to the surface, but this “always leads back to art and the personal level of human experience”. In 2009 Schefferski presented a slideshow entitled reKonstruktion in the recently restored Pomona temple beneath the Belvedere on the Pfingstberg in Potsdam. The show featured images of Schinkel’s monument which had been destroyed during the Second World War (ill. 16 a, b), in order to enable visitors to access their cultural memory of what had happened in this particular place during the war.

In 2000 Schefferski started work on a hitherto unfinished series of works entitled Empty Images, which is formally connected to his Wiped out images created in 1997/98. The new work centres on the manipulative character of media images. The artist cut out images from the front pages of the Los Angeles Times, the Berliner Zeitung and Bild (ill. 17 a, b), in order to indicate that these images not only illustrate the text in question but can also influence the content. In his works with the Financial Times newspaper, shown in 2012 in the eponymous installation in the Collegium Polonicum in Słubice, he displayed deeper levels of the newspaper in order to confront the images at the back with the text on the front page (ill. 18 a, b).

In 2011 Schefferski received an offer from the Lebuser Landesmuseum to make an artistic work based on a collection of 1,200 slides from the Jewish Museum in Berlin which the Nazis closed down in 1938. His exhibition focussed on photographic memorials to Jewish culture and images of Jewish everyday life after the Nazi had almost completely annihilated them from the cultural memory of Germans and Polish people. In an initial action he added a huge amount of copies of photographs into books that could be normally borrowed from the municipal lending libraries in Frankfurt (Oder), Guben, Słubice, Stettin/Szczecin, Zielona Góra and Zittau. The aim was to reacquaint users once more with images of Jewish culture, without making a commentary on them. In 2012 he created an installation in two rooms of the Lebuser Landesmuseum entitled From the Lives of Europeans. In a so-called “Think Room” that was normally empty he presented 1200 empty glass sheets on a glass shelf running beneath the ceiling in order to draw people’s attention to the lack of these images in collective memories. In the second room he presented a slideshow of historic photographs (ill. 19 a, b, c). Within the space of one and a half decades he has created a group of works featuring various levels of “wiped out”, “empty” and missing images from photographic media that are the central object of cultural and collective memory.

Schefferski’s various work cycles focus on the extent to which images have an influence on the process of memory, and which forms of media imagery, cultural and collective memory are constantly subject to manipulation. In doing so the artist distances himself from official memory culture as practised on Memorial Days and in places of mourning. Since his early objects and environments he has rather offered building blocks and strategies to restore forgotten and repressed events to our collective consciousness.

Axel Feuß

 

Further reading:

Schattensprung. 11 Künstlerinnen und Künstler aus Berlin, Zentrum für Zeitgenössische Kunst - Ujazdowski-Schloss, Warschau, hrsg. vom Museumspädagogischen Dienst, Berlin 1995 (German/Polish.)

Lovis-Corinth-Preis 2000. Förderpreis Roland Schefferski, Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg, hrsg. von der Künstlergilde, Esslingen 2000 (German/Polish)

Dialog Loci. Kunst an einem verlorenen Ort. Kunstbuch zur internationalen Ausstellung Dialog Loci auf dem Gelände der Festung Küstrin, Hilden 2004 (German/Polish/English)

Roland Schefferski. Bestandsaufnahme. Inwentaryzacja, Zielona Góra 2005 (Polish/German; anlässlich der Ausstellung Roland Schefferski. Bestandsaufnahme - Inwentaryzacja, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2003)

Wanderweg „blühende Landschaften“. Zempow. Handbuch für die Erkundung eines Dorfes am Zonenrand, Berlin 2009

Roland Schefferski. Financial Time(s), Reihe: Kolekcja Sztuki Współczesnej. Collegium Polonicum. Sammlung der zeitgenössischen Kunst, Słubice, Frankfurt (Oder) 2013 (German/Polish)

Recall, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2014 (Polish/German/English; anlässlich der Ausstellung Roland Schefferski Recall - Z życia Europejczyków/Aus dem Leben von Europäern / Monika Weiss - Całuny/Leichentücher, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej / Galeria BWA, Zielona Góra 2012)

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Retrieved from Memory, 1993 (Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Wiedergewonnen aus dem Gedächtnis, Konzept Museum Galerie, Berlin 1994)
ill. 1: Retrieved from Memory, 1993
Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Wiedergewonnen aus dem Gedächtnis, Konzept Museum Galerie, Berlin 1994
Ten Commandments, 1997 (Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Wiped out images, David Kirby antiquities shop, Berlin 1997)
ill. 2: Ten Commandments, 1997
Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Wiped out images, David Kirby antiquities shop, Berlin 1997
Wiped out images, 1997 (Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Wiped out images, David Kirby antiquities shop, Berlin 1997)
ill. 3: Wiped out images, 1997
Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Wiped out images, David Kirby antiquities shop, Berlin 1997
Proletariat, 1998 (Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Fragmentaryczność Pamięci/ Fragmenting the Memory, antiquities business, Danzig/Gdańsk 1998)
ill. 4a: Proletariat, 1998
Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Fragmentaryczność Pamięci/ Fragmenting the Memory, antiquities business, Danzig/Gdańsk 1998
Proletariat, 1998 (Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Fragmentaryczność Pamięci/ Fragmenting the Memory, antiquities business, Danzig/Gdańsk 1998)
ill. 4b: Proletariat, 1998
Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Fragmentaryczność Pamięci/ Fragmenting the Memory, antiquities business, Danzig/Gdańsk 1998
Danzig Women, 1999 (Detail; Exhibition Events that remain Anonymous, Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg 2000)
ill. 5: Danzig Women, 1999
Detail; Exhibition Events that remain Anonymous, Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg 2000
Exhibition Events that remain Anonymous, Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg 2000 (on the occasion of the sponsorship award to the Lovis Corinth Prize)
ill. 6a: Exhibition Events that remain Anonymous, 2000
On the occasion of the sponsorship award to the Lovis Corinth Prize
Exhibition Events that remain Anonymous, Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg 2000 (on the occasion of the sponsorship award to the Lovis Corinth Prize)
ill. 6b: Exhibition Events that remain Anonymous, 2000
On the occasion of the sponsorship award to the Lovis Corinth Prize
Sediment I und II, 1999-2000 (Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Empty Images, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia, Danzig 2007)
ill. 7a: Sediment I und II, 1999-2000
Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Empty Images, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia, Danzig 2007
Sediment I und II, 1999-2000 (Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Empty Images, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia, Danzig 2007)
ill. 7b: Sediment I und II, 1999-2000
Exhibition Roland Schefferski. Empty Images, Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia, Danzig 2007
Stwórz sobie własny obraz Berlina/Make your own Picture of Berlin, 2000 (poster action on the occasion of the Berlin days in Warsaw in 2000)
ill. 8: Make your own Picture of Berlin, 2000
Poster action on the occasion of the Berlin days in Warsaw in 2000
Berliners, 2000/2012 (Berlińczycy, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, Krakau 2012)
ill. 9: Berliners, 2000/2012
Berlińczycy, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, Krakau 2012
Enklawa/Enclave, 2004 (on the occasion of the exhibition Dialog Loci. Sztuka w zagubionym miejscu/Dialog Loci. Art in a lost Place, Kostrzyn nad Odrą 2004)
ill. 10: Enklawa/Enclave, 2004
On the occasion of the exhibition Dialog Loci. Sztuka w zagubionym miejscu/Dialog Loci. Art in a lost Place, Kostrzyn nad Odrą 2004
This Concerns You/To dotyczy ciebie, 2005 (on the occasion of the international art project Słubfurt City?, Frankfurt (Oder ) / Słubice, 2004/05)
ill. 11a: This Concerns You, 2005
On the occasion of the international art project Słubfurt City?, Frankfurt (Oder ) / Słubice, 2004/05
This Concerns You/To dotyczy ciebie, 2005 (on the occasion of the international art project Słubfurt City?, Frankfurt (Oder ) / Słubice, 2004/05)
ill. 11b: This Concerns You, 2005
On the occasion of the international art project Słubfurt City?, Frankfurt (Oder ) / Słubice, 2004/05
Conversation in the Green Area, 2006 (on the occasion of the city art series Occupation, Berlin 2006; on the platform erected by Christian Hasucha entitled The Island, Berlin-Neukölln)
ill. 12: Conversation in the Green Area, 2006
On the occasion of the city art series Occupation, Berlin 2006; on the platform erected by Christian Hasucha entitled The Island, Berlin-Neukölln
What does a fir tree do …, 2006 (on the occasion of the art project Let’s get down to Work; in the garden of the LandKunstLeben At Club e.V., In the former Steinhöfel Schlossgarten /Brandenburg, 2006)
ill. 13a: What does a fir tree do …, 2006
On the occasion of the art project Let’s get down to Work; in the garden of the LandKunstLeben At Club e.V., In the former Steinhöfel Schlossgarten /Brandenburg, 2006
What does a fir tree do …, 2006 (on the occasion of the art project Let’s get down to Work; in the garden of the LandKunstLeben At Club e.V., In the former Steinhöfel Schlossgarten /Brandenburg, 2006)
ill. 13b: What does a fir tree do …, 2006
On the occasion of the art project Let’s get down to Work; in the garden of the LandKunstLeben At Club e.V., In the former Steinhöfel Schlossgarten /Brandenburg, 2006
Our Garden, 2008 (on the occasion of the art project Blossoming Landscapes, Zempow/Brandenburg 2008; in the farm garden at the Buchfinkenhof)
ill. 14a: Our Garden, 2008
On the occasion of the art project Blossoming Landscapes, Zempow/Brandenburg 2008; in the farm garden at the Buchfinkenhof
Our Garden, 2008 (on the occasion of the art project Blossoming Landscapes, Zempow/Brandenburg 2008; in the farm garden at the Buchfinkenhof)
ill. 14b: Our Garden, 2008
On the occasion of the art project Blossoming Landscapes, Zempow/Brandenburg 2008; in the farm garden at the Buchfinkenhof
Inwentaryzacja/Inventory, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2003
ill. 15a: Inwentaryzacja/Inventory, 2003
Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2003
Inwentaryzacja/Inventory, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2003
ill. 15b: Inwentaryzacja/Inventory, 2003
Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2003
reKonstruktion, 2009 (in the Pomona Temple, Belvedere, Potsdam; built in 1800 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, rebuilt after war destruction in 1992/93, restored in 2009)
ill. 16a: reKonstruktion, 2009
In the Pomona Temple, Belvedere, Potsdam; built in 1800 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, rebuilt after war destruction in 1992/93, restored in 2009
reKonstruktion, 2009 (in the Pomona Temple, Belvedere, Potsdam; built in 1800 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, rebuilt after war destruction in 1992/93, restored in 2009)
ill. 16b: reKonstruktion, 2009
In the Pomona Temple, Belvedere, Potsdam; built in 1800 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, rebuilt after war destruction in 1992/93, restored in 2009
Empty Images, 2000/2006. Los Angeles Times, 4th August 2000
ill. 17a: Empty Images, 2000/2006
Empty Images, 2000/2006. Los Angeles Times, 4th August 2000
Empty Images, 2000/2006. Bild (Berlin), 12th January 2006
ill. 17b: Empty Images, 2000/2006
Empty Images, 2000/2006. Bild (Berlin), 12th January 2006
Financial Time(s), Collegium Polonicum, Słubice 2012
ill. 18a: Financial Time(s), 2012
Collegium Polonicum, Słubice 2012
Financial Time(s), Collegium Polonicum, Słubice 2012
ill. 18b: Financial Time(s), 2012
Collegium Polonicum, Słubice 2012
From the Life of Europeans, 2012 (Exhibition Recall - Roland Schefferski: Z życia Europejczyków/ From the Life of Europeans / Monika Weiss: Całuny/Winding Sheets, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2012)
ill. 19a: From the Life of Europeans, 2012
Exhibition Recall - Roland Schefferski: Z życia Europejczyków/ From the Life of Europeans / Monika Weiss: Całuny/Winding Sheets, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2012
From the Life of Europeans, 2012 (Exhibition Recall - Roland Schefferski: Z życia Europejczyków/ From the Life of Europeans / Monika Weiss: Całuny/Winding Sheets, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2012)
ill. 19b: From the Life of Europeans, 2012
Exhibition Recall - Roland Schefferski: Z życia Europejczyków/ From the Life of Europeans / Monika Weiss: Całuny/Winding Sheets, Muzeum Ziemi Lubuskiej, Zielona Góra 2012
Simone Froboese: Roland Schefferski
To dotyczy ciebie/Das betrifft dich, Divine Film, Berlin 2005