Paula Elion - Visual Artist

Hiersein, Being Here, להיות כאן

An exhibition marking the commemorative year, 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany, at the Kommunalen Galerie Berlin. With the artists Paula Elion, Michal Fuchs, Olaf Kühnemann, Atalya Laufer, Elke Renate Steiner, Heike Steinweg and Birgit Szepanski.

An exhibition marking the commemorative year, 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany, at the Kommunalen Galerie Berlin. With the artists Paula Elion, Michal Fuchs, Olaf Kühnemann, Atalya Laufer, Elke Renate Steiner, Heike Steinweg and Birgit Szepanski.
What characterizes the notion of being here? Is a particular place implied when we talk about being here? Does being here refer exclusively to the present? The interplay of place, time and subject gives philosophical and existential meaning to being here. It is more than mere presence or the localisation of a place. Through encounters and memories, people connect biographical as well as historical events to places. In doing so, they give significance to their lived experience. For example, memories of childhood are directly linked to specific places and spaces: a house, a room, a neighbourhood or a landscape. These past memories and experiences are carried over into the present and create a dynamic network of relationships. In this sense, being here has already occurred countless times: in all the moments when a person connects the abundance of his or her emotions, thoughts and dreams to something. This generates a resonance with the environment, objects and other people. In this interstice, a localisation takes place: as “part of an ‘and’ and a ‘between,’ a chain that does not let us rest”1. In this way, being here is first and foremost a psychological localisation that has not yet been completed. Moreover, new experiences overwrite existing ones, signifying that memories are always recounted in different ways. The missing, the unfulfilled and the traumatic also play a part in these processes, and likewise are remembered. Ruptures in biographical and historical narratives, disillusionments and unrequited needs help to shape a sense of being here, and with this, the forging of identity.
The seven artists in the exhibition deal with these aspects of being here. Their different backgrounds give rise to a variety of perspectives on the question of being here. Common themes include reflections on Jewish and German history, the fragility of cultural identities, and the city of Berlin as a place to live and work. Paula Elion, Michal Fuchs, Olaf Kühnemann, Atalya Laufer, Elke Renate Steiner, Heike Steinweg and Birgit Szepanski confront tense issues in their artistic works: who thinks about Jewish and German histories and how? How is identity culturally and familially generated and politically instrumentalised? Which ruptures, disappointments, and traumas are passed on to the third-generation after the Holocaust and carried through to the present in a formative way? How do artists of German origin deal with remembrance in the city?
The exhibition provides a framework for these political questions whilst creating a sense of openness through its subjective perspectives. The diverse materiality of the artworks play an essential role: in the aesthetics of the drawn, the handwritten, the figurative and the narrated, and in the overlapping of the visual and the tactile, a certain fragility becomes both observable and perceptible. This alludes to the difficult processes of localising the individual—of his or her being here.

About Paula Elion and her works

During an artist residency in Berlin (2019), Paula Elion collected embroidered, used textiles such as tablecloths, bedclothes and towels at flea markets. The artist draws family portraits on the fabric items using felt-tip pens, paints or with her own embroidery, emphasising the symbolic value of these ‘domestic textiles’. When the viewer learns who Elion is portraying, a surprising shift takes place: the textiles mirror our treatment of history and critique ideological ascriptions. The tablecloth object ‘Magda and the children’ (2019/2021) shows children surrounding a young, smiling woman – Magda Goebbels and her children. In National Socialist Germany, in the 1930s and 40s, Magda Goebbels became a propagandistic role-model for femininity and motherhood. She and her children, whose first names all began with the letter H, could be seen in photographs, films and at official visits. In her historical research, Elion explores the cracks and voids that exist between the public image of Magda Goebbels and her six children and the reality of the dysfunctional family situation. Are the smiling children, who became the objects of a fascist staging, actually happy? Why did Magda Goebbels murder her six children shortly before the end of the war? What identity does family generate? Elion incorporates images of herself as a child into the Magda Goebbels family ensemble, becoming an observer and protagonist of the scenario. By this means, the artist with Argentinian and Jewish origins deconstructs the fascist-hegemonic family image and creates possible alternate identities. An empathy towards children can be sensed here, as can Elion’s intention to reflect the National Socialist narrative and family images. Paula Elion’s installation of textiles, objets trouvés and a diary is multi-layered and meandering and creates a counterpoint to ascriptions.

Exhibition curated by Dr. Birgit Szepanski.

Photo credits Moritz Vietze.

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