Vom Erinnern und Vergessen: „The Concentration Camp Exhibition” – in Conversation with OLGA ŞTEFAN

Seit 2003 gibt es das „Fellowship-Programm für Kunst und Theorie“ im Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen. Jedes Jahr werden von einer Jury neue Künstler:innen und Theoretiker:innen ausgewählt, um im künstlerischen Experimentierlabor mit ihren Werken einen Produktions- und Diskussionskontext zu generieren, in dem überregionale Kunst- und Gesellschaftsdiskurse mit lokalen Themen in Zusammenhang gebracht und reflektiert werden.

Die diesjährigen Büchsenhausen-Fellows verbinden in ihren jeweiligen Arbeitsvorhaben feminstisch-queere Sicht- und Verfahrensweisen mit Fragen der Vergangenheitsbewältigung – für ein besseres und tieferes Verständnis unserer Gegenwart. Im komplex-Blog werden ihre Positionen der Reihe nach vorgestellt. Den Auftakt macht die aus Rumänien stammende Künstlerin Olga Ştefan mit ihrem investigativen Projekt „The Concentration Camp Exhibition“. Darin rekonstruiert sie eine Kunstausstellung, die kurz nach der Befreiung Rumäniens vom faschistischen Antonescu-Regime stattgefunden hat. Ein Essayfilm soll den Arbeitsprozess dokumentieren.

„The Drawing is of the Deliceing Campaign in the Camp of Vapniarka, 1942“ – Zeichnung von Gabriel Cohen. Mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Ella Cohen und The Future of Memory.

komplex: Your essay film attempts to reconstruct an art exhibition that took place shortly after Romania’s liberation from the fascist Antonescu regime. How did you come up with this idea?

Olga Ştefan: In the frame of my fellowship at Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen I am conducting research on an exhibition that was held in 1945 in Romania, the first and only one featuring works about the camp experience made by the survivors themselves. With this research I intend to one day make an essay film that documents my trials and errors in the archives while trying to recompose the list of artworks exhibited in the show.  My interest in this topic comes from my ongoing work on the art of the Holocaust in Romania through my initiative ‚The Future of Memory‚.

What is your emotional relationship to this project?

The project ‘The Future of Memory’ started with my research into family history culminating with an exhibition called ‘Fragments of a Life’ that took place in Iasi 2016 and an eponymous video featuring my grandma telling of her experiences during the Iasi pogrom of 1941 when her father was massacred on a death train. The video Fragments of a Life can be viewed online.

Where can the film be seen?

The project I am working on for the exhibition curated by Andrei Siclodi at Neue Galerie, called ‘The Concentration Camp Exhibition’, is a preliminary presentation of the research. The future film will hopefully be screened in as many places as possible, but I have to make it first! (laughs) ‘The Concentration Camp Exhibition’ project will also hopefully have a life after its debut here in Innsbruck.

What do you want to achieve with this film? Is it about memory?

Yes, this entire project is about uncovering hidden chapters of history and remembering. Also, the work in the ‘Concentration Camp Exhibition’ was made by very talented artists who disappeared from the art historical canon in Romania. This is my attempt to reintegrate them in their rightful spot in the official historical narrative.

Bild: Olga Ştefan

In museums, exhibitions ect. only certain things, times and people are shown, which leads society to remember some things better than others. Art thus essentially determines what falls into oblivion. How would you deal with this problem?

Well, yes, my main mission and interest is to uncover these hidden chapters of history and recover artists long forgotten. Remembering and forgetting is a process that is activated by both the political climate and personal interest.

What do you think art can chance in politics?

I am not so sure that art changes anything in politics, but it can reveal uncomfortable truths that then infiltrate the public consciousness. It is why power wants to control it.

Can you say something about your next projects?

I am just working on my doctorate currently and will continue to try to find funding for the essay film mentioned above which would be the first documentary dealing with the topic of Vapniarka, the concentration camp in Romanian-occupied Transnistria. 

| Sarah Caliciotti


Kurzbio

Olga Ştefan

Olga Ştefan is a curator, arts writer, documentary filmmaker and researcher, born in Bucharest, raised in Chicago, and currently residing in Zurich. Her work mostly deals with the politics of memory, migration and identity. Ştefan has curated more than thirty international exhibitions in museums, art centers, and galleries and has contributed to magazines such as Art in America, FlashArt, Art Review, Sculpture Magazine and many others. She is the founder of ‘The Future of Memory’, the transnational platform for Holocaust remembrance in Romania and Moldova through art and media, where her documentary films can be viewed. Her chapter on the Vapniarka concentration camp appeared in the volume Memories of Terror, 2020, CEEOL Press, Frankfurt.

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