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Working on Myth

Talents 30 . Luise Schröder / Hannah Peterson

The pictures have been scorched by fire and stained by water. Buildings, facades, streets, people, and landscapes overlap and merge, breaking off abruptly and joining together in new combinations. They are fragments of the photographic record of the old and new city of Dresden—profoundly damaged, radically distorted, and only partially decipherable. What forces have been let loose upon them? And why? Luise Schröder embarks on a visual journey that takes her through current and historic, cultural and political layers of the city in a search for traces of the past.

Her artistic practice engages the myth of Dresden between the bombing of 1945 and the “flood of the century” that engulfed it in 2002, addressing both the visual reproduction of this myth and its continued reproduction up to the present day. Dealing with the subject of Dresden’s history always means stepping out onto an ideological battlefield, a landscape that is constantly being occupied and shaped by different groups and forces. In her photographic series, Luise Schröder depicts this battlefield in precise and unsettling detail, calling into question the continuous, ongoing attempts at the reconstruction of a collective remembrance.

The second part of the work—equally significant to the seven photographs in the series—is a video installation representing the process of destruction itself. In it, the artist is seen setting picture books, individual photographs, and books on a table. She is in deep concentration, organizing the material and filling in empty places. Then silence falls, and buckets of water suddenly inundate the scene. Books and photographs are washed away; pages are tossed around violently and become stuck together. The water recedes, leaving puddles everywhere. Then silence returns, and what was left behind is ignited by a flamethrower. Paper catches fire; pages curl in flames and crumble away. The fire is extinguished with sand. When the layers of sand are carried away, Luise Schröder cuts and separates out parts of pages, sometimes a whole page, from the remnants. What remains is the dismal image of ravaged books—and in the viewer, a powerful sense of devastation.

The performance seen in the video was carefully planned and executed by the artist. In it, Schröder addresses two defining events in the Dresden’s history, reconstructing them in symbolic form. As a critical reenactment, her work opens up a discourse surrounding the myth of the city. Acting simultaneously as a Trümmerfrau—one of the women who collected the rubble of the destroyed city after thewar, an archaeologist, and a genealogist, the artist takes the historical narrative into.