The Floor of Terezin
Prison cells are everywhere the same. Reduced to a minimum of space and interior they guarantee the most rigorous execution of public punishment, the imprisonment. Prison cells are temporary involuntary isolation. The resulting control and disciplinary provisions can be easily organized and implemented.The controlling view from outside in is perfectly set up, while the view from inside out is denied. The inmate, accused of whichever delict, is confronted with numerous legal authorities as a single individual.
Prison cells as basic unit in a concentration camp symbolize a special systematic cruelty and violence.
The former fortress and garrison Terezin was known as exemplary military installation since its construction at the end of the 18th century. As “architecture of war”, used from 1941 to 1945 as Jewish ghetto, and predominantly as transition camp for deportations to Ausschwitz. The Small Fortress, which is also part of the entire fortress, was always used as a prison. After the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by the national socialists, it was used as a prison by the Gestapo.
Two prison cells are now being used to show changing exhibition series of modern art.
For artists of today’s generation this environment is for sure very difficult and demanding, because they are not only confronted with torture and degradation, but they are forced to face an un-popitiated historic burden.
Dieter Haist, born 1943, shows in the so called common confinement cell in the Small Fortress a photo installation. The cell, in which up to 600 prisoners were captured until they were executed, is made of a concrete floor, stone walls, a band of borrowed light and is divided by many columns and fixed partition walls. Dieter Haist lives in Kassel, a city also been effected by the World War II, but in a different manner. At that time it was infiltrated by the national socialistic ideology, which can be heard in many parts of Germany again.
Not too far from the outskirts of Kassel is the former internment camp Breitenau. There Dieter Haist, together with other colleagues, has successfully started an attempt to create a place of commemoration.
Memorial work, addressed to our social and political commemoration is the basis for the installation at Terezin. A total of 36 large formatted color photos (49 x 65 cm), each framed with dark metal and concealed with glass. The compact objects of identical size are set up symmetric and at regular intervals on the floor of the cell. The viewer looks from the top onto the installation and takes the position of the artist, which he took for his object. All motives where taken in the same position, at the same place, with the same illumination as basis with a fixed camera in a strict vertical view. This absolute perspective from above has to be followed by the viewer, with the only exception that the own height and movement may define the distance between view and object. The pictures show men, women, children of every generation, each society class: Randomly representing an average of people. People are being introduced without portraying them, because the fundamental features, the face and the physiognomy are not visible through the extreme ankle on the camera. There is no eye contact between the viewer and the picture, the communication is blocked. With a simple artifice the characteristic reflection, normally a traditional constitute of art and photographic, was undermined. The photos remain anonymous and numb. This effect is emphasized – the bodies appear without contour and amorphous. Neither dead nor alive are they standing in their boxes which seem to be absorbed by the floor.
Individuality, if at all, is visible in the sense of a type of person study. Single pictures that exclusively stand for themselves, separated from the one opposite or next to each other – the situation of a cell.
Dieter Haist has his origin in painting, but has always worked with photographic and tested the possibilities and limitations.
The series Terezin is the result of a widespread work process, which explored the photographic depiction of people. A preceding work is a series of back of heads. There one could speculate about the faces and identities of the models, whereby the photos of Terezin are a radical further development of the theme and subject. The idea as well as the execution is independent from the present exhibition. The arrangement however was a reaction of the place and the emotions resulting thereof. The pictures are documentary, but not seeking objectivity, but more in an authentic, quite personal perception. It is meant as a silent concept for the viewer, as the artist puts his own “being the author” to the background by installing an apparatus in between and with the quality of the reproduction of the media. The presentation of the photos in a historically stigmatized room in the room is the attempt to reactivate substance and language of pictures, with the intention to open a dialog, which would otherwise be lost in our daily media routine.
Cautiously Dieter Haist brings the place and event to mind by tightening at eye level a thin black thread along the columns and, thereby creating a room.
A imaginary, impalpable volume, which might be called “faith and prospect”.