Postcards from Europe. An interview with Eva Leitolf
Posted on June 25 2017
EL: First of all I would like to refer to what you call “documenting the desperation of migrants”. I would say that this is not really true, I'm mainly interested in how we as European societies deal with the suffering, how we administrate it, how we try to secure the borders, how we politically and socially deal with the phenomenon of migration. It’s not a mere aim to document the suffering of migrants, because I think that this has been widely done.
But answering to your question: as I showed today in my talk, I started out to work for quite a long time, on topics connected to German history. In 2006 I made a trip to Morocco and I ended up in Melilla, by coincidence. I was confronted with this image of makeshift ladders, made by migrants who want to overcome the border fence around Melilla. I think that this was my starting point and also triggered all my interest in this subject, because as you can read in the postcard text, I met an association called Fondazione Prodein. I met them and the spokesmen of the Fondazione, he said that he believed that the government had intentionally left the ladders on the shore to create the impression that there was an unstoppable avalanche of migrants and justify its use of force. So to me, this was really interesting because the image was not only showing the attempts of people trying to overcome the fence, but also its instrumentalization by the government. So there are many layers of how the meaning is constructed, and this was very interesting to me..
SM: Your work has often been described as a “combination of documentary and conceptual strategies”. Which is your intention? To explore the tension between what can be seen and what is left to the imagination? To verify the possibilities and limits of visual representation?
EL: I am interested in the tension between what can be seen and what can be left to the immagination, what is also triggered by the text. In the exibition you can enter, you can look at the photographs and you position yourself in a certain way towards the images. Your view may change with the texts that accompany the images. In an ideal setting you take the postcards home and maybe three weeks later you start rereading the postcards and reposition yourself again because you don’t have the image that goes initially with the text. So it’s separate again and I think that I am very interested in those processes. It’s not so much about verifying the possibilities and limits of visual representation, but of working with them, of exploring them, of questioning them, maybe.
SM: You affirm that you create “images that look like an empty theatre where the viewer is able to project his own thoughts and emotions”. Can you explain these words?
EL: This has something to do with what you asked me before about the disappearance of the people, the protagonist of the images. I started to realize that having no people in the images, I have quite large empty spaces, empty parts whithin the picture. And I started to think of these images almost as you said, like empty stages, or empty spaces, where something had happened or something is happening or something will happen. It’s a possibility to engage deeper with the viewer.
EL: The title of the publication is Postcards from Europe 03/13. The “03/13” refers to the month and the year that this selection out of the archive was published. It offers a possibility to look into events that normaly aren’t so much reported, aren’t talked about, sometimes it’s only tiny events that doesn’t make it into our conciousness. So maybe it’s a contribution to a collective memory, but also attempt to an alternative account, or many different narratives, that may not be part of the mainstream discourse.
SM: How do you work? Do you spend time in the places that you photograph? What kind of relationship you establish with the people you meet?
EL: Before I leave, I do a lot of research on the places that I want to go, to have a quite good idea, which places I want to visit during a trip. I usually travel in a sort of camper-van. When my son hasn’t been to school, we travelled together, but now he needs to be home for school. It really depends, sometimes I come to a place and I find an image right there, and I spend maybe one hour, but sometimes I spend several days starting to meet people, to get involved in their accounts. So I can’t generalize the length of time I spend in the places. Sometimes I have to wait for special weather or light. I try to get in contact with the people who live there and who are involved in the situations I encounter.
SM: In his essay After Photography Fred Ritchin suggests that photography can change the world. I would like to finish with the title of your work: Postcards from Europe. At first sight it evokes happy moments and beautiful places, as with postcards, even if it reveals a different situation. What is your purpose? To evoke the tragic condition of the migrants in Europe, or to suggest the possibility of hope? In your opinion what is the future of Europe, and of the people who live there, and those who reach its borders?
EL: We can have a large discussion on what Ritchin meant with “to change the world”. You’re asking me if I want to evoke the tragic condition of the people who comes to Europe, or to suggest a possibility of hope. I am interested in more structural questions like the interdependancy of social-political-historical developments, rather than looking at migrants as victims or threats. I am more interested on how do we, as European societies, deal with this phenomenon, how do we administer people who try to come to us, how do we try to secure our borders, and this leads to your last question: what is the future of Europe for the people who live and who come there. I really think it’s important now to deal with migration with more transparency, with clearer parameters and really more clearly defined political agendas. Germany for example for a long time, denied to be an immigration country. I don’t think that my work suggest a possibility of hope, it’s rather an attempt to look closely on how we deal with the situation, also to look into mistakes that have been made.
EL: I’ve been to Hungary but it was quite some years ago, and I am about to set off for a next trip, where I want to look into countries like Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and into the events that happened after fall 2015. I also read that Hungary installed camps at the border to Serbia, to put people into the camps to prevent them to enter Hungary.
SM: At Fondazione Mast in Bologna we saw your work “Company Town. Ein Konzern, eine Stadt (2015-2016)”. It consists of a 12-minute loop of 24 images and 30 texts projected in shifting sequences on 5 screens. You discuss the relationship of the factory, of industry with the town around it using the example of Volkswagen in Wolfsburg. Do you want to tell us about it?
EL: In 2005 I’ve been invited by the new director of the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, he invited several artist to produce a work on, or with, or within, or about Wolfsburg for his first show at the museum called “Wolfsburg unlimited”. He invited artist like John Bock and Julian Rosefeldt, artist coming from very differents backgrounds. We all had a kind of “carte blanche”. I decided to look into this relationship between the town and the company. In my works it’s never called Wolfsburg and Volkswagen, although you know it’s pretty clear, it’s not a secret, but in my text I talk about the town and the company. To me, it was really interesting to learn, to find out how the city and the company are interconnected and how they have this difficult past. Wolfsburg was founded by Hitler. He put the ground stone of the factory in 1938. It’s still a difficult past that the local newspapers, for example, don’t really want to talk about. The Volkswagen scandal has highlighted the undercurrent problematic that was always there: how the town is dependent on the company´s taxes. After the scandal suddenly schools couldn’t be rennovated, or new pubblic spaces couldn’t be installed. It was the first time that I worked with screens and the loops you mentioned. It was a new experience. It was still image/text work but there isn’t always one specific text that accompanies one specific image. There is a flow of images and texts coming together on these five changing screens.
SM: What are you working on at the moment?
EL: After the engagement I had in Wolfsburg and last year in Switzerland, I am very happy that I can now reserve some time to get back to “Postcards from Europe”. I want to travel to Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and back to Germany to deal with the time after 2015.