Over 10.2 metres long by 2 metres high, tracing paper covering mirrors, charcoal drawing on the tracing paper based on stills from a recently released Czech “home movie” hidden since 1945 of German civilians taken to a roadside, machine gunned then driven over by a military truck as part of the Expulsion of Germans after the war had ended. Beneath the tracing paper are eight acrylic paintings of dead or badly beaten SS soldiers filmed by an American Forces film crew documenting the immediate post-War Expulsion and returning German troops, the film published by the US Holocaust Museum. On top of the tracing paper are prints of iPad and mobile phone drawings produced on a recent visit to my parents, just outside of Hannover, Germany.
“Document Sudetenland” is a development of my project “Considering Silesia”, a story of “the artist” seeking his Anglo-German heritage in the context of our evolving relationship with new media – our digital “way of seeing” – focusing on “virtual” expeditionsto my mother’s homeland (a place I’ve never been to) and the very “analogue” response of painting.
In development since 2003 ‘Considering Silesia’ has been aided by an EU funded research degree at Nottingham Trent University and exhibited in:
“Counterpoint”, Platforma Festival, London; “The Bookmark Project”, Nottingham Contemporary; “Digital Canvas”, Autodesk Gallery, San Francisco;”Nazi UFO’s @ TotalKunst”, solo show for the Edinburgh Art Festival; “Penned” Artscape/Pinkard Gallery, Baltimore; “No Letters”, Nettie Horn Gallery, London; “in the echo of a shadow”, University of Leeds, with Henry Tietzsch-Tyler, for the conference “From Perpetrators to Victims? Constructions and Representations of German Wartime Suffering”; “When Men and Mountains Meet”, Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb.
I was very pleased to get such positive responses to the installation both at the presentation, some verbally and a couple feeding back afterwards, and to the photos I posted on Facebook at the time (see below)
Considering Silesia – Document Sudetenland
Having seen Mik’s work over the last 15 years, including having a couple of works in my house, I am always intrigued by his new work and his thinking surrounding it. For the Old School Break Mik presented Document Sudetenland, a mixed media piece (including painting, drawings, digital prints and rolls of translucent tracing paper) that runs the whole length of a 10m mirrored backed wall. The large scale drawings at first appear abstract patterns, but on further viewing they clearly represent piles of dead bodies. Also part hidden by the tracing paper are paintings of dead and dying soldiers, that varies in their focus with the movement of the paper, which partly acts a shroud. Acting as a contrast to dead are the digital prints of portraits, landscapes and blossom covering the opaque paper… but do they or are they just the scene of the crime… having seen the video on Youtube suggests the latter.
Michael Forbes, 12.03.2014 (after attending the presentation)
Having seen much of the work involved in Mik’s Considering Silesia project over the years it was very interesting for me to see this latest development; ‘Document Sudetenland’ which formed part of the event ‘From a Dizzying Height’. The event involved an installation of work by Mik alongside work by Rebecca and Katy Beinart. There was a friendly and relaxed atmosphere and it was very interesting to see and hear about the connections between the artists’ work. The audience sat within the installation and shared a meal of food relating to the work while enjoying some very interesting conversations about how the themes relate to their own lives; this provided a rare occasion to openly discuss what can sometimes be difficult subjects. The event concluded with a joyful toast of vodka dedicated to an ancestor of our choice.
The installation of drawings and prints which Mik had created across a mirrored wall combined layers of images operating on varying scales which revealed their content differently depending on where the audience was situated within the space. The drawings on tracing paper over the mirror glowed with reflected light echoing the layers of watercolour paint used elsewhere in the installation. The open spaces between the lengths of tracing paper allowed the viewer to see glimpses of the watercolours of the dead soldiers more vividly; at the same time the viewer could also see glimpses of their own reflections in the mirrored wall as the drawings moved with the breeze. The artists’ talks during the evening event and the day time tour allowed me to learn about interesting periods of history from a personal perspective and helped me to consider the relationship between the genre of landscape and the issue of identity in a new way.
Sarah Jane Terry, 14.03.2014 (after attending the presentation)
Claire Swallow (via FaceBook):
Oh my god that is so horrible… but not so surprising which is why its so horrible I suppose. There are bits of WW11 that we don’t get to hear about so much in part because of what went on during WW11 but its important to have a full picture of the brutality that central/eastern Europe was immersed in both before during and after the war. If we want explanations or context or understanding we have be aware of the already brutalised psyches of that part of the word, not in apology of, but in the service of “never again”.Very powerful work Mik…
2 March at 16:22
Carol Ann Docherty (via FaceBook):
“I so wish I was well enough to see this. It looks and sounds so powerful. I love the layering, the time element, the historical aspect, the apparent innocence of place that can resonate with our senses, and; what seems as a personal aspect for you, or at least of your country of birth (?). The Holocaust was horrific. The murders of the German SS and civilians are equally horrific. When does hatred end and forgiveness begin? Did you manage to video it and the event?”
2 March at 19:11
Isis Wisdom (via FaceBook):
Ya, now I get the tracing paper and that really works as an installation, Mik! nice. powerful. gets at layers of history/memory and processes of encoding both, including the technology that aids in this. So was this a room full, all the way around? It needs to be…. ))
22 April at 13:27
Isis Wisdom – thank you!
A roomful would have been good, Isis, but this was a ‘test’ of the idea – and very useful in that respect. The piece covered a 2 x 10+ metre long mirror along one wall – the idea of being aware of yourself in those layers being part of it – the building had been used by a dance school before we got hold of it.
I was tempted to use Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” as a sound track for the opening event – in the end I served German beer and sausages (though had planned Silesian sausages!) as part of a meal – a bit more conducive for an opening party – I didn’t want to scare people too much
The work was meant to be more developed than it ended up, I had booked the space for a month, but day-job issues and the studio’s decision to renovate the ceramic floor during my month meant that I only got a couple of weeks.
Still, it was a worthwhile experiment, and if I get the time and space to have another go, I know more about how to take it, what changes to make – I didn’t get time to play around with the compositional aspects, although most of the research and thinking had been done over several months before starting.
The starting points were a couple of videos that I’d seen on YouTube – one quite well known created by a team of American GI’s in the chaos at the end of the war, documenting retreating German troops – the paintings behind the tracing paper are of SS troops attacked and left dead or dying by the roadside, posted by the US Holocaust Museum. The second film is a ‘home-movie’ only recently released – hidden from the Czech authorities (despite their asking for it) and released by the film-makers daughter, if memory serves.
When I get a bit of time I’ll write something up about the project and post it on my blog. In the mean time I’ll dig out the YouTube links so you can see for your self.
22 April at 15:03
“Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive– Liberated Czechoslovakia; wounded and dead Germans; POWs
22 April at 15:09
Ya, would be interested to see the video. Ah, you just posted it, will look a bit later. Yes, got the sense that the ptgs were German troops. Mirror is even better. You have an excellent installation here Mik for a medium sized gallery/project room. Get a grant, make it happen. Add the audio. It’s interesting to have to track through, and process through, the technical layers in the piece, and deal with them as “drawing”, “painting” and then with how they function moving seamlessly back and forth through them. Just do it! ))
22 April at 15:11
Here is the second – it has been posted a few times by different people, each somewhat changing the context: –
“czechs execute german civilians in jun. 1945 Ethnic cleansing by benes and his henchmen
czech brutality against german civilians, czech savagery towards germans beneš called in May 1945 in Prague to completely liquidate the Germans in the Czech …”
22 April at 15:13
I’m not keen on infringing copyright as far as the soundtrack is concerned – I made the soundtrack on the ‘trailer’ by layering free sound effects from Apple
Anyway Isis – I’m not sure that anyone would give a grant to work on this subject matter – it’s a teeny bit problematic – even if there were grants for artists any more
22 April at 15:19
Photo credits: Graham Lester George & Mik Godley Video: Laurence Ismay
For further information: –
I’ve also posted some more photos on Facebook: –
I thought it might be useful to post this interview with Jason Loftus giving an overview to the Considering Silesia project, posted last year on Soundcloud: –
Saturday 8th February
Several years ago, shortly after starting the Silesia project, so that’s probably about ten years now because it was around this time of year too – my mothers birthday – I spoke to Mum about beginning this work. I’m reminded of this conversation because of the watercolour sketches I’m currently working on towards ‘Document Sudetenland’ based on iPad screen grabs from a YouTube video of the 1945 film of people in Sudetenland taken by American soldiers – the dead, the dying, the beaten up and raped, those on the move and those finally triumphant – a group spitting.
I asked Mum if there were any family photographs from Silesia. “Photographs?!” She exclaimed – she was pretty suspicious then about my motives for looking into all this about Silesia: “Why do you want to know?” she had asked earlier, and then I didn’t really know – “There aren’t any photographs. We had to GO! Many uncles didn’t come back!”
I didn’t raise the issue again, but that statement stayed with me. Both the urgency of the family having to leave with no possessions – just themselves – and the “many uncles” that I’d never heard of before or since.
Some years later, usually sat at the kitchen table late at night, I began to create a series of deliberately crude portraits of sorts – kind of invented memories, using my iPod Touch and the drawing app Adobe Ideas at its simplest setting – big fat marks that built up in layers to create ideas of faces, the beginnings of what might be personalities, my thinking about all these uncles I never knew of, who didn’t come back.
Monday 20 January
Okay, it was a fine sunny morning, gorgeous as I watched the dawn lighten the sky, so today I finally made a start. After months of looking, thinking, trying to figure out how to do it, still not really knowing, thinking more, researching materials, watching videos, grabbing stills, thinking more… now I’ve started to paint. Not much – I began eight small watercolours – but though the light was great today, it took me a while to set up, sort brushes and blocks of paper out, mix pigments, and attack. To allow for thorough drying, I only managed to get a couple of layers done – they weren’t quite dry when I had to leave, even though it was fairly warm in the studio (the sunshine helps) but they’ll be fine in the morning, and I may well start a few more paintings. In many respects, starting paintings is the fun bit – chucking the paint around – it gets trickier the further they develop.
I’m not totally convinced by the colours that I mixed, and I did tinker with the proportions a bit, but for a first test, they’ll do – I’ll try other mixes later. I had another look at a couple of the source images on Photoshop tonight, increasing the saturation to more clearly see what are pretty subtle colours, so that will help these first tests.
I’m not even sure of the appropriate “how” to apply the paint – what kinds of marks, what kinds of brushes will work, but I’ve got to start somewhere. (I was thinking earlier today, while painting, that I seem to be a professional at not knowing what I’m doing, always trying to find a new way, always looking to surprise myself – that’s where the fun is!)
I’ve been wanting to do something with this stuff since I found out about it right at the beginning of my project, so sometime around 2003 or 2004, and certainly since I found the first video – the first documentary film as far as I know – of the subject. And while I was doing my research MA at Nottingham Trent University I did a couple of paintings based on that first film. But I knew the subject was contentious, with some politically unsavoury associations, indeed probably pretty dangerous, some of the websites and organisations I found myself researching were quite scary and I wasn’t ready to tackle the issue too directly and moved away from that particular strain.
Ten years later, I’m not convinced that I am now, but finding the second video on YouTube last year (via an article on Stern magazine or Der Spiegel online – I forget the exact source just now), hidden ever since the end of the war and only recently released, dragged it from the back of my mind and made me think about it – partly because the indistinct images on the video looked just like the paintings I was doing from low-resolution jpegs a few years ago.
Anyway, in broad-brush terms, I think I’ve got a basic idea of how to make the material work, and I’ve got to make a presentation in Primary during February, so it seems right to at least test the idea – the right time and the appropriate platform for such a test.
I had planned to start painting over the holiday visit to my parents in Germany, but got sidetracked by Christmas and family issues, not least of which is the impending move of my parents from the house they built over thirty years ago. I quickly saw this aspect as a kind of small continuation of the story – somewhat sentimental, but it seems to fit – and spent a little time every day drawing a small rose tree in their garden on my phone. So these drawings will be woven into the project.
Continuation or continuum seem to be the right kinds of words. In many respects we’re still living in the aftermath of WW2.
I grew up with the propaganda of Hollywood and Ealing, naively expected the end of hostilities to be just that, so I was surprised to discover it wasn’t anything like as clean as portrayed. Not that I should have been – I guess I hadn’t thought about it.
Monday 27 January
I think my meeting with Rebecca Beinart today has lead me to some early childhood memories of times in Bavaria, especially in Buchloe so they must be really early, more feelings than memories and remembering objects and spaces, like the main room of my grandparents apartment (it might only have had two rooms), the cooking range, the bench seat at the dining table, a bed, the communal basement with its cages for family possessions, the lines in the square where people beat carpets, watching a stag beetle crawl in the dust, the grey colour of the apartment buildings, fresh semeln fetched by my Opa for breakfast…
Monday 3 February
These memories led me to start a small sketch of what little memory I have of the apartment blocks basement – or an attempt to gather its atmosphere. I’ve spent a number of hours working on the drawing (using the app Sketchbook Mobile on my phone – so the image really is quite small) over a couple of evenings – the last into the early hours – time does almost fly when I’m involved in a drawing. It still needs working on, but I like the idea of trying to grasp these early memories and somehow fit them into place, a further layer, even if I don’t yet know how
I thought people might like to see some of the “in progress” stages of some of the Winter Fires iPad drawings – principally because they are visible during the playback video on YouTube, though one or two of them were printed in the book too. However, these were mostly done for the group portraits, where I had to sketch out each portrait very simply as a separate layer to reduce and assemble into the group, and then work into.
They weren’t really drawn to see seperately – so this is just a little bonus from the working process.
A selection of the finished iPad portraits are about to be featured with a new text by François Matarasso, based on a recent filmed ‘conversation’ between us, in the American academic journal Anthropology and Aging Quarterly in March 2013.
You can get the book Winter Fires with the portraits free of charge from
The Baring Foundation, 60 London Wall, London EC2M 5TQ
Tel: 020 7767 1348 Email: email@example.com
or as a free PDF download from the link on François Matarasso’s site: –
The playback video has been posted to YouTube, and available to view on my previous blog post: –