The ‘Dr Munscheid’ paintings are transcriptions of photographs from a family album discovered in a Frankfurt flea market in 2006. Taken between 1952 and 1962, they document the Doctor’s professional and family life in the village of Teutschenthal in Saxony-Anhalt, East Germany. The album was inscribed as a gift for his daughter on her 5th wedding anniversary in 1957. Having left East Germany for the West when she married, Renate Manjock never received the album or knew of its existence until I managed to trace her through German neighbours in Manchester.
The album includes a number of newspaper cuttings and other documents relating to the Doctors’ practice, together with later individual photographs taken between 1957 and 1962. The last photograph is dated August 1962; one year after the Berlin Wall was built.
Some of the photographs appear to have been taken by a professional photographer and have been printed as postcards. They are framed and composed in a conventional but photographically literate manner and many possess an elegiac quality that appears at odds with what we know of the GDR.
I was originally drawn to the idea of painting these photographs as an extension of previous bodies of work related to the domestic built environment. Rather than looking for material related to my own family history, I felt I could ‘borrow’ or somehow rescue another family history and work with it to explore ideas related to the conditioning influence of place on memory. These images possessed a double charge in this respect since they depicted the life of a nation that has been written out of history and a people whose individual testimonies have been overlooked in conventional accounts of the period. This could potentially open out the more subjective themes of family, home and community onto wider political territory and articulate the dynamic between the individual and the state.
I would like the ‘Dr Munscheid’ paintings to function within the realist tradition and to work as a group rather than as individual pictures. In continuing to work with bounded sets of source material from particular historical contexts I am hoping to import a sense of the agency of the original authors of the images in order to evoke the lived negotiation of specific political realities. The intention here is to use the implied as well as the literal meaning of these sets to broaden the signification beyond the simply mimetic.
Since completing the paintings I have visited Frankfurt and filmed a documentary entitled Renate (see above) that is intended to complement the series whilst illuminating the historical context of the project. An interview with Frau Manjock is interspersed with scenes from the flea market where the album was discovered and where relics of previous regimes can be found in abundance. Together with the footage of the ‘Occupy Frankfurt’ camp outside the European Central Bank, they provide a counterpoint to some of the anecdotes about the former GDR.
Renate (19m 27s)