E L L A D R E Y F U S
Contemporary Art Photography Research
Walking in Wiesbaden
An installation made in public places in the cities of Wiesbaden, Dusseldorf and Wuppertal
Exhibited at the Aktives Museum Spiegelgasse Wiesbaden from 11 March - 14 May 2017
Created during a scholarship at the Bellevue-Saal Artist's Residency, Kunsthaus Wiesbaden, Germany
Ella Dreyfus is an Australian artist of Jewish-German descent. Walking in Wiesbaden presents a personal response to the history of her family, who came from Wiesbaden, Mainz and Wuppertal. In this exhibition she re-activates and brings to life their names ̶ Ransenberg, Brettheimer and Dreyfus, asserting their Jewish identity in the streets in which they lived, worked and walked.
Dreyfus‘s photographic art installations reflect upon the way memories can be transmitted in real or imagined places of traumas, engaging with self, place, community and art. They are a commemoration to lives lost and lives saved, and represent a homecoming for the artist to the language and culture of her so called ‘aterland.
This exhibition expands on a concept developed in France in 2014 for the artworks Je ma’appelle Dreyfus, je suis juive. This series reflected on childhood traumas relating to the Holocaust and the history of the Dreyfus name in the streets of Paris.
Dreyfus’s practice encompasses the mediums of photography, portraiture, performance and installations, and her artworks are a visual and symbolic invitation to open up affective spaces and meaningful encounters, where audiences may find new positive ways of thinking and feeling about tragic events of the past.
Ella Dreyfus lived in Wiesbaden for 58 days from January to March in 2017; in that time she walked over 200 kilometres, took more than 10,000 photographs, created 33 art installations and mounted an exhibition Walking in Wiesbaden.
The photographic and installation exhibition is about concepts of family, memory, loss and childhood; and offers new ways of looking at the tragedies of World War Two and the Jewish Holocaust in Europe.
Ella Dreyfus is the daughter of Richard Dreyfus (deceased), born in Wuppertal, who with his brother George (living in Melbourne Australia, age 87), escaped from Germany on a Kindertransport in 1939. Their parents Alfred and Hilde Dreyfus also survived the war in Australia. Hilde’s parents David and Ida Ransenberg from Wiesbaden were murdered in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt, and Alfred’s mother Paula Dreyfus, committed suicide before imminent deportation in 1942.
In the exhibition Dreyfus has created a memorial to the families whose lives were shattered while simultaneously shining a light on their Jewish identity in the cities they belonged to. She evokes the notion of childhood using coloured, hand-stitched felt letters, to bring a sense of hope and joy for the future. In public she proclaims the names of her ancestors, re-tracing their footsteps, and positioning names in places where their presence was felt and imagined.
The exhibition Walking in Wiesbaden is a site-specific, installation, combining elements of performance, photography, print and hand-made objects. Conceptually it resides between the genres of political activism, personal portraiture, documentary photography, fine art and craft; with the clear intention of activating mutual intergenerational trauma, knowledge and memories.
In this work, Ella Dreyfus undertakes the creative challenge of making art about the complexities of anti-Semitism, war, history, family, and migration; without falling into clichés, and with her own authentic voice and vision.
During her Artist’s Residency at the Kunsthaus this year, Dreyfus conducted research into her family history in the State Archives, at Jewish Museums and with learned historians. She discovered many new facts there, but also found a precious piece of evidence of her family’s life in Wiesbaden, one that no official records, photographs or books would have known about. At the former home of her great-grandparents, the Ransenbergs, in Richard Wagner Strasse, Wiesbaden, she visited the current owner and explained her history. She asked to see the house and was excited when he agreed to show her through the entire house - from the basement and cellar, to the garage and garden, first and second floors, and up to the attic. She photographed everything and was very pleased, yet there was something in the attic that would make my heart skip a beat; she found an old wooden, bed base with hand-written words
RH 964. Von Berlin Lehrtr Bhf nach Elberfeld. 31.10.21
The owner told her that the bed was always in the attic and must have belonged to the Ransenbergs, who lived in Elberfeld before moving to Wiesbaden. Dreyfus couldn’t stop thinking about the discovery of the bed, wondering who might have slept there, been conceived there, played or even died there.
Now the Ransenberg Bed is part of the exhibition. It is a wonderful historical artefact, and an affective, singular motif of the entire project, it signifies how the past can reach out to touch us in the present. The bed is a potent symbol of the disrupted lives, the loss of home, safety and family, and the exile from one’s land.
Ella Dreyfus 2017