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In 2013, a team of artist researchers from Coventry University undertook a field trip to Siberia, following in the footsteps of an inherited wartime diary, back to the Gulag where the author’s Polish father and grandfather had been exiled in 1940. This chapter outlines the artistic aims and processes of this expedition and their manifestation in the multimedia installation Bark and Butterflies. It also offers reflections on the personal motivations behind the expedition and their possible wider cultural relevance, referring to Hirsch’s notion of ‘post-memory’ (Hirsch, The Generation of Post Memory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012). At the core of this enquiry lie issues around the possible aesthetic strategies taken by second-generation artists, who engage with inherited, traumatic, wartime stories and the use of digital technologies in rendering them.
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See www.palkadiaries.com, the project documentation website. My grandfather Zygmunt kept a wartime diary, a section of which offers a detailed account of the forced journey he and his son (my father Jan) endured from eastern Poland to Siberia. Jan kept and maintained the diary throughout his further travels during the war, hence the overall project title being The Palka Diaries.
Following the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (1939), Poland was dismembered and occupied by the Germans in the West and the Russians in the East.
NKVD is the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), a ministry of the Soviet government responsible for security and law enforcement which was formed on 7 November 1917, later becoming the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) on 19 March 1946.
The so-called Anders Army.
The account of Zygmunt’s final arrest appears on page J67 of the diary transcription on www.palkadiaries.com.
Mass assassination of Polish officers and intelligentsia.
The Romantic doctrine of the martyrdom of Poland.
The book has sold 500,000 copies since then, has been translated into twenty-five languages and has ever been out of print. In 2010, it was adapted into the film, The Way Back by Peter Weir.
Herling-Grudziński’s A World Apart was published in English in 1951 with a preface by Bertrand Russell, but was not a best-seller.
There are too many to tell. My favourites are his habit of berating hapless young politicos attempting to sell the Socialist Worker in the shopping centres of Leeds, with stories of his ‘long holiday in Russia, courtesy of Stalin’. Also, one Christmas, he and I ignored the festivities and went for a long hard walk in the Yorkshire Dales in the driving rain. On the way back, we called in on some of his friends from work. The entire family was dozing in front of the TV after Christmas lunch. We entered dripping wet into their stupor. A Dalmatian dog suddenly leapt up in front of the TV, disturbing the slumbering grandmas, prompting my father to remark, ‘Ah, a Dalmatian, I ate one of those when I was in Siberia.’
A form of sonic coconut shy in which the public threw stones at several oil drums triggering sampled sounds on the theme of the collapse of the communist system.
A site-specific sound performance which used the fragmented acoustic of Coventry Cathedral as a metaphor for the psychic dislocations of war and refugeehood.
A sonorized multi-screen film examining post-1989 Berlin.
More dream than nightmare, as we weren’t filled with fear, but there was fear in the text.
One of the most immediate examples being the sculpture dedicated to the Kindertransport at Liverpool Street station, and also at Friedrichstrasse station in Berlin.
Winter ( 1995) notes the rise of these practices in post-First World War Britain.
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Herling-Grudziński, Gustaw. 1951. A World Apart. London: Heinemann.
Hirsch, Marianne. 2012. The Generation of Post Memory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press.
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Spiegelman, Art. 1986. Maus, Vol. 1. A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon.
Taylor, Elizabeth. 2012. Next Stop Siberia. Guildford: Grosvenor House.
Thubron, Colin. 1999. In Siberia. London: Chatto & Windus.
Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner. 1978. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.
Weibel, Peter. 2002. Narrated Theory: Multiple Projection and Multiple Narration. In New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative, ed. Martin Reiser and Andrea Zapp, 42–53. London: British Film Institute Publishing.
Winter, Jay. 1995. Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Winter, Jay, and Emmanuel Sivan. 1999. War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRef
- Bark and Butterflies: Redeeming the Past—Digital Interventions into Post-Memory
- Chapter 5