THEY ARE THE GUARDIANS OF MEMORY. THEY MAKE YOU LISTEN, THINK, FEEL, THEY ENCOURAGE DISCUSSION AND DEBATE. THEY REMIND US OF MIGRATION, ROOTLESSNESS, HOMELESSNESS AND DISPLACEMENT. LIKEWISE THEY ARE FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN LOST OR HAVE LOST SOMETHING OR SOMEONE: FAMILY, FRIENDS, RELATIVES AND HOME.
Odyssey started out as a search for my roots, for my ancestral and sculptural roots. I was born in England but my parents were Polish.
Between 1976-78 I studied sculpture at the prestigious Slade School of Art in London. I carved wood and painted it, which was not an English tradition. I visited my mother’s home village in Poland to better understand who I was as a person and where my art came from. In 1996 I decided to celebrate this event by carving a crowd of figures from lime trees that grew around my mother’s childhood farm in Poland. These trees had their roots where I had mine. This crowd was to symbolise my ancestors and my place on the family tree.
Odyssey took on a whole new universal dimension when I took the figures on a journey. They travelled to places that had family significance, from the steps of the great Cathedral of St George in Lwow in the Ukraine, to Krakow in Poland, Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains. They were to follow my mother’s journey to the labour camps in Germany during World War 2, then to England as a refugee.
Odyssey has been exhibited in many of the great cathedrals of England. All this time they have been silent witnesses not just to my mother’s journey and experiences but to those of thousands of visitors to the 21 Odyssey exhibitions around Europe. The comments in the visitor’s books are testimony to this.
Odyssey therefore is about the many journeys people have made in their lives for whatever reason. It is about displacement and migration and remembering those who are no longer with us.
Odyssey was on exhibition in St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square in Central London in 2013 where thousands of people gathered to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympic Games.
From the point of view of my mother’s journey it was very important to bring Odyssey to Germany and specifically to the town of Speyer. My mother spent most of the Second World War in the labour camp in the town. After many efforts, there is a possibility that the Odyssey figures will be exhibited in Speyer in 2015. In the meantime Odyssey was on exhibition in the southern German town of Leutkirch im Allgau. In 2014 the sculptures will be shown in Memmingen, Bavaria as part of the Memmingen Festival. In Germany the Odyssey figures are seen as the “Guardians of Memory”.
In 2005 twenty three Odyssey figures, carved in Poland, were brought over to the UK where they toured until 2012. In most of the venues a new Odyssey figure was created from a fallen local tree and added to the main group. In Leutkirch, Germany the 42nd figure was created. These new figures are active participants in this journey across Europe, creating a sense of unity and solidarity between participating towns, cities and countries. This project, which started out as a search for Polish ancestral ghosts has taken on a pan-European and universal dimension.
Between 1997-2013 Odyssey has toured 21 separate venues in Poland, the Ukraine and the UK. An online book of this tour is available in the links page of this website.
Because the initial plan was for the Odyssey figures to follow my mother's journey from her home village of Dominikowice in South East Poland in 1942, to Germany until 1947 and then on to England, Germany was a crucial part of the journey for the Odyssey figures. This was not possible for various reasons until a chance visit by a German visitor to the Odyssey exhibition at St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London in 2013. Claudia Buehler from the small town of Leutkirch im Allgau in Southern Germany was so moved by the exhibition she vowed to help bring it over to Germany. With the involvement of the organisation 'Gegen Vergessen - Fur Demokratie' and the initiative 'Orte Des Erinnerns' (www.ortedeserinnerns-leutkirch.de) with its co-ordinator Hubert Moosmayer, Odyssey came to Leutkirch.
ODYSSEY IN LEUTKIRCH IM ALLGAU, GERMANY 2013
In many ways the Odyssey exhibition in Leutkirch was an extraordinary event. I came to Germany determined to hear of other people's journeys, dramas and stories, many of them rarely spoken about, stories from 'the other side'. I was born in England and came over with a different perspective on history. I came to talk and listen. Before I brought Odyssey over to Germany I wrote in my notebook my aims and ambitions. They were to come over with an open mind and open heart. I wanted to look, feel, watch, search and remember people from long ago, to look out for their faces and listen out for their steps. I felt privileged that so many allowed me to share in this process of remembering.
Looking back after 6 months I have this feeling that in many different ways the whole town was involved in the Odyssey experience, that I was very much a part of this community and not just a visiting artist, here today and gone tomorrow. People would regularly come up to me in the street to tell me a story, share an experience. I don't speak German and yet communication was possible. Many people gain a basic knowledge of a foreign language from their school days. The foreign language I was taught was French. We communicated in English, and for 2 months we talked and listened.
The Odyssey figures have a tradition of often being exhibited outside of galleries and museums, in non-conventional venues, a fact mentioned on Polish television as far back as 2004 during the exhibition in the town square of the town of Tarnow in South East Poland. In Leutkirch the figures were placed in the beautiful, historic and enclosed town square of the Gansbuhl.
The turnout for the opening exceeded all expectations with two members of the Bundestag, the Mayor of the town and many others contributing to a memorable evening. Apart from the speeches (I read one out myself in German after earlier getting help with the pronunciation), the cellist Verena Stei played some moving music throughout the opening.
The Odyssey figures were seen as 'Guardians of Memory'. They helped to remember 'those who are no longer here'. The local Jewish family Gollowitsch were victims of the Holocaust and before the War ran a successful store in a building facing the Odyssey figures. They also owned the building next door which was demolished by the Nazis. The space that remained is used for communal events. During the Odyssey opening a traditional German brass band was waiting in this area at the back for the opening to end so that they could start their pre-arranged concert. Verena, the cellist started her final piece of music at the end of the opening event, which was 'Shalom Chaverim'. The brass band picked up on this melody and the sound drifted over the crowd in the half-light of the evening, taking everybody by surprise. It felt as if the Gollowitsch family had returned, the music coming from the space they once occupied. An unforgettable moment.
One important aspect of an Odyssey exhibition is the creation of another new figure from a local fallen tree, which is carved during one week, in public, during the exhibition. A dying lime tree was found in the area. It was 120 years old and was removed as it could become a danger to the public if it fell suddenly. The decay in the centre of the tree trunk was visible but the wood was still good enough for an Odyssey figure.
The inspiration for this particular figure was clear for me. It was the 16 year old Liselotte Gollowitsch. The daughter of the Jewish store owner previously mentioned, she was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942 where she was killed. Amongst other local victims of Nazi terror she was previously a focus of an exhibition remembering the past.
Her face on a surviving passport photograph reminded me of some of the ways the faces on the Odyssey were described. Liselotte or 'Lilo' looked haunted and haunting, bewildered but with an expression of great power, gorgeous but sad.
In War everyone is a victim. How best to try to understand the drama of millions of people. How to understand that sense of longing, loss and pain of fathers and sons going away and not coming back, of those who are 'no longer here'. By getting close to one person it is easier to comprehend the enormity of the destruction and annihilation of millions. Liselotte Gollowitsch was for me that one person who would help me get closer to the human dramas that overtook millions. She was to be my link to the past.
Getting to know Lilo was a moving experience. Conversations with people who remembered her, visiting the house where she lived, brought her and her family much closer. Short statements about her moved me. I was told she complained about being sad that, as a Jew, she was prevented from taking part in the Kinderfest (Annual Children's Festival) on Wilhelmshohe Hill in the centre of town. How fitting that the lime tree I was to use came from the very site of the festival. It would have been a tree she would have played under at one point.
The 2.5m tall carving I made could not be a portrait of her but her photograph inspired a representation of her. This was my symbolic 'Lilo'.
It was decided to unveil the new figure in the Catholic Church one Sunday before it was taken to the Town Square to join the other figures. The church was packed. I gave a short speech: "This sculpture was made from a lime tree that grew behind this church on the Wilhelmshohe Heights. The tree was dying and the fact that I could use it for my carving meant it was given a new life. For many years children taking part in the 'Children's Festival', played under this tree. So did Lilo Gollowitsch until there came a time when she was forbidden to do so as she was considered different - she was Jewish. Lilo Gollowitsch is the inspiration for this sculpture. For me she represents all those who were taken away and never came back. Lilo was cut off from the outside world and lived in fear until the end of her short life. There are many people in the world today who are in the same position still. When I think of Lilo I also think of all those people living in fear. When Lilo leaves Leutkirch together with the other Odyssey figures at the end of the exhibition she will represent Leutkirch around Europe. I would like her message to be: "Know the light - have no fear".
The lime tree used for the Lilo carving had great symbolic importance for me. The offcuts from the carving process were too precious to discard. I decided to clean them up and create a series of 'Lilo cubes'. 56 cubes were created in memory of Lilo and all those around the world who still live in fear and isolation. The cubes have a photo of Lilo surrounded by 22ct gold leaf. Each cube is numbered and has a section of St Paul's letter to the Corinthians 1.13. glued to the back.
The cubes were made available for purchase by those who share the message and want a piece of the original tree that grew for 120 years in the town of Leutkirch and was dying but was given a new life.
".....love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast,it is not proud...."
LEUTKIRCH ODYSSEY TRILOGY
During my stay I produced 3 short films which were placed on YouTube and Vimeo under 'Leutkirch Odyssey Trilogy'. See LINKS page to view the films.
I was told Lilo Gollowitsch complained about being sad that, as a Jew, she was prevented from taking part in the Kinderfest in Wilhelmshohe. This also made me sad and I wished I could put on a concert especially for her in Wilhelmshohe. I thought music might take away her sadness and this would be a gesture to the world and to all those who suffered isolation. This magical musical moment was only made possible when Verena Stei agreed to play her cello for Lilo and Achim Harr agreed to film this experience for the whole world to share. Many worthwhile projects rely on the goodwill, the hard work and the commitment of a few inspired individuals. I thank them both. During the Odyssey exhibition in the Ukraine, when I was looking for the grave of my sculptor uncle Jan Dudek, a 90 year old nun who remembered him when she was a teenager said “You don’t need to look for his grave because if you talk about him then he is here with you now”. I would like to believe that Lilo was there at dawn on the Wilhelmshohe when we played a concert for her.
Verena weaved her musical magic throughout the three films. Her contribution was considerable and I felt honoured by her presence.
During my stay in Leutkirch I was told of another incident involving the Gollowitsch family when someone secretly went to knock on their door to warn them of impending danger. This person encountered the fear of death behind the door. This incident stayed in my mind for a long time. What does the fear of death look like and how can you make it go away? I was longing to see this door and to meet the person who brought the message. It was a wonderful surprise to meet Hedwig Reisinger by chance at the Lamm3 five o’clock tea event. I am very grateful to her for writing down her story for me. Her knocking on the door was for me a heroic act of courage and it was a privilege for me to shake her hand. In my mind I replayed this scene with the door many times in my head and wondered how I would make the fear behind the door go away. Music was the way again. Verena’s cello playing was to be the way to resist those who would want to create the feeling of fear and isolation. Music would win.
I need to apologise to Mrs. Weber again for disrupting her day when I came to see the original door at her home. I was replaying the scene behaving like some crazy film director, holding the actual door handle from inside and outside. Without thinking I closed the door from the outside and locked Mrs Weber out of her home for more than an hour. I am sure Lilo was there watching with amusement.
All these films are a way of remembering the past, of bearing witness to past events and of communicating these dramas to the world.
During my stay I ran a number of woodcarving workshops for the local schools. Each pupil was given a board on which they would carve their hand in relief. Next to this hand they would use various techniques to apply a photocopied portrait of their face. The face would act as the signature and would identify the creator of a particular hand. The theme was identity and community. All the carved boards would be exhibited together as a community of hands.
I was commissioned to carve a 3.5m tall oak figure as part of the exhibition. This figure would be a 'Guardian of Memory' that would remain in the town. It would be a roving monument that would be placed for a year in each of the seven Leutkirch schools.
First of all though it was brought to the town's War Memorial to take part in the Rememberance Day commemoration.
I was told that many more people turned up than in the past with community groups of all ages singing songs and making the day a really special and unique occasion. It seems that for the first time the forgotten victims of Nazi terror were also remembered, the local Holocaust victims, the victims of the Nazi euthanasia programme, gassed because of their disability, those taken to the Dachau concentration camp never to return.
This was a special night indeed. Local people gathered in the dark with candles around the Odyssey figures, with short speeches, poems, a young harpist played throughout adding to this special atmosphere. The finished carved 'Lilo' figure had already joined the main group and was adorned with flowers and surrounded by candles. Each Odyssey figure is numbered in order to identify where they were carved and when. After 16 years of travel the 42nd figure happened to be Lilo. What a symbolic number! 1942 was the year the 16 year old Lilo Gollowitsch met her death in Auschwitz concentration camp.
ODYSSEY TOUR IN GERMANY
Leutkirch im Allgau 2013