Language as a vision on reality and fictionalizing reality
My Macedonian mother could only rely upon the memory of her sisters, and of her impressions while growing up in Macedonia’s orphanages (Former Republic of Macedonia), consequently relocated since her flight from her natal village bombarded in 1948 when the Greek Civil War was at its peak, she’d spent ten years of her childhood separated from her family. To the existentialist question of “Who am I”, she never could find an answer in the eyes of her parents, mirrored in that of hers.
She had to reconstruct or rather re-invent an identity based upon what was told to her, by her parents, when they reunited once she was already an adolescent girl. In her adult life she corresponded with both her sisters and through their writing she received many written testimonials as a result of their physical separation, ever since she left to work as a seamstress in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, at the age of twenty, to then touch base in Amsterdam.
Her identity has been built from these mental ‘ruins’, voids of memory, since there wasn’t a real image to go with it. The idea of a mental ruin, so it appears, is an intriguing ‘image’. Navigating through thoughts, words, to indulge the imagination or rather distort the perception of reality, thence finding parallel universes digging up symbolic language. Regarding the latter Aby Warburg writes: « [..] les images de la mémoire sont entassés consciemment sous forme d’images ou de signes [..] que l’on peut désigner comme une forme de pensée symbolique1 ».
Extract from Masterthesis by Ilse Frech (2013), “Language as Image – Image as Language”, Work.Master, Master of Fine Arts and Contemporary Artistic Practices, major Visual Art, HEAD-Geneva, Switzerland (2011-13). Aby Warburg, German cultural theorist, philosopher and art historian.
I have been focusing on the theme of Exile: Belonging since I decided to depart from a genealogical point of view in 2011, as to set the territory of my practice and research within the familial strata. Family identity whilst conceptually belonging to the ‘Inner-Exile’, being the result of the ‘migrated’ identity or identity in flux, is at large connected with a sense of estrangement.
In coming to understand the meaning of the word exile emotionally, physically and psychologically, I’ve been exploring the perception of image and the translation of reciprocity either disruption between the concept of ‘memory-image’ and ‘language as image’.
It is in this realm, finding common ground in a filmic narrative of both language and image, where re-appropriation of testimony and memory, both physically and verbally, are performed through an embodiment of the innate experience of the past and that of an imaginary reality. Be the experience of imaginative memory personal, either collective or multi-directional, set within the greater context of geo-political history; its perpetual existence resonates within the actual political and public realm.
‘Wander’ is a poetic text, based upon my mother’s biography growing up in orphanages in Macedonia in the fifties and living and working as a seamstress from 1967 in Wilhelmshaven (Germany). ‘13 Women, December’ is the story of 13 women from the former Republic of Macedonia, some of them already friends, who would bond for a lifetime, all transported by train to work as seamstresses – in exile, at BAWI, a textile factory in Wilhelmshaven. All, but one – as the Gypsy ‘The Visionary’ predicted, would never return to resettle in their homeland again. Written and directed by Ilse Frech, performed by Leili Yahr, theatre actress and play-director (Geneva, Switzerland).
The family portrait shown at the interactive project page of Exile: Belonging, dates from 1953, Brno, Czecho-Slovakia where they had their picture taken just after the reunion, as the familymembers are clearly older in this photograph.
My mother, her sisters and their parents had to flee from their natal village upon bombardments in 1948 during the Greek Civil War. At the time the village’s name was German – in what was then Aegean Macedonia, up until the Second World War, it lay peacefully on a slope surrounding the fertile valley of lake Prespa. Living as an ethnic minority in Greek Macedonia, Slav Aegean-Macedonians, just across the border from Yugoslavia, it was winter still, as they left by foot, passing through the mountains. They would cross the border with many others, known as ‘DECATA BEGALCI’, the exodus of Greek children, generating at least 55.881 political exiles – and many more hereafter, of which the exodus of the Greek children in 1948.
Children were transported by the Red Cross, by bus and train to many of the neighbouring communist countries. The family was reunited five years after their separation – with the two eldest daughters, to a decade later with my mother. My grandparents , Stoja and Boris, were traced in Poland with their son, Stojan – at that moment for years of age, and their fourth child.
The eldest daughter, Poli-Cena, later gave an oral- and written account of the moment of separation in German, Aegean Macedonia, 1948 (Epilogue). ‘Sweet Terror of Memory’ (14’54, 2017), a film and visual poem created hereafter, inspired by my mother and the family’s biography and that of other female exiles, witnesses and survivors of The Greek Civil War, sparked by WW II.