Elske Rosenfeld lives and works in Berlin, DE

In the fall of 1989, citizens of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) brought down the state-socialist regime and the Berlin Wall with a revolution. Many of the activists hoped for a reformed state and practiced radical democratic forms that exceeded Western concepts of democracy. At the forum known as the Zentraler Runder Tisch or Central Round Table, they presented a draft for a new constitution. In its preamble, the East German author Christa Wolf speaks of an emergent “ democratic community based on solidarity and founded on revolutionary renewal.” But plans to integrate the GDR into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) were already being hashed out at other tables. They were sealed when the conservative parties supported by the West prevailed in the GDR’s only free elections. A sellout of the country, a loss of identity, and the radicalization of the right followed.

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Elske Rosenfeld, Repeating (Versuche/Framed), from the series An Archive of Gestures, 2018/22, video installation, color, sound, 20′, video still © Elske Rosenfeld / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

 

Elske Rosenfeld witnessed the revolution as a fifteen-year-old. The narrative of German “unification” tamed the revolutionary spirit of 1989/90, she says; to this day, an adequate language for this experience has yet to be found. In her explorations of documents, archives, and bodies (also understood as archives), she approaches this void with a performative vocabulary. Rosenfeld rewinds and fast-forwards a scene recorded at the Round Table, to reconstruct a moment where the voices of protesters outside interrupt the negotiations. She recites from manifestos and other texts written by political groups and workers’ collectives in 1989/90. Rosenfeld expands her explorations to more recent revolutions: she films a photo of the protest of “the standing man,” Erdem Gündüz, in Gezi Park in Istanbul with her cell phone camera, until her hand begins to shake, and circles, camera in hand, in an endless loop around a camp of remaining protestors on Tahrir Square in Cairo. By juxtaposing these works in the Archive of Gestures (2012–22), Rosenfeld makes the experience of unredeemed emancipatory projects legible translocally and transhistorically. The rewinding, reciting, enduring, and driving in circles become resistant gestures, a rebellion against a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the overwriting of one’s own history.

Sabine Weier

Exhibitions

1 Million Roses for Angela Davis, 2020, Kunsthalle im Lipsisbau, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Dresden (DE)

Leninskiy 95, 2020, Goethe-Institut Moskau, Moscow (RU)

Palast der Republik: Kunst, Diskurs & Parlament, 2019, Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Berlin (DE)

Zerrissene Gesellschaft, 2018, f/stop – Festival für Fotografie Leipzig, Leipzig (DE)

Herbstsalon III, 2017, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin (DE)