A Jew and a German explore the legacy of the Holocaust. It is a convergence that is rife with personal and political tension, the cultural legacy of atrocity and guilt through historical implication. Surely there exists a fundamental rift between the two? Surely they could never be friends? But it was indeed their friendship that inspired Israeli artist Saar Magal and German artist Jochen Roller to build a show that explores this conflict of birthright.
Basically I don't but actually I do is the show that they created. Presented at the Arts House Meat Market, Basically I don't but actually I do it is an eerily physical work with recognisable but not overly didactic symbolism. Roller and Magal are separated from World War 2 by three generations and thus the content of the work has been distilled by this historical distance. But Basically… is a pertinent reminder that the events of the Holocaust reverberate still, through the stories and memories of a culture, impacting on a contemporary generation.
The audience stand around a large white dance floor. We are asked to remove our shoes. They remain in a precise line at the edge of the performance space, imbued with a ghostly presence, evoking images of the shoes that neatly lined the exterior of the gas chambers. There are two piles of clothes, yellow and brown, once filled with bodies now patently absent. The yellow represents the Jewish Star and the brown the German uniform. Magal and Roller switch clothes throughout, demonstrating the fluidity of role, responsibility and guilt. The two performers play games, engage in a humorous discussion of prejudice through the identification of title before embarking on a more refined physical language.
The dance was made of sparse, precise imagery. There was extensive use of stillness and tableau, frozen moments of violence and pain. Memories of grainy black and white photographs are suggested, lines of skeletal figures, uniforms and pointed guns. Roller's body itself is an example, with it's thin torso and bare bones. However these images are merely hinted at, as the abstractness of the physicality is evocative rather than demonstrative.
Piles of books lay scattered around the space. These become weapons, suggestive of the Jewish respect for knowledge and intellectualism. Knowledge is power, a power that the Nazi book burnings tried to obliterate. Though towards the end of the performance these books start to literally weigh the performers down, a warning about becoming mired in the past so as to prevent moving forward.
The pace of the work was slow at times, with repetition dragging the piece out and labouring the point. It perhaps could have benefitted from a slight edit or a readjustment of the sections. It is a quiet piece with an atmospheric soundtrack created by Paul Ratzel, filled with low hum, footsteps and booming, echoing bass. The climax of the piece evoked images of Hiroshima, reminding us of the other atrocities committed in the second world war. All we are left with at the end is a shadow, a mere imprint - much like memory itself.
I imagine the legacy of the Holocaust is much more pronounced in Europe, with a greater percentage of the population being directly affected through family, nationality or religion. But the impact of historical guilt is the same the world over. The unspeakable German shame with regards to the treatment of the Jews is similar to the guilt many white Australians feel about the treatment of the Aborigines during the colonisation of Australia. The echoes and shadows of these events resonate in our societies still, maybe not on the surface, but simmering underneath.
Basically I don't but actually I do attempts to voice these tensions, if only for a moment.
BASICALLY I DON’T BUT ACTUALLY I DO
Jochen Roller (Germany)
Saar Magal (Israel)
Venue: Arts House, Meat Market | 5 Blackwood Street, North Mellbourne
Dates: Wednesday 24 – Saturday 27 November
Duration: 55 minutes no interval
Tickets: $25 / $18
Bookings: artshouse.com.au | 03 9322 3713