A History of Violence
author(s): Kai Ziegner
published in: VIS - Nordic Journal for Artistic Research
Through experimental writing and conceptual photography, my PhD uses my own biography to investigate the consequences of societal transformation processes in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The focus is on the period of regime change known as the »Wendezeit« in the late 1980's to the early 1990's in East Germany. To date, this subject has been analysed primarily by scholars of history and cultural sciences, while approaches to this topic by artistic researchers are still rare.
With my research, I would like to reveal causes for the outbreaks of violence that accompanied this radical shift. The objective of my PhD is thus to submit critical testimony to the silence about seldom-discussed side effects of the transformation during and after the turnaround which Germans call the »Wende«. Based on the example of (my own) individual history, it demonstrates how authoritarian regimes and structures impacted on three generations of citizens, and how they affected the individuals. Throughout an experimental narrative, outbreaks ofsenseless violence are treated as side effects of disruptive transformation processes, just as are ambivalent situations in which actors of social change recognise themselves to be simultaneously victims and perpetrators of violent incidents. Since personal memories and historical documents served as the basis of this work, the central challenge of my artistic research was to carve out generalisable elements from individual examples, and to try out and experiment with various textual and photographic formats to find an adequate way to present the research material. Important sources of inspiration for this process included works like Alexander Kluge’s »Lebensläufe« (‘Case Histories’), Primo Levi’s »Ist das ein Mensch?« (‘If This Is a Man’), Walter Benjamin’s »Denkbilder« [Thought-Images], Klaus Theweleit’s »Männerphantasien (‘Male Fantasies’), Georges Didi-Huberman’s »Bilder trotz allem« (‘Images in Spite of All’), Claude Lanzman’s documentary film »Shoah«, and W.G. Sebald’s novel »Austerlitz«. The result of my research is an experimental book that portrays the multidimensional nature, polyphony and complexity of the subject, and offers the readers an opportunity to deal with the material in the way they desire, and perhaps to make it useful for their own work and research.