Standing on a jetty in the Trondheimfjord, a Norwegian amateur choir perform an SS song. Had they not been asked to do so by the artist, Jakob Ganslmeier working in collaboration with the Falstad Centre, the friendly singers – who were aware of the song’s origin – would never have sung it. They were, however, of course free to decline repeating it.
We know that while SS Strafgefangenlager Falstad – as it was called at the time – was operational, villagers from Ekne helped prisoners by smuggling in food and medicine. What does it mean when the Ekne choir sings the SS song today? Their singing cannot be regarded as an ideological statement. Still, it poses the question: How long should it take for us to let go of our local past?
Are buildings with a violent past forever contaminated, or can they still serve as living-or work-spaces? Can we feel comfortable at places where many people have suffered?
Where Dreams Come Home looks at the former home of Falstad prison camp commanders, in Northern Norway. Is it the government's responsibility to own buildings that can be attributed to Nazi occupiers? These questions did not arise in the 1990s, when the state put the commander’s house on the free market. With a view of the former prison, a family lived there until 2011 when it was once again put up for sale. Anyone could have bought it.
Where Dreams Come Home is a fictional welcome by a seductive real estate agent advertising the house and its contemporary features. Can history be separated and erased from buildings like this?
In A New Beginning Ganslmeier roams the area of the former prison camp, looking for traces of its dark history, but is unable to find any. Apart from the camp itself and the execution area connected with it, there are no signs anywhere about how it was used or the events that took place. The contrast with the recently-added, and impressive, glass facade forming the porch of the commander’s house couldn’t be starker.
The Falstad commander’s house is currently the only memorial site beyond the former prison camp area that provides any context to what happened here. Is it necessary to extend the Nazi commander’s house while leaving other parts of the camp’s infrastructure largely inaccessible to the public? How is the transparency of this feel-good entrance supposed to help us better understand the atrocities?
Public Enlightenment is a series of three distinct representations of perpetrator perspectives: fictional (Hollywood), historical (WWII archival material), and contemporary (Youtube). Common Enemy, Strong is Beautiful, and War Room interrogate the sources of today’s far-right extremist ideas.
Evil is often synonymous with ‘the devil,’ and in Hollywood movies is regularly embodied as a psychopathic, monstrous individual — a clear-cut villain. These widespread images play a crucial role in how our cultural imagination of evil is shaped. We have learned to dissociate on-screen ‘bad guys’ from those in real life who are seldom as recognisable. How does this perpetuated representation of evil, depicted in Common Enemy, affect us?
A large part of today’s radicalisation happens online; through images, the use of symbolism, appropriation of memes, and music. The online world is a playground for testing the boundaries of personal expression – particularly for teenagers and young adults. War Room shows how youth culture is hijacked by far-right extremists, how power and dictatorship, up to reenactments of WWII atrocities are presented here. Where does the strange fascination with Nazi memorabilia and conspiracy theories come from? The video includes footage from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ends with a puzzling scene from a recent Quran burning in Norway. Showing this disturbing material is not meant to give a platform to the political ideas of its creators, but an attempt at critically reframing their intentions.
Strong is Beautiful
Third Reich propaganda movies - ‘Nazi Hollywood’ - and found footage showing perpetrators in private and seemingly innocent settings form the base of Strong is Beautiful. In contrast to Common Enemy, the video focuses on the notion of how evil can reside in day-to-day life. Nazi propaganda is awash with positivity and cheerfulness, making it hard for us to distance ourselves from the dubious ideology underpinning it all. The glorification of how a muscular, healthy body leads to a strong mind (the supposed precondition for a ‘healthy nation’) feels uncannily similar to contemporary trends promoting rigorous physical routines.
Commander's house Falstad Centre