Journey into the heart of German Modernism
Artist, Anael Berkovitz made a startling discovery that linked her to both German Modernist architect Hans Scharoun and what is today considered one of the most important modernist houses in Germany, Haus Schminke. That discovery, well into adulthood has had a profound and positive impact on her and we are the beneficiaries of her visual exploration of her family’s history.
Anael grew up surrounded by art and creativity in Ein Hod, an artist’s colony in the hills above Haifa closely associated with the architect, constructivist and early member of the Dada movement, Marcel Janco. Growing up in an atmosphere where ‘neither family history was spoken about at home left her with a knowledge of family history which was ‘fractured’. Her maternal great grandmother and father, who commissioned the building of the house, lived in Germany.
‘To appreciate the impact of my fractured family history it needs to be understood that I grew up with forced, pushed away memories because my mother closed the door to the past, leaving it behind her. My knowledge was scant. On one side, my father’s family were Romanian Jewish Holocaust survivors on the other a well to do German family. The first time I became aware of and visited Haus Schminke I was already in my 30s. It was immediately clear that it was going to be difficult digesting a lot of information in one go about people that other people referred to as ‘my family’.
‘Consequently, neither family history was spoken about at home – the past wasn’t mentioned, only the future.’
After graduating with a Masters in Fine Art she was offered a Bauhaus residency in Dessau which gave her space to create, she explains ‘ it allowed me to continue to explore who I am as a half German, my mother’s identity and personal intimate past, my relationship with my mother, the power of language (her mother chose not to speak German) and how that all fitted in with actually sleeping at the Schminke family home as a guest of the Foundation. Oskar Schlemmer did have a link to the house and my mother trained in ballet in Germany, I used Schlemmer’s triadic ballet again to link to German Modernism studying his journals in depth’.
The photographs became an inspiring tool for Anael and a medium to ‘absorb’ the magnitude of the story and the incredible connection to a roll call of great Modernist artists and designers. ‘There was so much detail illustrated by photographs to absorb. My creative process as an artist is to develop an idea from an interesting fact. What worked for me was to focus my attention on the architect Hans Scharoun, the creator of this unbelievably strange and wonderful architectural house. I felt connected to him as a link between me and the house – almost acting as a go-between, one removed from the actual connection. I take inspiration from Scharoun’s ideas.’
‘what quickly became clear is that it was the photos and objects that helped me understand who my family were’
In order to best capture the spirit of the family living in Haus Schminke and the decisions Hans Scharoun made when designing it created challenges. Anael explains, ‘I understand the medium of film very well, for me it is a form of art more than a factual document, however, what quickly became clear is that it was the photos and objects that helped me understand who my family were, important characters in their home city of Lobäu – living in Germany in the 1930s.’
One of those ‘objects’ was the packaging for the pasta produced in the family’s factory situated next to the family home. The boxes were reimagined and placed in situ in the Frankfurt kitchen.
Anael sees her relationship to Haus Schminke as ‘an ongoing investigation both in terms of my art and in my personal life without forgetting the history of my father’s family. I have always been drawn to that border between private and collective, of personal and touristic, of memorabilia and the revealing of secrets. Perhaps my personality sits somewhere between eccentric and shy.’
all the dots were joined together when ‘my first solo show Heimweh which means homesickness was presented at Scharaun’.
Meeting with artist and curator Jaro Straub facilitated by Australian art curator, Jane O’Neill has created exciting opportunities. Jaro is ‘the leading light behind Scharaun a gallery space in a Berlin residential block that was both designed by Hans Scharoun and was his family home with his wife Aenne.’ Anael explains. All the dots were joined together when ‘my first solo show Heimweh which means homesickness was presented at Scharaun. I explored what it means to be homesick and the paths in life I chose, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Lobäu and Brooklyn, parallel to the paths that my family had been through in connection to the idea of the wandering Jew. During the research with Jaro Straub in preparation for the exhibition, we discovered a large stash of family photos showing my grandmother and her siblings in an entirely natural state in the archive of the Akademie Der Kunst – only family members are allowed to view them under the circumstances.
Other treasures discovered were film contact prints – very much my working medium as an artist – but here what was being revealed was people whose image I was becoming familiar with. That did not come without painful insights – the photos taken during WW11 featured uniforms and swastikas. I could not escape from the fact that in a parallel place at the same time my Jewish family were being executed and tortured. It was and still is hard for me to grasp. In considering these materials at the back of my mind I also carry the knowledge of how the two sides of my family rebuilt their lives after the war. For the time being this features in my art and will always form a large part of who I am.’
Interviewing Anael is not a depressing dive into the worst elements of 20th Century history, on the contrary, it is entirely positive – here is someone several generations later, living in a very different world where relationships, unimaginable 80 years ago, are forged and embraced. She describes her ongoing research as ‘an adventure… I cannot underestimate the impact of seeing family photos for the first time … a defining moment.’
There are lots of projects in the pipeline, in November 2022 she will be participating in Haus Scharoun 1971-2022 together with 26 artists featuring 68 works – each interpreting Scharoun in their own way. Superstitions are of great interest to Anael and she is currently exploring ‘how they spread through different cultures, specifically how bad luck is conceived and handled through objects and ‘signs’.
On a need to know basis:
All photos unless otherwise noted are by Anael Berkovitz ©