Death Fugue

Creative Work
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Description (in English): 

During Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual campus event where I teach, poems written about the Holocaust—including some written by survivors—are read aloud. Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue” is often read, and has been translated by multiple Arts & Humanities faculty. This work of participatory digital art is another translation of the poem as a participatory embodiment of the text. It was created for more than 200 visitors of this event, many of whom were already familiar with Celan’s poem. In Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook, Pablo Helguera defines multi-layered participatory structures. This work falls somewhere between (2) directed participation and (3) creative participation. While the visitor was asked to complete a simple task (level 2), they demonstrated varying degrees of creative commitment (level 3) in their participation.

Beneath the lobby’s stairway, I held a small projector a few feet from a white wall. Visitors willing to participate interacted with a projected work of kinetic typography prepared for this event. Without much instruction, most participants found a way to embody the text, “Death Fugue,” as poetry in motion. While some participants used their bodies, others held the text on rose petals, and some took control of the projector to place the text onto the bodies of others—their children, friends, or colleagues. The final result is a composite video that documents a communal enactment of the poem as a text across many bodies in its construction and interpretation. Interacting with the poem in fragments elicits the temporal space of memory. In the spirit of collaboration and memory-making, the textual bodies were edited to form a cohesive video set to a soundtrack created for this work by Natan Grande.

For ELO, I am submitting the final composite, a digital video with sound. This digital video documents the participatory embodiment of the poem. The theme “(un)continuity” is expressed in this project through its discordant structure of participation, and its re-presentation of the poem by participants.

See Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook, New York: Jorge Pinto Books, 2011, pages 14-15.


Death Fugue: Participatory Embodiment

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Steffen Egeland