Report Janek Turkowski’s ‘Margarete’ at Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival. By Tom Slootweg.
During performing arts festival Noorderzon (Groningen, The Netherland) Polish performer Janek Turkowski offered a surprisingly small and intimate filmic refuge from the predominantly big and spectacular main programme . His Margarete evokes a time long gone, on the other side of the Iron Curtain: captured on 8mm and super8 by an East German lady named Margarete. Since the mainstream success of films as Das Leben der Anderen (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) the cultural imagination tends to favour a slightly bleak visualisation of everyday life in the DDR. Margarete shows us something else.
Turkowski stumbled upon the film material on a flea market in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Attracted by the immaculately packaged reels, he pondered on eventually repurposing this stock in some form of artistic bricolage. His resolve eventually developed in an interesting artistic-documentary hybrid, using both analogue and digital projection accompanied by Turkowski’s real-time narrating skills. During the early development of his piece, he grew less interested in imbuing new artistic meaning to the material. Instead, he gradually became more fascinated by the familiar and yet impalpable aesthetics and narrative fragments of the original owner’s life.
Margarete’s celluloid life is filled with idiosyncratic moments one comes to expect from 8mm amateur footage: amiable bus trips to various holiday destinations, birthday parties of friends and family, and fragments of her everyday environment. However, this nostalgic imagery is juxtaposed by Turkowski’s own search for artistic and personal meaning. As we playfully try to reconstruct the historical, social, and geographical coordinates of Margarete filmic existence, Turkowski’s own digital life takes over. Thanks to the possibilities of the age digital connectivity he was able to retrace Margarete, now a centenarian living in a retirement home .
During his own audio-visual journey he hopes to directly access the past, with the help of Margete’s memories. Janek soon realizes that the elderly woman’s fragility – she is almost deaf and blind – obstructs his final bid to unravel the truth behind the shadow play of this particular ‘Ossi’ past. As he finally wanders on the flea market where he started off, he makes a shocking discovery: between a variety of ‘Ostalgic’ antiquarian goods the stand has on offer, Turkowski finds more traces of Margarete’s past.
The tragic and painful deterioration of the elderly woman suddenly pales in comparison to the awareness that someone near her, aims to profit from her deeply personal belongings. Luckily some of her heritage fell in trustworthy hands…