Discussing the suppressed opinions and forced joviality that characterised upper-middle-class family life in 1970s Zurich, author Fritz Zorn writes that “one needed only determine that a given topic was ‘tricky’ for it to become taboo.” Identifying precisely these ruptures and silences in the intergenerational conversation is the overall aim of photographer Johanna Diehl’s 10-part, two-storey exhibition titled, after a thought fragment of Walter Benjamin’s, “The Truth Resides in the Folds”. But Diehl fixes her lens on the more familiar places and innocuous objects of her West German childhood, unearthing unsettling elements as she goes along. A tender close-up of the olive-green, freshly vacuumed carpet of her grandparents’ living room, for example, is juxtaposed with a black-and-white photograph of the study, the shelves revealing multiple volumes on Hitler and a framed portrait of a relative in Nazi uniform; a photo of an eerily people and clutter-free dining room is surrounded by stark and imposing photographs of more modern radio equipment taken against black backgrounds, an ambiguous nod to both the Nazi propaganda instrument and a determinedly future-forward Federal Republic seeking to leave its past behind. In the remaining seven-odd collections, however, the photographs cease to speak for themselves as autonomously. The pastel-coloured photographs of prosthetics scattered amongst Diehl’s parents’ holiday photos, we learn from the caption, are a stand-in for Diehl’s father, and that the policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (about the war) proved as stultifying on his psyche as these utensils might have been on his bones; this father, as absent from the holiday snapshots as he was from the artist’s life, would end up committing suicide.
The collections on the second floor deal with more explicit ‘folds’, this time in the architectural landscape. Diehl presents dilapidated specimens of 1960s utopian architecture, their ideals long since abandoned and façades cracked, and synagogues in Ukraine now used as cinemas and sports halls, their original audiences long since annihilated. And she has opted to present them, it may occur to the viewer, in the idyllic but historically laden district of Berlin Wannsee, within walls and among foliage almost indiscernible from those of her grandparents’ home. That ‘all of this could happen again’ is a formula many of us have tired of hearing; it is perhaps for this reason that Diehl has opted to format her version visually, obliquely, closing in on the corners we thought we had already dusted.
The Truth Resides in the Folds | Haus am Waldsee, Zehlendorf. Through Feb 23.