Sebastian Jung’s multimedia art project deals with anti-Semitism and contemporary Jewish life in Eastern Germany. The project encompasses formal experiments that explore these issues while highlighting a real-world threat without telling the story of passive victims or erasing a person’s own role as a non-Jewish German. In the tradition of artists’ books, this is a website created by the artist, with a structure reminiscent of a scholarly study and typographic choices evocative of the Internet’s early days.
In the first chapter, the artist opens a think tank where stakeholders discuss Jewish life in Eastern Germany. It is already clear from their remarks that as diverse as Jewish life is, it is still overshadowed by anti-Semitism. This murderous anti-Semitism broke out on October 9, 2019, Yom Kippur. The perpetrator tried to commit a massacre in the synagogue of Halle and stream it live on the Internet. He shot two people dead and severely injured several others. Jung captures the start of the trial in drawings, but he still wonders: How could this act occur in the first place? To find out, he sets off on a train trip through the dreary Thuringian landscape, past the Wartburg castle and various swastikas graffitied on walls, and finally to his own family. Over and over again, dragons appear in the landscape, the same dragons that crowd in from the woodchip wallpaper even when the artist is safe in his own four walls.
But what role do the dragons – traditionally malicious forces of nature that stir chaos – play in this art project focusing on Jewish life and anti-Semitism in Eastern Germany? Why do they continually appear on the artist’s journeys? And why is he the only one who can see them? “[…] monsters have the power to reveal specifically those things which the men and women who produce them desire most desperately to conceal. These ominous creatures, which lurk in the back alleys of history, expose the fragilities, insecurities, and desires of the cultures they haunt.” 1 This gives rise to a vague sense of unease that Sebastian Jung tries to track down on his train trip.
The formal and aesthetic research presented here is a way of approaching the subject of Jewish life and anti-Semitism in Eastern Germany. It highlights continuities and unearths unsettling memories. Instead of one-dimensional answers, Sebastian Jung teases out questions. These questions revolve around the boundaries between categories of victims and perpetrators, the limits of a person’s own perspective and the possibilities of digital remembrance. In a way never seen before, he transcends the standard narrative of German and Jewish reconciliation and uncovers East German realities without aestheticizing their horrors.
Ella Falldorf, curator
1 Iris Idelson-Shein: Introduction: Writing a History of Horror, or What Happens When Monsters Stare Back, in: Iris Idelson-Shein, Christian Wiese: Monsters and Monstrosity in Jewish History
From the Middle Ages to Modernity, Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, p. 2.