Conflict, Violence and Memory NUBS 3.06
Jul 06, 2023 09:00 - 10:30(Europe/London)
20230706T0900 20230706T1030 Europe/London 5.8. Perpetrator spaces: preservation, representation and memory

The aim of this panel is to reflect – from different methodological perspectives and through the presentation of case studies – on the varying forms of preservation, representation and practices in specific kinds of space connected to the memory of perpetrators, which also deal with their representation. In particular, our idea is to consider those spaces that are indexically connected to the perpetrators' acts of violence or to their personal lives (or deaths). In particular we consider how spaces of private lives (birth/childhood houses, villas), and of violence (prisons, houses alongside camps, headquarters) feature in the cultural heritage of collective trauma. The aim of this inquiry is certainly not to ennoble deplorable violent practices or to give them visibility, but to offer a more comprehensive theoretical reflection on the cultural transmissions of trauma and to come to terms with thorny issues such as representation and accountability.Through the investigation of these spaces we will focus on specific theoretical and ethical issues: how do we picture perpetrators, what is "perpetrator heritage" and for whom is it for? The panel aims to unveil (i) how different countries and communities ideologically and aesthetically reshape their past traumas, deciding which parts to emphasise or hide, and (ii) how different communities thematise – if at all – their own trans- and inter- generational implication with the crimes of "others". These problems could be addressed using different national case studies, comparing their management of difficult heritage, the risks and the challenges they face, and what "cultures of remembrance" they enact.The papers in this panel will consider different (artistic, architectural, museological, educational, ...

NUBS 3.06 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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The aim of this panel is to reflect – from different methodological perspectives and through the presentation of case studies – on the varying forms of preservation, representation and practices in specific kinds of space connected to the memory of perpetrators, which also deal with their representation. In particular, our idea is to consider those spaces that are indexically connected to the perpetrators' acts of violence or to their personal lives (or deaths). In particular we consider how spaces of private lives (birth/childhood houses, villas), and of violence (prisons, houses alongside camps, headquarters) feature in the cultural heritage of collective trauma. The aim of this inquiry is certainly not to ennoble deplorable violent practices or to give them visibility, but to offer a more comprehensive theoretical reflection on the cultural transmissions of trauma and to come to terms with thorny issues such as representation and accountability.
Through the investigation of these spaces we will focus on specific theoretical and ethical issues: how do we picture perpetrators, what is "perpetrator heritage" and for whom is it for? The panel aims to unveil (i) how different countries and communities ideologically and aesthetically reshape their past traumas, deciding which parts to emphasise or hide, and (ii) how different communities thematise – if at all – their own trans- and inter- generational implication with the crimes of "others". These problems could be addressed using different national case studies, comparing their management of difficult heritage, the risks and the challenges they face, and what "cultures of remembrance" they enact.
The papers in this panel will consider different (artistic, architectural, museological, educational, etc.) strategies of mediation of the perpetrator "in space" and of perpetrator spaces, precisely looking at the use of the materiality of the space itself as a memory medium and the aesthetic choices made in conveying responsibility for crimes and violent actions perpetrated. In doing so, our idea is to study perpetrator spaces as texts. Such an approach allows us to trace the meaning transformations of these spaces, from private grounds to contested heritage, from the property of violent people to places that must be preserved and/or artistically resemantised as a testimony and an index of the trauma, as well as useful evidence that serves future understandings of those who came after the tragic event.



Anneleen Spiessens, Ghent University

Space and memory at Fort Breendonk, Belgium

I propose an analysis of Fort Breendonk, a fortress that was built to protect the city of Antwerp during WWI, and requisitioned during the German occupation in WWII to serve as a prison (Auffanglager) for mainly political prisoners. Although it was not a concentration camp, Breendonk is remembered in Belgium as a place of extreme violence, where the guards, both German and Belgian SS, subjected prisoners to humiliations, beatings, malnutrition, torture and forced labour. After the Liberation, the site was briefly repurposed to detain Belgian collaborators – a period historically referred to as "Breendonk II" – where the new guards equally indulged in excesses.
While Breendonk was declared a National Memorial in 1947, most rooms became accessible for the public only in 2002, with the Fort becoming a proper museum. Its focus lies on the events that occurred between 1940-1944. An audio guide and walking path throughout the building introduce visitors to the daily life of prisoners and SS guards, capitalizing on the site's status as an authentic lieu de mémoire.
My presentation focuses on three aspects of spatiality in Breendonk. First, I consider the concept of "palimpsestic memory" to understand how material spaces are reused and reinscribed over time. Traces of different layers of history are visible on the cell walls, which carry inscriptions from various periods and pose preservation problems, and in the surrounding landscape, which was transformed (both covered and uncovered) by the prisoners' forced labour.
Secondly, studying spaces as texts, I suggest a few notes on intertextuality. I indicate parallels between Breendonk and better known concentration camps (Auschwitz I), insisting on the spaces, the literal "topoi", that visitors traditionally traverse on tours and which form the backbone of the classic "camp narrative" (here: the bunk rooms, standing cells, wooden barracks and execution ground).
I finish the presentation with a general assessment of the way perpetrators are represented on-site. Central to the discussion are the museum's multimodal approach (photographic and textual material) and use of space (especially the torture chamber) to stimulate visitor reflection.


Michael Šafarić Branthwaite, Staffordshire University

Proximity, the domestic and benign in perpetrator spaces

This paper explores how artworks made in response to archaeological investigations at Holocaust sites can facilitate discussions and engagement with Europe's conflicted past. Art offers archaeology a medium through which to explore some of the more controversial narratives and 'many truths' that exist concerning the Holocaust as a whole in a way that might not be permissible in a purely historical context (McGrattan 2012; Schofield 2007). Similarly, for artists, archaeology can provide underpinning research, provoke new understandings of material culture, offer access to new discourses and facilitate engagement with complex historical events. The entanglement of archaeological methods and a conceptual approach to art making raise questions of primacy in relation to objects and experience. This paper discusses how we experience the competing memories and experiences at Nazi camp memorial sites. I will discuss how artistic responses in the form of sculptures and video artworks led to the development of further discourse about the impact of residential production as a way to engage the public in these new theories. Furthermore I will, by the way of artworks, explain how my practice has developed to focus not solely on looking at traumatic pasts, but on how we look at perpetrators in a contemporary context. This position allows the challenge of prevailing paradigms that may omit perpetrators' lives as part of the history of the camps whilst being nuanced by the rise of xenophobia across the European continent. A variety of contexts, new audiences and frameworks were developed to confront challenging aspects of perpetrators' lives and in particular the problematic nature of including their narratives in the history of the Nazi camp system. Based on feedback received on these exhibitions, this approach seems to confirm Aumann's (2016: 383) theory that 'it usually benefits us to become acquainted with reality, however harsh it may be, and we are usually glad in the end to have learned how things really are'. In presenting this approach, I intend to inspire others addressing difficult histories to operate beyond established and conventional boundaries.


Ingvild Hagen Kjørholt, NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology/Falstad Centre

Representations in and of the commander's house. The case of Falstad, Norway

In 1943, on demand of the camp commander at the time, prisoners in SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad (Norway) constructed and built a wooden villa just outside the camp fences to house the SS camp commander and his staff. From 1944 until the end of WW2, the last two commanders lived there and used the rooms as offices and recreation space. From 1945 to the 1990s, the villa was state property and kept its function as a mixed space of work and leisure and a satellite of the activity in the main Falstad building: first as home and office of the director of a forced labour camp for Norwegians convicted for Nazi collaboration, and then as the residence of the headmaster of a special education school. From 1992, the former commander's house served as a private family home for nearly 20 years before, in 2011, it was rebought by the state to become part of the Nazi camp memorial the Falstad Centre. After a renovation and rebuilding process, the house opened to a public audience in 2020 as a museum and learning arena.

Being constructed and built by prisoners, Falstad's commander's house bears witness to the memory of the camp prisoners. Simultaneously, the house holds an iconic, indexical, and symbolic relation to the lives and memories of the camp perpetrators. As a part of the renovation process, the Falstad Centre since 2015 invited artists, among others, through the ongoing European culture cooperation project "Houses of Darkness", to participate in discussions of preserving, transforming, and using the house as a "perpetrator space". The paper discusses artists' interventions in and representations of the house in the period from 2015-2022. The key questions asked are: How do the artists' interventions in and representations of the house reshape the memory of the perpetrators? How do the contemporary images of the house relate to the SS officers' own images? And what does it mean to exhibit the representations in the renovated museum space?


Mario Panico, University of Amsterdam

Perpetrators and spaces, between materiality and imaginaries

This paper has two main goals: (i) to explore the memorial roles that domestic spaces of perpetrators and dictators play in the broader understanding of traumatic heritage, and (ii) to discuss in what terms it is suitable to talk about "perpetrator heritage", especially when we are not considering (just) the propaganda monuments built during regimes but when we are taking into account places connected to the childhood or private lives of criminals. While much research has been conducted on the houses of victims, in this paper I deal with the houses of perpetrators and with their uses (or lack thereof) as a resource for cultural memory or cultural nostalgia, the thematisation of violence and its human dimension. This is surprising since many traces of Nazi and Fascist perpetrator's domestic lives are very much present across Europe – from birthplaces and personal homes, villas, etc., through to dwellings on sites that are more explicitly connected to perpetration, such as on camps or prisons – some of which are preserved and re-functionalised, others abandoned. Considering the prominence of domestic space in the production of familial and collective identities and memories, this paper seeks to provide an inquiry into the studies of the "ordinariness" of houses in relation to those people who committed or ordered crimes against humanity.

Through various case studies (the main one will be Benito Mussolini's birthplace in Predappio, Italy) I will conduct a reflection on the value of the indexicality of these sites, how they contribute to "framing" the perpetrators' private life and family origins and what are the communicative risks of these representations. In other words, I am interested in the museological strategies used to deal with the difficult task of giving visibility to perpetrators or at least offering the possibility to challenge (in a positive or dangerous way) their legacy and facing the urgent issue of transmitting their lives and their actions. 

Ghent University
Staffordshire University
Associate Professor
,
Norwegian University of Science and Technology / Falstad Center
University of Amsterdam
Dr.ir.
,
Delft University of Technology / Designing Memory
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