Centrala Birmingham 28 November 2015 – 9 January 2016
In H.N.5 515 Sława Harasymowicz uses personal biography (and documentary records) to explore one of the biggest World War II maritime disasters that still remains obscured in history and clouded in ambiguity.
On 3 May 1945 in Neustadt Bay near Lübeck, three stationary German ships, Cap Arcona, Thielbek and SS Deutschland were torpedoed by RAF Hawker Typhoons. Unknown to the British pilots, the ships were populated by thousands of (primarily) Polish and Russian prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp. In the camp’s forced labour Messap commando, prisoners were ‘employed’ to construct miniature detonators for anti-aircraft rockets using tools that included magnifying glass and tweezers. The production of these timed mechanisms proved poignantly if ironically futile in confrontation with the fighter-bomber planes.
As a way of unpacking or exposing the personal and public significance of this event and interrogating the impulses of knowledge, destiny, timing and control, Harasymowicz juxtaposes drawing, print, found footage, archives and sound. Additionally she creates a haunting multi-vocal audio and object installation, where voice, soundtracks and story compete for attention in our attempts to make sense of the richness and density of material. Narratives reverberate and overlap, zooming in on the victims’ ordeal and that of their unwitting perpetrators whilst further interweaving the artist’s family history. The project seeks to examine universally inherent tensions between images, words and historical records in reconstructing and invoking memory.
Recalling Walter Benjamin’s mnemonic excavations, the exhibition takes the form of a three-chapter artistic interrogation which continues Harasymowicz’s interest in exploring contradictions of history, archive and representation.
After the inaugural presentation at Centrala, the project will be reformed at Narrative Projects, London in the summer of 2016, and will culminate in a final evocation at The Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, towards the end of the year.
Curated by Dominik Czechowski