Remembering is work. Artists’ Archives

Walter Benjamin, Excavation and Memory, manuscript, 1932. Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Walter Benjamin Archive

George Grosz, Clippings „Birds“, no date. Akademie der Künste, Berlin, George Grosz Archive

Diary of Ursula Lewy [later Ursula Mamlok], 1937–1944, entries from November 1938. Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Ursula Mamlok Archive

10 GDR marks signed by Heiner Müller, 1 July 1990. Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Emine Sevgi Özdamar Archive

Heinrich Vogeler, Bootsanleger am Weißen Meer (Boat Dock at the White Sea)

What does artistic memory work look like? Digging. Reading. Collecting. Ordering. Noting. Recording. Rethinking. Crossing out. – These are creative processes that make up or accompany remembering. They result in notes, sketches, lists and models. Remembering, artists reflect, means to ponder. They describe it as an attempt to resolve what is merely held on to in memory, to endure retrospect, to swim against the current of forgetting, to invent mnemonic devices, to fail, to go on recounting endlessly. The ability to remember must be developed and criticism of memory must be practised. Memories themselves cannot be grasped. They only remain awake when they are recalled again and again, and when they are questioned.

Walter Kempowski, Model for Echolot (Sonar)

Production diary, cassette tapes, recorded by Edgar Reitz

Cardboard box owned by Uwe Timm containing personal items belonging to his brother Karl-Heinz Timm

Mary Wigman, Autumnal Dances, typescript with handwritten changes and additions

Christa Wolf, handwritten notes and preparatory work

The archive proves to be both resource and method. It gives a place and structure to the abundance of remembered material, and it challenges us to engage with memory, to read between the lines. Selected objects, designs and artworks by artists from the Archives of the Akademie invite us to trace memories in their works, explore storage media, comprehend archival methods and pursue the question of the politics of memory and the relationship between individual and collective memory. These objects are literally brought into the light. They are not memorabilia, yet they testify to memory as the driving force of artistic creation. Walter Benjamin’s programmatic text Ausgraben und Erinnern (Excavation and Memory) provides the framework for this line of thought: memory is the medium for exploring the present. The results of the memory work, such as Einar Schleef’s diary pictures, Käthe Kollwitz’s work curves, Walter Kempowski’s preparatory work for Echolot (Sonar), picture clippings by George Grosz and a letter by Inge Deutschkron, form a constellation of artistic procedures: “Erinnern ist Arbeit” (Remembering is work).

Walter BenjaminBertolt BrechtInge DeutschkronGeorge GroszWalter KempowskiKäthe KollwitzUrsula MamlokHeiner Müller / Emine Sevgi ÖzdamarEdgar ReitzEinar SchleefAxel Schultes / Charlotte FrankUwe TimmHeinrich VogelerMary WigmanChrista Wolf