Intergenerational self-representation in post-unification East Germany. Ethnographic research and representation through teen cell phones and historical material leads to collaborative curation.
Emily Smith (Freie Universität, Berlin)
Paper short abstract:
In a post-unification east German village, teen cell-phone and village archival material facilitate cross-generational and cross cultural discourse around demographic shifts, material culture, and lived experience. This audiovisual exchange assists participatory processes in cultural (re)narration.
Paper long abstract:
Not far from Berlin, Lunow sits on the edge of a familiar past and an uncertain future. Residents stand tall in the face of steady depopulation, rising unemployment and an aging trend. The ethnographic and participatory project focuses on two generations: retired volunteers from the village museum who collect and document local material heritage, while the teen club, born after the Wall fell, are entering adulthood with bravado while facing limited prospects. Both generations hold tightly to their roles yet are connected in unexpected ways. From Simson mopeds to group portraiture, both generations are building up living archives of their cultural heritage. Photography plays a large role in this process. Hundreds of teen cell-phone images overlap and contrast the folders of collected historical photography. The space between the two collections is temporal, cultural and political, sparking rich exchanges between each other and with the researcher. At the end of the year-long project, educator and artist Ms. Smith, together with Lunower, co-conceived a multimedia exhibition in Spring 2013. The multi-sited exhibition features images from teen cell phones and the museum archive as well as new images. As a process, self-generated photography facilitates a more meaningful discussion around lived experience and the exhibition articulates these realities from a local perspective. As research, this participation sheds light on how the community wishes to be represented. On a global scale, such ethnographic and participatory methodologies challenge larger narratives around re-unification, creating space for locals to take back authorship of cultural representation.
Appropriating Photography: Global Technologies and Local Politics of Self-Representation