Elena Helfrecht

2018 - Ongoing

Bavaria, Germany

‘Plexus’ is a photographic case study through archival still lifes, highlighting the effects of inherited trauma and postmemory, and providing a familiar terrain to explore the influence of the family in the discovery of psychological and cultural processes within history. In this work, I investigate the complex routes of my ancestors using my family home and archive. Finding documents and artifacts which lost their history and became indecipherable, I add my own narrative to what is left unknown, to create a metaphor transgressing personal and national boundaries.

When trying to put these found fragments together, the term 'remembering' becomes literal: I piece together the limbs of a body of events I have never fully seen or experienced, to understand the past, the present, and ultimately, the impact this kind of baggage has had on myself, the people around me, and the viewers alike. I use the objects and architecture of the house as parabolic proxies, turning them into gates connecting the past and the present. This creation of dream-like environments and symbols interlinks all that is remembered and simultaneously forgotten.

Even though history never repeats in the same way, I can observe cyclical patterns reappearing, and catch myself repeating the behaviours of my mother and grandmother that so greatly ended up influencing me. With this body of work, I want to raise awareness for the aftermaths of conflicts generations later and examine how collective memory is shaped and influenced. Creating a new sense of identity through confronting the past, spanning across four generations, provides grounds for a detailed investigation of postmemory, mental health, war, and history.

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  • The Source, 2020 | Leftovers from some of my grandfather's pigeons, which he had to slaughter.

  • Eugen, 2018 | Last picture of my grandmother’s father alive.

  • Chance and Effect, 2019 | Dead bird, found in summer last year in the attic.

  • The Door, 2018 | The ceiling in the old stables of my grandparents’ house, which my grandfather casted as a young man,
    using old doors for the mould.

  • Entrance, 2019 | The Attic.

  • First Signs, 2019 | Pole behind a war memorial, at the border of the forest close to my grandparents’ house.

  • Making a Home, 2019 | Sculpture from own and friends’ hair, collected over the course of one and a half years, photographed in
    my grandmother’s blackberry bushes, which took over the garden after her death.

  • Plexus, 2019 | Core of a mycelium encompassing the whole cellar of the house.

  • The Spiral, 2019 | Four ball pythons enveloping one of my grandfather’s model houses, taken from his model-landscape,
    which he altered and rebuilt every year. The figurines and houses are in
    the family collection since more than 100 years. His “Krippenlandschaft” is open to visitors in fall and
    winter, who come from all over the world to see it. During spring and summer, we refresh the greens.

  • The Black Hole, 2019 | A page of a magazine found in the attic, called “Fuer alle Welt” (translated: “For the whole World”), ca.

  • Grandma, 2018 | When my grandmother died some years ago, I became aware of the many things I forgot to ask her
    when she was still alive.

  • Portrait of A. Hitler, 2018 | Backside of a found portrait from the family archive.

  • In the Walls, in the Blood, 2019 | Mice from an infestation in my grandparents’ house.

  • Anticipation, 2019 | Jewellery Box carved by my great-grandfather before his disappearance.

  • Dissection, 2020

  • Conversations, 2018

  • Mother Tongue, 2019 | Disfigured feather duster used by my grandmother to clean the house back then,
    probably also used by my grandfather's mother.

  • Gate, 2018 | Mirror from the corridor, of which I was scared as a child, fearing an evil version of myself would pull
    me in and take my place in the real world.

  • Instruction, 2019 | Instruction from an architectural kit found in a storage room in my grandparents’ house.

  • Invocation, 2019 | Reconstructed building from the found architectural kit and instruction,improvised due to many parts
    being broken or missing. During the attempt to reconstruct it, the building was destroyed twice.