Memorials are a very sensitive area to work in. It is always a challenge to find the right balance in the architecture and the presentation of the subject matter between neutral objectivity and that of emotion and beauty. Memorials by their nature very often deal with emotive and traumatic moments in life and history. I have visited many memorials where I felt that the attempt to “neutralize” the architecture and the presentation, so as not to influence the reception and understanding of the content, often resulted in a negatively passive experience for the visitor. It is clear that the opposite, an overly dramatic scenographic approach can be used to manipulate the visitors in their comprehension of the “facts” presented.
I have worked on several concepts for memorials where my intention has been to enable the visitor to interact with the exhibition, the surroundings and the exponents. This has the advantage that it creates a direct contact to the subject and opens up a channel of empathy through human action. I work with light as a “guiding” force through the space, underlying accents and giving focus. I believe that memorials can and should be beautiful, therefore the exhibition furniture and the spaces I create should inspire as a gesture of respect to the lives lost and the incalculable pain of the themes represented. In the design of memorials it is important to be timeless and speak to all generations. In the memorial project “Zeithain” I developed the “Walk in” glass vitrine of light which was implanted in the darkness of a wooden barrack building which was used to house prisoners of war. The architectural gesture is a statement. The glass monolith stands and waits patiently for visitors. The beauty and strangeness of the object in the loneliness of the flat boring landscape disturbs and asks questions of us. The interactive wooden information cabinets with drawers of mirrors invite us to work and to contemplate. For the 30,000 Russian solders and the 1000 Italian, Serbian, French, English and Polish solders who died in Zeithain a small gesture in their remembrance.
Memorials can have a personalized artist approach, where questions and answers cannot always be paired successfully. In my project for “Slaughterhouse 5”, the famous anti-war novel by Kurt Vonnegut, I created a lighting mural, “a story telling wall” based on the events and characters that Vonnegut writes about in his book. The wall is made of layers of acrylic panels depicting the map of the city before the destruction overlapped by transparent panels depicting the rebuilt city of today. It is fascinating to see how the old and new city plans match or do not match. The wall has also cartoon drawings I did depicting the figures and the events in the book, a portrait of Billy Pilgrim and of course Kurt Vonnegut. The work is installed in the basement of the old city slaughter houses of Dresden. This is the basement where Kurt Vonnegut as an American prisoner of war experienced the destruction of Dresden on the 13th of February 1945.