Work in Progress
Multi-channel video installation
Projections and monitors, installation dimensions variable
Drone camera: Ruben Cissé, Frank Brauer, Nils Dünwald, Felix Gemein, Michael Roth
Post production: Till Beckmann, Anne Braun
-Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media
Federal Association of Visual Artists
-Foundation Künstlerdorf Schöppingen, Ministry of Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia
All previous recordings are also summarized in a FILM.
About 40 short films from Thing Places in Germany are planned.
Throughout the 1930s, Thing Places were set up all over Germany, theater-like meeting places built by the Nazi regime to spread its ideology. They were to serve theatrical performances with a history-distorting recourse to old Germanic traditions. These Thingspiele should allow an emotional emergence of the individual in home and national community. That’s why scenic impressive spaces were chosen as Thing Place: atmospheric places surrounded by forests, lakes, hills, natural rocks, ruins or other traces of local history.
In Germanic times a thing was the people and court assembly. It handled the legal matters and always took place in the open air. The Nazis abused the idea of thing-gathering places for staging of the Hitler cult.
From 1933 to 1939 up to 400 Thing Places were planned or started. Completed were about 60 outdoor stages. Many are still used for concerts and theater performances.
This project is to document all former Thing Places in Germany.
The cinematic approach to these places happens from the air. With a camera drone a ride is started vertically above the Thing Place, you see the whole environment, the camera slowly approaches, it turns around its own axis until the place fills the picture. The spiraling image creates a pull. It is a pictorial expression for the seduction and agitation of the people by the national socialism.
“The future lies in the past.
A bird’s eye view of a treescape, an aerial view of a paved space, a grandstand with weeds growing in its cracks. Occasionally, a road crosses somewhere. In circular movements, the camera approaches the ground. The rotating landscape messes with the brain, churns your guts, provokes a dizziness that can last for a long time. Video artist Maria Vedder is stirring things up: layers of history. What one sees seems banal and mysterious at the same time. They are places of temptation.
Between 1933 and 1937, the National Socialists built open-air theaters throughout Germany. These so-called “Thingstätten” (“thing places”) were used for propaganda events and marches. It was here that Hitler, Himmler and Göbbels spouted their political rhetoric, and tens of thousands listened. Always situated amidst impressive scenery, surrounded by trees, nestled in hills or in the shadow of mighty rocks. In some places ruins remained, which added to the mystical atmosphere. Ethno-nationalist plays with large choirs for mass audiences were written especially for these stages. They were called “Thingspiele” (“thing plays”) in reference to an ancient Germanic tradition. These open-air spectacles were intended to unleash emotions and make people feel that they belonged to the collective. The rallies were intended to consolidate the Führer cult, to whet the appetite for a war that would be worth fighting for the fatherland. In her installation, Maria Vedder traces the, as yet, little-known history of the Thingstätten.
As many as 400 Thingplätze were planned in the 1930s. It was the largest open-air theater construction program since ancient times and created jobs in the cultural and construction industries. Of those, only 60 stages were actually completed, mainly in Germany, some in Russia and Poland. Joseph Goebbels soon distanced himself from the concept. In 1935, he banned the term “thing,” and from then on, the theaters were called Feierstätte, Weihestätte, or Freilichtbühne. The tradition of the mystical “Singspiel” (music drama) no longer seemed modern enough for Goebbels. Instead, he turned to modern media, choosing radio and film to agitate the masses.
Maria Vedder filmed 12 Thingstätte sites in North Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg for the exhibition. Her goal is to document all of the Thingstätten in Germany. The artist is interested in the power of propaganda. And the simple question: Where does the fascination for right-wing thinking and fascist ideologies come from? Despite the catastrophe caused by the National Socialists in the Second World War, votes for radical right-wing parties are increasing all over Europe. Russia’s war against Ukraine tragically illustrates how appealing the idea still is of a big, strong nation that needs uniting, no matter how bloody the struggle.
We know where the majority of the former Thingstätten are located. Some are famous, such as the Berlin Waldbühne, which was built by Hitler’s order on the Olympic grounds for the 1936 Olympics. Or the Kalkberg Stadium in Bad Segeberg, where the Karl May Festival has been held annually since 1952. Many former Thingstätten are still used for concerts and theater performances. Others are overgrown, destroyed or have disappeared.
Maria Vedder, who staged her own stage-like situations in previous video works and has worked several times with the motif of the circle, implements an artistic form of memory culture in this work. She uses cinematic means to analyze how the past works in the present, even if it is unknown, forgotten or repressed. Looking at the circular arenas with their stone tiers, a special energy is still felt today, even if they exist only as remnants. The combination of architecture, landscape, space, movement and light, which Leni Riefenstahl also used in her photos, captures us in a way that goes beyond reason. By means of the circling drone that systematically ascends and descends, always vertically, above the center of each site, the artist avoids the possibility of identification and of being overwhelmed. The camera’s gaze is neutral, but its movement is not. The optical attraction it triggers is symbolic of the frenzy of temptation.
With her cinematic search for clues, Maria Vedder also stirs up deeper layers of the past. The dizzying images draw attention to the ancient Germanic “Thing” tradition, which the National Socialists appropriated and twisted to suit their purposes. A Thingstätte was originally a place where political debates took place and justice was dispensed. “Thing” or “Ding” was the name given to popular gatherings and open-air court hearings. This is reflected in the language to this day. The word “Sache” (English: thing) is etymologically derived from “Rechtssache” (English: legal matter) discussed in court. German words like “unbedingt” (English: absolutely) or phrases such as “jemanden dingfest machen” (English: to pin someone down) have their origin in the term “Thing”. Iceland’s parliament is for example named “Althing”. In Norwegian, “Tinghus” is a courthouse.
And thus, the circle closes. Once set into motion, the locations filmed in Maria Vedder’s work remain in constant agitation. They are made “dingfest” (English: pinned down).”
Birgit Rieger, October 2022
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