Projects > Ancestral Bodies

Image Still from Ancestral Bodies, digital film, 8 minutes, 2024

During the early stages of the Covid pandemic, I began traveling to Poland. My travels were based on fear as well as curiosity. The narration in this film takes the form of a fictional letter written to my Grandmother's sister, Margaret Anna Martha Kopitzke who was born in 1898 in Steinforth, Pomerania, Prussia. Part historical research, part ancestral meditation, this project relies on embodied and experiential ways of knowing and bearing witness to the things that have been buried and remain buried.

Ancestral Bodies is a collaborative project with the Szczecin-based Pomeranian Historical Society Volunteer Group. The group cleans, catalogs, and resurrects Baltic German cemeteries that have laid to waste since the WWII-era forced expulsions and displacement of the Poles in the east, and Baltic German populations from what is present day Northern Poland. Marek Łucak, the police commandant and volunteer group leader, specializes in the re-aquisition of stolen art and artifacts. As he catalogs the names inscribed on gravestones, he frequently makes phone calls to Christiane Karweik in Wolfsburg, Germany, who transcribes the now extinct Plattdeutsch language. It is her family's native tongue, a language considered "lesser than," in comparison to proper German. She reads and understands this language, but was never taught to write in it.

The historical tension between Germans and Poles still exists to this day, evidenced in the lack of upkeep or care for the other group's ancestral remains, as well as residual fears from Polish families that Baltic Germans will try to reclaim their former family homes.

My family is Polish, Ukrainian, and German. Steinforth, My family's small ancestral village since 1600, currently lies dormant underground, the aftermath of the Russian invasion in February of 1945. We located the village using Lidar map technology, which detects any abnormalities or changes in topography. The perfect indentation of streets and the outlines of the foundations of buildings mirror the historical street maps of Steinforth. They are striking, appearing as though they have been covered in snow. The site is located in the Borne Sulinowo district- a historical military area dating back to Kaiser Wilhelm. My Aunt recalled hearing the soldiers during shooting practice while herding geese as a young child.

The area has a very complex history.In 1933, the Third Reich government took over the area and began building a military town, where Wehrmacht soldiers trained from 1938. During the war, the Groß Born garrison also operated a prisoner of war camp, where thousands of Poles were imprisoned. Today, it is a beautiful ecological preservation area and forest district. We have applied and recieved permission for a permit to dig in the Czarnabòr Forest District, where Steinforth is located with the generous help of Historian Żaneta Czerwińska. The second step is to apply for permission to excavate through the Provincial Conservator of Monuments. I will provide more updates as the project progresses.

The Feminist Art Project Day of Panels at CAA for
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February, 17, 2024 Chicago Hilton