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Utopianism, memory and the body, and the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp

Munday, Max Aidan Lipson (2018) Utopianism, memory and the body, and the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp. Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This project used art practice as research to open up questions about the way that loss and utopianism are manifested in the ‘Jewish body’, by bringing together elements of practice involving movement, sound and film. I expanded upon the testimony of my great aunt Rene Sakula that began with her experience volunteering with Jewish survivors in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp in 1945. This involved running dance classes, in which she was struck by how the young women moved; they danced, she said, with hope not with sorrow. The research explored ways of using the body to work the narrative frames imposed on Jewish identity and to consider how the body can move between, and perhaps beyond, them. The practice involved collaborative movement-based interviews, individual audio and video editing and composition, and the development of a public installation piece. Documentation of this multi-media process is presented throughout this thesis: from my early investigation of sonic ‘stutters’ to disrupt narratives, to the later choreographed installation piece that opened the research up to new meaning in the movement of bodies. My process of inquiry occupied a space of tension between established, positivist forms of knowledge production, and practice as research. I experienced an ongoing strain of feeling pulled towards the theoretical and affective aspects of the work, and away from the freeing and open potential of the aesthetic. I sought a more productive balance through working with the “esoteric intellectualism” (Rabinbach, 1985) of Walter Benjamin’s approach to history, and the possibilities offered by film practice, sonic art, and especially dance and movement. To develop this inquiry beyond this Masters by Research, the body and its movements could offer a useful tool in which to further explore the tension between these forms of knowledge production.

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