Adjusting the lens of history and art

3 August 2016

Artist Petra Stueben is exploring how the context photos are displayed in affects their significance in a new exhibition on at Toi Pōneke, opening later this month.

Artist's studio with paintings leaning up against the wall

Petra Stueben's Studio

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The Hereafter and the Here Now, Part II is an exhibition of contemporary photos which show pictures of a German woman’s treasured possessions in the 1930s displayed in Wellington homes.

The seed of this idea was planted during Petra’s part of the ornament/artefact exhibition at Toi Pōneke in April last year when she exhibited photos that her grandmother had taken in Germany in the 1930s of some of her belongings.

Petra then invited exhibition visitors to take a print of her Grandmother’s pictures home and send her back a photo of it in its new environment. The pictures that visitors took home are now hanging on walls in kitchens and living rooms, or stuck to a fridge with magnets.

Petra’s grandmother took her photos in response to Hitler’s promise that there would be compensation for all German citizens whose property was destroyed or lost as a consequence of military hostilities. Her grandmother gathered a few items that were valuable to her for various reasons and took some photographs to document their existence.

The grandparents’ house was destroyed in a bombing raid, and there was no indemnity.

Petra says: “All that remained were the pictures. Now, these items live on as prints in new homes. They’ve been re-settled among various other objects in different spaces. Some of the new owners placed their prints in artistic settings to take photos, some are straight forward.”

The images that people sent back to Petra have become the focus of her new exhibition. 

“They’ve all became important parts of a bigger idea, where objects became images, and images are turned into objects. These pictures, taken in a specific moment of German history, ask a clear question: how far do they resonate?

“I want to thank every participant of this project. Without their responses the second part of this work would not have been possible.”

The Hereafter and the Here Now, Part II exhibition opens at Toi Pōneke on 26 August until 17 September.