In the Traumwunsch (trans. Dream-Wish) exhibition Stefan Otto explores a dark area of his family’s history. The story of his maternal grandfather’s trek through Europe after WWII, looking for his wife and children. The exhibition consists of a selection of poems written by his grandfather, a collage, photos and a video.
Stefan Otto’s art is an excavation of memory. What is it made of? What patterns of behaviour does it generate in us? And how does it affect the way we look at the world? In photographs, films and paintings he creates layers that overlap and dissolve into each other. His works move back and forth along the timeline, and occasionally the past becomes the present. We are left frustrated by a world that shows no signs of moving on or changing direction.
When working on Traumwunsch, Otto followed his grandfather’s footsteps through a devastated Europe. His grandfather was a Czechoslovakian Sudeten German. He was a German and a Nazi. While in the German army, he transported raw materials and equipment along the River Danube between Budapest and the Black Sea. In 1944, he was captured by the Red Army and put in a prison camp in Romania. A year later, he managed to get out – it is still not clear how. It would take him another three years to be reunited with his family. It is this image that has stuck with Otto. What was his grandfather thinking when, scared, starving and disillusioned, he traipsed through Europe looking for his loved ones. Were the nature-romantic poems that he wrote on his travels a form of therapy? When did he realize that he had been wrong, and that everything he believed in was wrong?
The story of this family can act as a link between then and now. We live in a Europe that is still in an age of mass migration. People in distress are attracted by our safe existence, which is becoming more and more difficult for them to share in. The walls of the western world are getting higher and wider, immigration is being talked about more than ever before, and extreme right-wing parties are growing and getting more attention in public space and the media. Otto’s grandfather’s tale thus becomes a reflective surface in which we can mirror ourselves.
Stefan Otto (1969) lives and works in Stockholm, where he graduated from the Royal Institute of Art in 2001. He has had numerous exhibitions in Sweden, and participated in several joint international exhibitions. Otto is represented in many Swedish collections and has made numerous commissioned works. In 2011, he took part in Eshu-Etaeb the opening exhibition at Sinne’s space on Iso Roobertinkatu Street in Helsinki.