CONVERSATIONS WITH GHOSTS
“Conversations with Ghosts” consists of 51 altered tintype plates which were exposed in a pinhole camera in the early hours of most days while staying in Prague with eleven students during a study abroad course for roughly eleven days in June of 2015. While the plates themselves were supposed to be the conversation, the project has evolved into the scanned tintypes printed onto translucent vellum, which has been fashioned into envelopes that contain journal-like handwritten letters. After visiting Terezín and seeing a reference to Kafka’s sister Ottla, I was thinking about Anne Carson’s Short Talks, several of which I had copied out onto a document on my computer desktop at home:
Franz Kafka was Jewish. He had a sister, Ottla, Jewish. Ottla married a jurist, Joseph David, not Jewish. When the Nuremberg Laws were introduced to Bohemia-Moravia in 1942, quiet Ottla suggested to Joseph David that they divorce. He at first refused. She spoke about sleep shapes and property and their two daughters and a rational approach. She did not mention, because she did not know yet the word, Auschwitz, where she would die in October 1943. After putting the apartment in order she packed a rucksack and was given a good shoe shine by Joseph David. He applied a coat of grease. Now they are waterproof, he said.
With so much of the history we heard while touring in Prague seeming more like creative non-fiction, I wrote 51 “Conversations” to be paired with the numbered plates. While I am not completely sure about the ultimate destiny of these missives (they may all get mailed back to Prague to the “ghosts,” like messages in bottles, just to see where they end up, if anywhere), for now they are a better representation of the intensity of our/my creative experience while traveling.
Plate 13 (excerpted “Conversation”):
In The Procedure by Harry Mulisch, which I just started rereading, Rabbi Löw, who conjures the Golem (but not yet in the story) passes the stairs of the synagogue where there is a fire: "In the mist, seven or eight little flames the size of a hand are leaping up and down the steps, tumbling over one another, turning pirouettes, merging then diverging again." He tells a woman who asks if they should put out the flames that they are an angel's dance and everyone breaks out into a crazy revelry that lasts as long as the fire does. Once the flames spontaneously go out, the rabbi asks the woman how she is. "A few months ago she gave birth to an animal, a dog, which ran three times through the room, scratched behind its ear and died." She kisses the rabbi's hand and says simply "Time heals all wounds."
When we were in what used to be the ghetto, our guide, Jitka, told us that there was a dog buried in the Jewish cemetery. She explained how this came about by saying that it was thrown over one of the tall stone walls and because it had landed on sacred ground, it was given a proper burial.
None of my pinhole tintypes in this area, which I had been in earlier that same day that we visited, came out well. But I wrote about one of the images this morning after seeing my daughter Rosalee's black sleeping bag hanging lopsided and forlorn over our laundry line. I took this pinhole plate outside this synagogue (where the fire was on the steps in the story). I wanted to get that ladder that leads to the attic where the Golem supposedly rests. I don't think I set the camera up to get this, but I don't remember. It appears to be on this plate to the far right. Along with a black sleeping bag, or amorphic shadow or Golem (or technical error)...