Pera Museum, in collaboration with Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), is one of the main venues for this year’s 15th Istanbul Biennial from 16 September to 12 November 2017.
Through the biennial, we will be sharing detailed information about the artists and the artworks. Lee Miller takes us to some uncanny houses: Hitler’s and Eva Braun’s!
The German word Unheimlich, or ‘uncanny’, refers to the effect we feel when something familiar or everyday is made to seem eerie, horrific or strange. As famously analysed by Sigmund Freud, Unheimlich literally translates as ‘unhomely’. This reveals how our most familiar and cherished sites, such as our domestic spaces, are particularly liable to become bizarre or frightening under certain conditions. Another German word that contains ‘home’, Heimat (‘homeland’), was corrupted by the Nazis as a racist, nationalist ideal for the traditional realm of a single people. Such themes are among those provoked by a remarkable series of historical photographs taken by US journalists Lee Miller and David E. Scherman.
In 1945, Miller and Scherman took a tour of Germany. After a trip to the Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany, they went on to Munich, where they managed to arrange to stay at Adolf Hitler’s apartment, as well as the nearby residence of Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress. The date was 30 April 1945. Nazi defeat was approaching, and the apartments were occupied by American soldiers. Scherman helped Miller – once a successful fashion model – take photographs of herself posing in Hitler’s private bathroom, apparently having a bath. Miller also captured an American GI shaving there, in a candid, vulnerable moment. Certain details are conspicuous in these photographs: a portrait of Hitler, a figurine of a naked woman on a bathroom sideboard, and Miller’s soiled boots, which stain the mat on the bathroom floor. Nearby was the house of Eva Braun. While there, Miller slept in Braun’s bed; in a photograph documenting this uncanny event, we see a black phone hanging menacingly above her head. A separate photograph taken by Miller in the bedroom of Gretl Braun, Eva’s sister, features a watchful portrait of Eva on the wall, looking down upon dishevelled bedding, as if she were aware of the intruders. Spontaneously taken, the photographs show the human side of wartime occupation, while revealing, not without shock, the messy apartments, which jar with the detached outward presentation of these figures. The images bring to mind the phrase ‘banality of evil’ coined by Hannah Arendt.
In an ironic twist to the story, on 30 April 1945, the same day Miller was mocking Hitler by being photographed in his bathtub, staining his mat with her boots, Hitler and Braun were in the Führerbunker in Berlin, taking their own lives.
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