Text by Boaz Levin
Throughout Europe one encounters concrete ever so often: defunct bunkers – massive concrete constructions which proliferated during the first half of the 20th century – prove difficult to destroy. Not only were these monoliths built to withstand aerial attacks and heavy artillery, their material, concrete, becomes harder over time, continuously contracting for decades. During the aftermath of the Second World War these bunkers were deprived of their original function – only to become, somewhat inadvertently, vehicles of memory.
For her show at Fundación Botín Ella Litwitz presents a series works which explore both the complex material nature of bunker architecture, and the different cultural and historical approaches employed towards these relics. The abstract nature of these structures is here resonated by a spare modernist sculptural grammar.
Ein Mann Bunker (one man bunker) is a life size recreation of the smallest form of concrete or steel shelter built during World war two in Europe. It was designed to protect an individual, fit to house a standing man. It’s austere, almost monastic, design evokes both Paul Virilio’s comment that ““the relationship between clothing and dwelling is extremely tight during wartime(...)” as well as the notion of a
Lebensraum (German for habitat). First developed by Karl Haushofer, a german general and geopolitician, the concept of a national dwelling space was used to justify the German military expansion policy.
Untitled (structure T), is a 1:100 model of the Schwerbelastungskörper (Heavy Load-Bearing Body), a monolithic concrete structure located in Berlin. The original structure was erected in 1941 to test the area’s load bearing capabilities. Planned by Albert Speer and initiated by Hitler, it was to be the first stage of a megalomaniac attempt at completely redesigning Berlin. The schwerbelastungskörper should have been buried under the new road, yet the plan was never completed. All that remains – a memorial against it’s own will – is the surface of this concrete monolith, which too is gradually sinking. At twelve
thousand tonnes it seems laden with the weight of it’s own history.
Two concrete cylinders emerged by drilling the wall of a second world war bunker as it was being converted into a residential building in Bielefeld, Germany. These found objects can be understood as an eccentric and “uncanny” archeological gesture. The primary geometrical form of the cylinder is reminiscent of classical column, conjuring it’s own architectonic genesis. The height of each cylinder is equal to the depth of the bunker’s wall.
In untitled (conversion), a single channel video depicts the gradual demolition of a bunker in northern Germany, converted into a residential building. The arduous labor of erasure and forgetting is here embodied by the effort of crude tools and heavy machinery.
Ella Litwitz’s work addresses the hidden memories stored within inanimate objects, poetically uncovering concealed layers of meaning and revising existing narratives.