Joachim Seinfeld Explores Identity and Historical Reality

Self identity is a concept that is flawed, like many others in modern psychology. Identity as a singular concept cannot support itself unless a group of identities that exist within a person are recognized. A singular identity is neither practical nor is it helpful, for that would only make a person rigid and less conforming to the environment around them. The issue of identity is of special importance in a country like Poland which has witnessed history unlike most other countries have.

Poland lies caught between the identity of being a member of the European Union, that of being invaded by the Germans, the identity of being a spectator of millions of Jews killed in the death camps, the identity of cold and long winters of death and destruction which are beyond human comprehension. Poland and other Eastern European nations have gone through changes that most countries have not seen in decades.

Since the 90s, Eastern European nations have struggled to come to terms with a globalized environment while trying to leave behind a past that was riddled with war crimes, communism and secret police. In fact, people in these areas are confronted with so many socio-political and cultural influences, each contradicting the other, that people would not realize the many identities within them.

Joachim Seinfeld‘s Beisl-Bałagan was an exhibition that featured a journey through the Polish experience of life, from within and from outside. Joachim tried to explore the differences and similarities between being a traveler, a tourist, a spectator, a participant and an artist while he moved from towns and cities across Poland. Joachim used the photographs of Poland in the nineties and combined them with photographs of his own in the studio.

Using black and white photography in order to avoid color emulsion, he juxtaposed the idea of a tourist caught in a country and that of a native stuck and frozen in time, without realizing it. The photographs appear old, though they are from the nineties. This suggests the historical identitycreated by and for Poles, especially that of the World war. While doing so, the photographs explore and question the idea of identity formation and identity creation.

If one were to view these photographs as a tourist brochure, one could see Joachim in various cities of Poland trying to fit in the local landscape. If one were to watch it from the eyes of a German, the perception would again be different, with thoughts harking back to the fences and gas chambers. It is indeed significant for a person with Jewish identity to explore Poland, or even some other nation that is closely linked to his ancestors’ plight.

Identity could be a monstrous tool for the annihilation of peoples. Those who do not fit in to the image of the ideal identity can be exterminated on the basis of their identity being unacceptable. Homosexuals, Jews, Gypsies, Handicapped people and others were exterminated by the Nazis for they did not fit into the concept of an ideal identity. Ironically, it is almost impossible for a person to have a single identity. If the Nazi officer who ordered for the transporting of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz found the idea of German national identity suffocating, he perhaps would have chosen to flee the situation and avoided committing the crime.

Joachim’s Beisl-Bałagan does not provide answers but poses questions to these assumptions on self identity. If one were to acknowledge and accept the sub identities and alters each person has within them, one would see a more accepting and liberal attitude. The traveler finds a new meaning and identity in each o the photographs. It is up to the viewer to decide if the traveler or character embedded in the landscape or natural surface is a reflection of his own identity or the identity he creates for others.

The surface or landscape explores the identity that is set within an individual or a person. The character or the traveler explores these surfaces, and each time finds a new identity within him. In fact, each viewer could find a different person in the photographers. With such multitude of identities and sub identities, the question of a national identity remains negated. Joachim Seinfeld held the exhibition titled “Beisl-Bałagan” to explore these notions and ideas about identity and historical identity which are not limited to Poland, but across cultures.

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