Artist to Weld Copy of Dachau Gate in Leeds Performance | performance art
A replica of the entrance gate to Nazi concentration camp Dachau is to be recreated over three days in Leeds for an art project asking questions about the purpose of memorials and who has the right to make them.
Dachau was built a few miles from Munich in 1933. During the war it became a death camp where over 41,000 people were murdered before American troops liberated it on April 29, 1945.
Its iron gate bearing the words “Arbeit macht frei” (work will set you free) was stolen in 2014, leading a local blacksmith to make an exact replica.
Artist Rachel Mars, who learned to weld, will make a replica of this replica when it arrives in Leeds in March.
Visitors to the project will enter a large empty warehouse and be given a welding helmet to watch Mars build the gate as precisely as possible.
Mars’ grandparents arrived in Britain in August 1939 on one of the last Kindertransport trains from Germany. She grew up listening to her grandmother’s stories.
“I’ve been thinking for a long time about sites where traumatic historical events are happening…maybe never,” she said.
As a Jew, she said, there was always the decision whether or not to visit historic Holocaust sites. “Are you going to tour Auschwitz? I decided against it because I feel like it’s at my dinner and breakfast table so I don’t need to go there but that’s a question permed.
A number of things sparked March over the Dachau Gate project, including David Cameron’s announcement of a UK Holocaust memorial in 2016, when his government was embroiled in a controversy over the authorization of refugee children in the country.
“I have questions about a nationally commissioned memorial,” Mars said. “What does it mean for a country to take charge of the narrative and shape it themselves?
“I think the UK is doing a pirouette on its Holocaust past, that it’s just the good guy. In some ways they’re the good guy – my grandparents ended up here. But the reason we have the Kindertransport is that they didn’t allow adults in.
“I have questions about the extent to which this memorial will take responsibility for the crap going on in the UK regarding the entry of immigrants.”
Mars said the gate theft, which happened in Bergen, Norway, two years later, raised questions about the existing market for Holocaust memorabilia. “How much memory is trapped in these kinds of objects?”
All of these questions will be addressed in Mars’ performance piece, titled Forge, which takes place in a new experimental space in Leeds called Testbed, described as 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) of “blank canvas” for artists.
Learning to weld was an enjoyable experience, she says. “Welding is quite meditative. It’s really peaceful. The thing that most resembles what I’ve done before is archery. It requires a lot of preparation for small moments of work. It’s incredibly concentrated, you can’t think of anything else.
Mars said it was easy to solder badly, which put more pressure on her. “I want to do it as best I can, but I’m not a professional so I expect it to be a bit wonky and that’s interesting for me. It can’t be as good as I can To do.
Forge was commissioned as part of Leeds’ international performance festival, Transform.
Once the gate is made, Mars plans to grind the solder and mold the components into a gate in future performances. “To me, that says a lot about the act of repeating memory.” Further down the line, she hopes to melt it down and turn the door into something useful. “It’s the horizon plane,” she said. “Potentially spoons.”