Elizabeth Hoak-Doering

November begins with leaves still in the trees, and many on the sidewalks skidding and making sound. By the end of November, the trees are skeletons, the leaves have become a heavy scent of wet earth, aiming already toward spring. This is the month I spent at Lichtenberg Studios in 2022, and a metaphor for how I spent the time. I’m a visual artist writing about graffiti I found in 2017, inside prison cells at Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, which is an hour from the studios by foot, in Lichtenberg.

This November I was walking along tree-shaded paths, ones possibly frequented by Stasi officials on their way to work, and riding the tram that might’ve been the daily commute of an interrogator. I was shadowing shadows, perhaps. On a Sunday walk by the river I came across memorials of citizens, political prisoners, from another prison: a site now surrounded by a nature preserve. The nearby zoo also has a lightly camouflaged past. Everywhere in plain sight in Lichtenberg, I found history complicated by memorials and by revision.

I’ve been thinking about what pasts are standing in front of us, and who sees them. What skeleton of history lasts; what has decayed, is transformed? What parts of experience harden into structures, embed themselves in architecture, and what details drop away? The little markings I work with in the prison graffiti seem like details — I’m not sure what they really signify — is it time? What about the graffiti that look the same, inside the prison and out in the fresh air: what kind of time is this?

December, 2022