Eva Meyer-Keller

Building after Catastrophes/Handmade

Videostill Handmade © Anja BeutlerFirst of all, hurricanes or snow storms are natural events, so-called “natural disasters”; however, the actual disaster does not hit nature but the people affected. The effects of the increasing number of droughts, floods and storms are similar to natural events but are consequences of anthropogenic climate change.

In 1972, the Club of Rome already warned the world about the consequences of economic and social decisions. On the one hand, the frequency and exchangeability of present-day disasters is alarming; on the other hand, the media coverage dulls the addressees’ sensitivity. These reports are heated up by the media to a certain extent and thus do not do justice to the creeping processes that actually represent the ecological disaster.

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Video Building after Catastrophes by Eva Meyer-Keller and Sybille Müller, Stamsund Internasjonale teaterfestival in Lofoten, June 2009 © Eva Meyer-Keller

The Lisbon earthquake in 1755, which hit Europe in the Age of Enlightenment, was a historically significant disaster that remained in people’s minds for a long time. It was one of the biggest news events at the time, inspiring an enormous amount of pictures and triggering discussions about the significance of society's relationship to nature.

Building after Catastrophes © Anja BeutlerIn a joint project with Sybille Müller and together with children, Eva Meyer-Keller reconstructed disasters in the performance Building after catastrophes and recorded them on video. Only by transferring the disaster did the event actually become visible as a catastrophe – a media-critical allusion that the artist uses to refer to the influence of the media. Nature itself does not know disasters. It is the media that makes them. With her hands-on method, Eva Meyer-Keller uses a nearly therapeutic approach: the children involved in the performance already start working actively against the post-disaster awareness that develops after being exposed to an overflow of disaster warnings in the media, the phlegm of a society weary of disasters.

In her video Handmade, the performance artist Eva Meyer-Keller reconstructs different scenarios of natural disasters in an exemplary way – she calls it “choreographed crafting”. In 24-hour units compressed to three minutes, daytime and nighttime are imitated by means of lighting. Hurricanes, blizzards and melting glaciers first seen harmless and cute in their exemplary placelessness – but only until the viewer realises that it is exactly these events that are already affecting the present: a hurricane swept over New Orleans, central China suffered a snow disaster in the winter of 2008, and the Arctic is melting continuously.

Materials for Building after Catastrophes © Eva Meyer-KellerIn order to make the emergency situations understandable and to turn them into a compact event, Eva Meyer-Keller uses simple materials such as Styrofoam, salt, cling film and other household material. The stage for this play is an empty aquarium – the disaster in vitro – that turns on a rotating disc. The tripod and camera as well as Eva Meyer-Keller’s hands are reflected in the glass of the aquarium – so the making-of can be seen at the same time. The making-of becomes part of the image construction and the “natural spectacle”. The humans do not appear as victims but as the originators – distanced originators who do not believe they are a part of nature and think they steer it from outside.

Vera Tollmann
works as a freelance author and curator in Berlin

Translation: Nicola Mahoney
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V. 2009


    © Rhonda Repotente
    Eva Meyer-Keller (*1972) is a performance artist who works at art galleries and theatres the world over. She studied photography and visual arts at the Hochschule der Künste Berlin and at Kings College at London, and then dance and choreography at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. Meyer-Keller‘s activities as a performance artist are multi-faceted. She cooperates with other artists, dances for choreographers, is the singer of the band Ochosa and also produces an ever-increasing number of video works. Among other things, her oeuvre includes De-placed (2009), a cooperation with Kate McIntosh, Handmade (2007) as well as Building after Catastrophes (2007), a joint project with Sybille Müller. Eva Meyer-Keller lives in Berlin.