Following the death of her grandmother, artist Elena Helfrecht embarked on a photographic journey through her family’s estate in Bavaria. Employing the interiors, objects and archives, she began to explore the ideas of inherited trauma and postmemory—the relationship following generations have to the traumas of those who came before.
In her black and white photographs, Helfrecht uses the house and its contents to stage an allegorical play. The interiors and still lifes, which at first glance appear to show mundane objects and scenes, become increasingly unsettling: stalactite-like deposits drip sideways from walls, dark chasms open up beneath the floor boards, a snake coils around a dolls’ house and chairs hang from the beams. As the narrative progresses, motifs of eggs, birds and fleshy growths (a nod to the title, Plexus—a network of nerves or vessels) are interwoven with archival family photographs, hinting at links and connections between inscrutable symbols, people and places.
‘In the process of reconnecting the fragmentary history of my female lineage, the term ‘re-membering’ becomes literal. Immersing myself into this story, I fill the gaps with dreams, associations and imagined scenes to create a narrative transgressing personal and national boundaries. The objects and architecture of the house become parabolic proxies and open a gate between the past and the present.’
Helfrecht’s images symbolically allude to the unreal and imaginary creeping into recollections of personal and cultural histories. Confronting a past spanning four generations, Plexus represents through photographs the intersecting and reverberating echoes of mental health, war and history. The book features a short story by Camilla Grudova, who was named on the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list 2023. Grudova’s piece The House Surgeon revolves around a disturbing growth that silently develops under the floorboards of a family home, drawing further upon the themes of inherited trauma presented through Helfrecht’s photographs.