Peter Gstettner - Giving memory a shape - The role of the arts

Every engagement with the past goes hand in hand with the conditions and possibilities of a rememberance effort that has a lasting influence on collective memory. In the run-up to our projects, we therefore question society regarding the conditions that are responsible for whether the "dark past" is illuminated and solved by rememberance, or whether it is covered up and buried by suppression and cover-up.

Thus, memory does not form by itself, but is a product of society; it is designed and politically positioned, because it must hold against the powers of repression and denial. It is a constant struggle for the meaning of the past and for adequate forms of the tradition of history through "public relations work" in the form of books, commemorative events, art installations, poems, songs, video films, etc. Reconstruction and re-enactment of events at the scenes of crimes play a prominent role, because it is these places that "affected" societies readily fill, build over and redesign to the point of being unrecognizable.

It is up to the arts to find their own paths to stimulate emotional memory once the documentary narratives of the eyewitnesses have faded. Have the eyewitnesses died without the revival and tradition of the emotional traces of the past, then nature will proceed unobstructed with its work of making them invisibile and deliver them to oblivion: first, it allows grass, then shrubs and trees to grow over the scenes of horror; the traces of the victims and the perpetrators­t become equally unrecognizable. History and places first become anonymous and then emptied of their historical meaning. And the rest is silence.


Peter Gstettner studied Educational Science and Psychology at the University of Innsbruck. Habilitation at the University of Marburg/Lahn; from 1981 to 2004 University Professor for Educational Sciences at the Alps-Adria-University Klagenfurt, Department for Intercultural Education; Founding meneber of the  Mauthausen Committee Kärnten/Koroška - Memorial Loibl KZ Nord; Research priorities: Intercultural education, Memorial education work, ethnic minorities; Author of many books, a.o. „Erinnern an das Vergessen“, Klagenfurt/Celovec, Autumn 2020