Shoah Film Collection -  Interview Project

Thyes, Myriam

Myriam Thyes
Swiss video creator living in Duesseldorf

Her video Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s Vanishing Lines, 2015, 10:10
can be reviewed on


1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background

I grew up in Zurich in an intellectual, art loving and politically aware background. My parents knew much about art, music of all kinds, literature and theatre, and many of their friends were working in those fields. Me and my sister were involved in artistic practices at an early age.

My studies included visual arts and theatre design; my last two years at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf with Prof. Nan Hoover were mostly dedicated to video art (on U-matic lowband tapes …). As a student I also did voluntary work for asylum seekers and for the presence of women artists in the art world.

2. When, how and why started you filming?

In 1990, I had a AIR in Paris for 6 months. At that time I was a drawer and painter. The light and constant movement in the city of Paris inspired me to start working with video. So after the grant, I took filming (video camera) and editing courses at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf, also a sound recording course. Everything was on magnetic tapes then, not yet digital.

3. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?

Due to my strong interest in cultural history and the relations between images, symbols, social psychology and authority, I work a lot with (art) historic material and images from cinema, mass media, monuments. I often combine live video recording with animation (in After Effects). In other cases, I draw vector drawings after historical sources and animate them (in Flash).

4.a) What was the reason to start your film included in Shoah Film Collection? Tell me the story behind your film.

I love the non-objective artworks by Sophie Taeuber-Arp and for years thought of creating an animation with her images. In 2014, I discovered that in her drawings from 1940-42, she used symbols related to war and persecution: overlays of triangles which almost form david stars, Haken, Peitschen. This gave me a reason to work with her images, beyond their beauty and interesing compositions.

4.b) Why did you choose the given form of representation?

I wanted to confront the fragile drawings with images of WW2, flight of civil population and persecution of jews. I animated Taeuber-Arp’s compositions, as she developed a large number of variations out of the same basic elements for her “Lignes” series in 1940-42, and because dance and movement play an important role throughout her œuvre. The photos of the brutal reality symbolize the background of her artistic practice which she was very much conscious of: In 1940, she and her husband Hans Arp had to flee from Paris to Southern France where they lived in poverty and were disconnected from the world of contemporary art (which was affected and partly destroyed by Nazi occupation and the war anyway). Several of their jewish artist friends had already fled from Europe, or at least they weren’t allowed to exhibit anymore, like Sophie and Hans (who were not jews).

4.c) Is your film included in Shoah Film Collection the first one dealing with the Holocaust?

In a direct way, yes.

5. What kind of meaning has the Holocaust to you personally? Are your family or friends affected, or did the topic come by chance?
One of my grandmothers was jewish. My great-grandmother and other relatives were killed in concentration camps. My grandmother survived in Luxembourg because she was married to a catholic man (my grandfather was a medical doctor and had to work for the Wehrmacht in Bitburg during the war). My great-grandmother was a direct cousin of Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank. As a child and young girl, I met Otto Frank in Basel. Once, he took me and my sister to his studio and told us things which are not written in Anne’s famous diary, and he answered our questions.

6. Besides the historical relevance related to the persecuted Jews and other people, the Holocaust has a universal relevance. Why is the Holocaust affecting all humans anywhere?

The extinction of so many people to the point of almost deleting jewish culture and tradition in several countries, as well as stopping modern social achievements like women rights and acceptance of gay people, and forbidding contemporary art and music developments, started with eviction and robbery and ended with systematic mass killings, including the exploitation of the dead bodies: I think all these extreme forms of violence and dictatorship have made the world more aware of similar injustice which has happened and continues to happen (in perhaps less systematic and condensed ways) in many parts of the world. Racism, sexism, discriminations of all kinds, exploitation and extinction of people for profit – all this has never stopped. The Holocaust reminds us that we always have to fight against such horror.

7. Now, nearly 70 years after World War II, unfortunately the last Holocaust survivors will be dying soon, and no authentic witness is left to transfer the memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is about to be marginalized and dehumanized to any other historical incident, whereby it is measured by its final result and less as an escalating process, countless human individuals were undergoing. What do you think might be ways to re-humanize, touch people again emotionally and keep vivid the memory this way?

On one hand, the remains of the concentration camps, historic museums, school lessons, books, films and so on have to keep the memory alive. On the other hand, all the Nazi crimes (committed by Germans and their helpers in other countries, like France or Poland) have to be compared to TODAYS injustice and violence, as a warning, and as a call to action today.

8. As a phenomenon, the Holocaust is blasting human imagination, which makes it nearly impossible for people to identify themselves with. What needs to be done, that people may find ways for self-identifying? What can do art for it?

The whole process of creating a Nazi mentality should be explained: Maybe already starting with slavery in Europe, then the conquer and exploitation of colonies since the 16th century, the racist and misogyne theories evolving in the 18th century, the political minority complex of the “elite” in Germany, authoritarian monarchy and hierarchy in Germany, the first world war, poverty in Europe, and the forming of the Nazi movement which was hardly hindered by the Weimarer Republic. After all this, the Nazi state propaganda with the then new mass media (radio, film) played an important role in manipulating the German people – this can perhaps be compared to recent technical developments and their dangers.

Another way is practical theatre work as socio-psychological experiments with young people: create situations in which they take on different roles, like finding themselves in the position of the majority, of the discriminated, of the accused, of the persecuted, of the ruling authority.

9. After the Holocaust and World War II, the traditional (static) visual art media were failing in transferring the memory of the Holocaust, while literature, theatre, music and film were much more successful. On the other hand, due to the new technologies, the boundaries between the “arts” dissolve nowadays and the doors are open to a new interdisciplinary approach. What are the chances for this new (interdisciplinary) perception based on socializing concepts for keeping vivid the memory of the Holocaust? In which way have they to influence the manifestations of Shoah Film Collection via the interventions like a symposium, artists meetings, workshops, exhibitions, performances, screenings, artists talks, discussions etc.

(What is a “socializing concept”? Please shorten this paragraph to a more concrete question – or make 2 questions out of it.)

10. What are your future artistic plans? Do you plan to work on new projects dealing with the Holocaust or related topics like “collective trauma caused by totalitarianism”?

Not at the moment. I find it difficult to work about totalitarianism if one has never lived in it. But I’m always interested in working about collective psychic conditions caused by social, religious and political systems, beliefs and superstitions. Because much of it is visible in cultures, arts, movies, monuments, architecture.

11. Can works of yours be viewed online besides on the Shoah Film Collection?

Please find my videos in:
My participatory project FLAG METAMORPHOSES: