Elena Helfrecht, 2020 Finalist

“Plexus” is a conceptual long-term project exploring inherited trauma and war.

A page of a magazine found in the attic, called “Fuer alle Welt” (translated: “For the whole World”), ca. 1911. The scene shows soldiers presenting their polished boots to their officer in front of a house.

The ceiling in the old stables of my grandparents’ house, which my grandfather casted as a young man, using old doors for the mold.

Dead bird, found in summer last year in the attic.

The last picture of my grandmother’s father alive.

Pole behind a war memorial, at the border of the forest close to my grandparents’ house.

Mirror from the corridor, which I was scared of as a child, fearing an ‘evil version’ of myself would pull me in and take my place in the real world.

When my grandmother died some years ago, I became aware of the many things I forgot to ask her when she was still alive.

Backside of a found portrait from the family archive.

Mice from an infestation in my grandparents’ house, killed by my mother.

Core of a mycelium encompassing the whole cellar of the house.

Disfigured feather duster used by my grandmother to clean the house back then, probably also used by my grandfather's mother.

Instruction from an architectural kit found in a storage room in my grandparents’ house.

Reconstructed building from the found architectural kit and instruction, improvised due to many parts being broken or missing. During the attempt to reconstruct it, the building was destroyed twice.

Page from a found book with a bookmark, “The Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke” by Rainer Maria Rilke, published 1912. Translation: “They are riding a cross a slain peasant. He has his eyes wide open, and something is reflecting in them, no sky. Later, dogs are howling.”
Bookmark: Advertising leaflet for the German Winter Relief, asking people to donate clothes for the battle front in Russia. Translation: “Your sacrifice brings joy.”

Sculpture from own and friends’ hair, collected over the course a year and a half, photographed in my grandmother’s blackberry bushes, which took over the garden, her treasure, after her death.

Photographer's Statement: 

“Plexus” is a photographic case study based on still lifes that emerge from inherited trauma and postmemory, exploring the family as an essential contributor to psychological and cultural processes across history. Following my grandmother’s death, I returned to my family estate in Bavaria and used the house and its archive as stage and protagonists for an allegoric play. 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. Permeating the imagery is a figurative search for apparent reoccurrences in history, echoing my own repetition of my mother’s and grandmother’s behaviors. By confronting a past spanning across four generations, a renewed sense of identity provides ground for a detailed investigation of postmemory, mental health, war, and history.

elena.helfrecht's picture

Elena Helfrecht (b. 1992 in Bavaria; based in London and Bavaria) is a visual artist working with photography. In 2019 she completed her MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art in London, after receiving her BA in Art History and Book Science from Friedrich-Alexander-University in 2015 and studying Art and Image History at Humboldt University from 2016 to 2017. Elena’s work revolves around the inner space and the phenomena of consciousness, emerging from an autobiographical context and opening up to the surreal and fantastic, at times grotesque. Interweaving memories, experiences, and imagination, she creates inextricable narratives with multiple layers of meaning characterized by a visceral iconography. In 2020, her work was nominated for the Foam Paul Huf Award and selected as a finalist for the Sony World Photography Awards, the HSBC Prix pour la Photographie, the PHMuseum Photography Grant, and as a winner of Camera Work. She was one of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2019, a Jury Favourite for the Le Bal Award for Young Creation, winner of the AOP Student Awards, Magenta Flash Forward, and the Ginnel Foto Award in the same year.