A Shelter for Grief

Arche Mama


Dealing with the subject of death is considered one of the last social taboos. Yet mourning is "an incredibly powerful emotion that is just as intense as love," says Ella Estrella Tischa Raetzer. In her diploma project in the field of interactive media, she processed the death of her mother in an extremely impressive way.


While Ella was studying at Filmakademie, her mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 46. This stroke of fate threatened to pull the rug out from under her feet. She processed the personal loss in a walk-in, audiovisual room installation entitled Arche Mama (Mama’s Ark). With it, she created a place for her grief - a shelter, as she calls it. It also represents the struggle to reclaim life that many mourners face after a loss.

Arche Mama is a space reminiscent of a womb into which the audience crawls and experiences an emotional journey. In it, on tube televisions, old VHS recordings by her father tell of her mother's life during the first ten years of Ella's life. Ella accompanies them with self-composed music and her diary entries. Among other things, these document the time when her mother wrestled with death in the hospital, or Ella's shock after she died. An unsparing, courageous and therefore very powerful work.


Interview with Ella Estrella Tischa Raetzer


Dear Ella, in your installation you confront the audience with the death of your mother and your feelings related to it. What is your intention with the work?

I had experiences that are part of life, but are afflicted with a taboo. The people affected are often afraid to broach the subject outside of grief counseling and therapy. Yet they have to cope with it in everyday life. So I wanted to share my experience and show in my own way that it is possible to get out of it, as well as encourage people to accept loss as part of life.


Wasn't this intense confrontation incredibly exhausting?

Of course. It was only when I was viewing and digitizing the VHS tapes that I became aware of what the videos were triggering in me and that I was unconsciously approaching the grief that I had not really allowed until then. I could no longer avoid it. It took a lot of courage to deal with it. The realization was a work of mourning.


The installation tells a rather linear story, why did you decide against interactivity?

For a long time it wasn't clear to me what my thesis was going to be about. I only knew that I wanted to do an installation with analog technology, i.e. tube TVs and VHS tapes. Preferably interactive. Since my father filmed a lot back then, it was obvious for me to work with that. The decision that the installation would not be interactive came very late in the development process. It was important to me to create a medially spatial-immersive experience that appeals to many senses. The focus was on the space with its intimacy, which cannot be achieved in a movie theater, for example.


The Ark was located in the Getrag area, and for the construction you sometimes cooperated with students from other universities...

Yes, I had a great team. It was valuable and healing to work with them on Arche Mama. I have warm memories of that. Ludwig Rensch, for example, a graduate designer from Akademie der Bildenden Künste, helped me technically. The dramaturge Lena Meyerhoff from Akademie für Darstellende Kunst helped with the editing. We worked on the diary texts for quite a long time to create a dramaturgical arc, not rewriting them, but sorting and distilling them. It was very important to me to create the balancing act between my personal feelings and accessibility for the visitors.

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