I Love Germany, Video, 2013
The screen is occupied by an image of an ID card. Its standard photograph is replaced with a video portrait of the artist. Against a white backdrop, Shasha Dothan is looking directly at the viewer. Her shoulders are exposed, her brown hair let down. She is silent, her eyes are fixed at the viewer. Yet we hear her words as she sings in the background with a harmonica, gesturing towards a vocal tradition of prisoners seeking an escape route. Embedded in an official document, singing about a different life, Dothan positions herself as an imagined detainee: trapped by the desire to bid farewell to what she could never break away from.
This generic version of a German identity card is marked by the generic name Erika Mustermann. A quite literal model citizen—in correspondence, Dothan forwards the original version of the card, captured from a governmental German website. Erika Mustermann is blond. She has blue eyes. She’s smiling. She’s a German. Dothan is not a German. At least, not a native German citizen. In that sense, she is as fabricated as Mustermann. Her familial heritage, like those of many other Israelis, encompasses feats of flights to freedom and turned backs to the land that enabled horrors. Envisioning herself as held captive by communal and private past and future, Dothan discloses another set of desires: to break away from the emotional repositories that deny her the promise of Germany; to be captured by bureaucratic mechanisms as a common German citizen; to be recognized as a model citizen, as an Erika Mustermann.
In recent years, Berlin has become a new motherland for the Israeli creative community. In an ironic twist of historical fate, it is Berlin that provides young artists a space for experimentation, for release and relief from the daily anxieties that characterize living in Israel. They apply for citizenship from the country that eradicated their histories, seeking comfort in its monuments, rituals and cultures.
I Love Germany then unravels a utopian impossibility: to be embraced by a country you are required to feel perpetually betrayed by; to be embraced by an image of a country that remains unattainable. In this Germany there are “no bombs,” Dothan sings, all one does is eat “cakes and currywurst.” It is a “faraway place,” in which the language and wars are not hers. Germany is positioned as a paradoxical absolute other; it both bears the memory of a catastrophic destruction that is always already present, and simultaneously offers the promise of a peaceful and quiet life.
As she discloses the reasons for her complicated relationships with Israel, Dothan switches from English to Hebrew, as though her feelings could only be fully comprehended in the language that shapes the space of their existence: a territory defined by the nuances of Hebraization, and, to follow the artist, by an occupation that inevitably also marks her as an occupier. “I love Israel,” Dothan switches back to English, “but not the way it is.”
The questions that haunt Dothan characterize the complicated relations of third-generation Israelis with Germany, and also, more broadly, with life outside of their land of origin. As they seek to detach from the roles imposed on them by Israeli society, the promise of an ID card—made possible by their erased origins in Europe—is suddenly feasible. The ID cards thus become coveted objects by their mere existence in governmental files. Beyond that, the ID card, with its generic requirement for social order and structure, also becomes emblematic of reciprocal relations between lost motherlands and civic lives, fractured identities, unresolved questions, and desires to belong.