Petra Bauer

Petra Bauer (*1970) lives and works in Malmö, Sweden. Her works often consist of a filmic reworking and investigation of other people’s stories, and they often dig deeply. In Bauer’s work other people’s fates invariably become entwined with our own. Therefore the ethical problems that arise in relation to the statements of witnesses and the documentary are always present. The question about how we, and especially the mass media, represent events, and at whose cost, interests Bauer deeply. She investigates this in her works, which are often video installations.

The video installation shown in Populism, Der Fall Joseph, starts out from the death of Joseph, a six-year-old boy. On 13 June 1997, the boy was found at the bottom of a public swimming pool in a small east German town. Neo-nazis were at once suspected of the crime and the event garnered a lot of media attention. But after four years and three autopsies, the case was closed. The prosecutor stated that heart failure was the cause of death, meaning that the boy had died of natural causes. By weaving together ten different perspectives, Bauer creates a narrative which is embellished with personal destinies and motives. The questioning of the witnesses results in the case is not being tried in court; instead Joseph’s parents are sued for fabrication of evidence. Then the town gets public funding to deal with the bad publicity. Representatives from the city council have now publicly announced that there are no neo-nazis in their town. The public compensation money was used for the production of a film that advertises the town. In the film, which is also presented in Bauer’s work, a film from 1942 advertising the town has been edited together with contemporary footage of the beautiful natural setting of the town and the story of its artificial flower industry.

Here Bauer has made use of an investigative journalistic form, but she is not pushing forward a certain thesis. In a way her method functions as a critique of journalistic populism, without claiming to be any more objective. Instead, the film points to how a person’s death can be exploited by different forces in a society. This becomes an uneven fight where some lose more than others. The film is also about the will to find evidence, to discover a true and acceptable explanation of a tragic event, both for those close to it and for outsiders. This is just as true for the art viewer as for the person watching mass media. And by the way, Bauer first noticed the event through an article in a Swedish morning paper.

By Fredrik Svensk, translated by Eva May



”Der Fall Joseph”
Producer: Petra Bauer
Co-producer: Film i Skåne
Journalist/Research: Martin Schäuble
Director, scriptwriter, photography and editing: Petra Bauer
Swedish voice over: Petra Bauer
Newspaper excerpts: Onnen Böldicke
Prosecutor: Axel Lieber
Witness: Jonas Müller