Teresa Distelberger: dirndl dialogues

20 minute presentation for AEROPONIC ACTS  - growing roots in air, DAI's 3 day marathon of lecture-perfomance acts, May 2019.

A lecture performance about the history of the dirndl dress. From rural working dress to cultural phenomenon, made fashionable by a jewish family and (mis)used by the Nazis. Transgenerational voices bear witness to threads of history.

Rachel O’Reilly, Antonia Majaca, Laura Harris and Ana Texeira Pinto responded to the question:

How is the past echoed in the present?

Report by Ayesha Hameed:

This lecture-style presentation on the history of the dirndl weaves together history, personal narrative, storytelling and listening. The artist’s residency in Austria, despite the growing power of the far right, has led to this reclaiming of the dirndl in the face of its co-optation. She explores clothes as a form of protest, such as the apron used to protest the 12-hour work day. There are multiple uses of the garment as a marker of tradition, she argues. The dress’ history is conveyed, from its appropriation by city dwellers during holidays and stories about the clothing item. The development and decline of the craft, and the rise of the right, is traced through the story of two Jewish brothers who owned a dirndl-making business catering to people in cities and the opera stage. With the rise of fascism, Jews were banned from wearing traditional clothing, and the brothers’ business was forced to close, with one brother and his family arrested and murdered. She then presents her own experience making of dirndls, exploring transgenerational trauma, belonging and encounter.

Rachel O’Reilly thought there was a need to think about what is not local about the project as its tracing of the rise of the right and fascism necessitates its contextualization as more systemic. ‘In other words this small business history needs to be connected to larger trends,’ she said. ‘There are funding structures and other support that still exist for supporting traditional practices, which feeds into an incipient right wing agenda. The project could focus on its untimeliness, and find ways to be critical of holocaust memory studies.’ She added that the artist could use the dress as a point of entry into media theory, which could lead into theoretical literature.

Laura Harris thought Distelberger was a very good storyteller, weaving the story together at times slyly or performatively. She suggested thinking further about breathing as a measure to question disassociation.

Ana Texeira Pinto was ambivalent about the ability to re-appropriate the dirndl, and its capacity to examine the question of identity. ‘There is no purity here to be recovered,’ she said. ‘Because of the nature of how power has operated historically, can there be a restitution of the dirndl?’

Antonia Majaca recognized the content was a slippery slope, but that something could be done with the object of the dirndl. ‘It cannot be the object of reconciliation or redemption, nor of micro redemption or closure,’ she said. ‘It has to be an open and contested object. It has to be a dialogue.’