For 34 years, the Archaeological Museum Frankfurt has stored 513 grey archive boxes in its depot. 105 of them bear the inscription “Börneplatzsynagoge”, the others are labelled “Judengasse”.
In 1987 and 1990, construction work in Frankfurt’s city centre uncovered the foundations of the synagogue destroyed during the November pogroms of 1938, as well as buildings dating from the Baroque period in the former Judengasse, the first ghetto in Germany. All of the artefacts found there were excavated, placed in boxes and archived, but then not examined any further. In mid-2020, archaeologist Thorsten Sonnemann began opening the boxes and systematically examining the contents. He has since been measuring, numbering, photographing, inspecting, analysing and taking inventory of these stones, tiles, shards, utensils and everyday objects as well as parts of the brutally destroyed Torah shrine.
“Unboxing Past” is an artistic project that, for the first time in the history of a significant archaeological process, meticulously accompanies the opening of archive boxes and the associated work by the archaeologist using three cameras and an audio recording device. “Unboxing Past” is also a digital meeting place and archive room created in cooperation with the Motion Bank project at the Mainz University of Applied Sciences. It brings a wide variety of people together in small groups to engage with the recorded materials.
Unlike the archaeologist Sonnemann, the members of this group approach and work in their own distinct ways on a conceivable future for the stones. Instead of a yardstick and scales, they have fundamental questions guiding them: How do we remember? What do we need to remember? How can the history of these fragments and the human crimes associated with them be communicated to others? And above all: How can stones be made to speak?