Karlas Lied

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© Courtesy of the artist & RECEPTION
Karlas Lied

Kurfürstenstraße 5/5a
June 30th, 2012 - August 4th, 2012
Opening: June 29th, 2012 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM

+49. (0)30. 26 93 14 55
Wed–Sat 11-18 and by appointment


A picture in the Los Angeles Times from October 10,
2010 catches my eye. The caption reads “Police Commission
Listens to Fifth-Grader”. The listeners are, from left to right,
Police Commission Executive Director Richard M. Tefank,
Police Chief William J. Bratton, commission Inspector
General Andre Birotte Jr. and commission member Shelley
Freeman. The girl whose blurred figure is visible in the
foreground, is Karla Vargas, then ten years old, describing
the events at MacArthur Park during a May Day immigration
protest. She is reading from a sheet of paper, its edges
merging into the white of her T-shirt. Together with her
mother, Karla happened to be present when a demonstration
in favour of U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants ended in
a violent confrontation with Los Angeles Police Department.
The commission hears her as a plaintiff in the case against
the LAPD.
On May 1st, 2007 some 10.000 protesters had marched towards
McArthur Park, one of many rallies that took place all
across the USA on International Labour Day. After some
quarrel between protesters and police - among other objects,
oranges were thrown - the police commanders declared the
demonstration an unlawful assembly, and officers began to
clear the park. From helicopters hovering over the park
orders were given in English to a mostly Spanish-speaking
crowd. Those who were slow to move found themselves
being struck by batons; rubber bullets and tear gas were also
deployed. The police did not distinguish between violent
protesters, by-standers or media representatives, and the
fact that a number of journalists had been shot and injured
triggered certainly more media attention than the event
would have raised otherwise. A series of investigations
questioning the LAPD’s strategy followed, forcing some
high ranking officers to resign.
I get interested in Karla’s account and find excerpts on the
internet: “I have nightmares about May 1st, almost every
night. I dream I am in a march and the police kill everyone.
I start running and then the police shoot me.” Although
the events must have been traumatizing for the child, her
statement feels oddly scripted. After speaking to her lawyer,
a committed Latina who does pro bono work for illegal
immigrants and whom I‘ve met through my effort to get
in touch with Karla Vargas, I think even more so. She tells
me that in the meantime Karla and her mother have moved
away from Los Angeles and wish not to be bothered with
the events any longer. I am interested in how gradually her
account becomes detached from her actual experience and
part of a collective narrative. The witness becomes alienated
from the testimony, a report, written in a language which
isn‘t her mother tongue, to “speak truth to power”.
Paradoxically, it is exactly in this process of alienation that
a more universal truth becomes palpable. Based on the few
quotes and my own imagination, I fictionalised her account.
Goethe‘s poem “Der Erlkönig” serves as blueprint to tell the
tale of a mother and her daughter, threatened by evil forces,
trying to make their way home. Composer and pianist
Christoph Grund wrote the score, loosely based on musical
motifs from Schubert‘s famous interpretation. Luckily, Karla
Vargas did not die in the events of May 1st 2007, but was
able to recount her experiences in front of the Los Angeles
police commission. Death is confined to the realm of her
Annette Weisser, 2012