Otti, or: Mother of Sheep

“Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”

― Virginia Woolf

“Otti” takes the form of a non-fiction mini-novel. The novel narrates the life of Otti Berger, a weaver of the Bauhaus in Dessau, who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944.

The novel celebrates Berger’s artistic and innovation-based weaving practice, while also illuminating the sometimes conflicting position of women at Bauhaus, where an ideology of collectivity and anonymity in work, both defeminized women’s labor, but also engendered another level of feminization in its association with anonymous textile production.
While drawing from archival material and both employing and destabilizing the methods and language that characterize non-fiction work, the novel fills gaps in the knowledge about Berger’s life, including other material and fictional parts in relation to Prins’ artistic practice. The friendship, or more than friendship, between Otti Berger and Anni Albers forms a red thread through the story and an alternative ending is created when Berger does not die in Auschwitz, but instead lives on in her native village of Vörösmart in current-day Croatia.

“Otti” was launched as part of the duo-exhibition “Eyl-yuhn, ey-lee-uhn and Masterpiece” with Lidewij Sloot, in which it was accompanied by several hand-crafted objects that appear in the novel, among which three tapestries by Veerle Melis, as well as a performance of which the text formed a conversational element with Otti about her death and euphemistic storytelling around death in the Yugoslavian folktale tradition.