Pants in Jars

I love the snatches of conversation on the radio that I catch when I’m doing other things. Yesterday it was from a history podcast in which they were talking about the Stasi and how they collected archives of stuff on people they suspected including a whole series of pants that they stored in jars. The idea was that the worn underwear would contain a remnant of the suspect’s smell, for sniffer dogs to refer to I suppose. I was doing my yoga at the time and my mind began imagining pieces of work I could make about it. I love the flow of it, the sadness is that so many of such ideas never materialise. Considerations of time, money, opportunity and places to show it often kill them before they’ve had a chance to flower. Sometimes I fantasise about going back into education just to allow me the chance to make again. I imagine him raising his eyes to the ceiling. The perennial student, eh? As I walked I thought about the pain of not letting ideas come to fruition. I’ve so many waiting in the wings, in drawers, in my laptop, in my sketchbooks, and in my head and heart. I am a walking vessel of them.

That image still plays in mind. Did you see it? The one on the front of The Times of the old man, the ex-inmate of Auschwitz, crying, with that distinctive blue and white striped cap on his head. I wanted to ask why did you keep it? That hat with so many terrible associations, but then I thought, of course, of course you would, it is too important to discard, it is a symbol of the memory, the only thing left of that time. And it still fitted him. Nothing has changed, he is still that boy grieving the loss of his family, his friends, his community, his race. We can never forget. Forgive, I hope, but forget, never.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.