IU professor Hildegard Keller brings voices in history to life through multimedia experiences

Post courtesy of newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:

A dance costume hangs inside a section of tables in the Lilly Library. It is a wood sprite from the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, worn during funeral ceremonies, and professor Hildegard Keller chose to hang it there when designing her portion of the “Performative Book” exhibition.

Hildegard Keller's film "The Ocean in a Thimble (Der Ozean im Fingerhut)" will be screened at 6:30 Feb. 26 at IU Cinema.

Hildegard Keller directed “The Ocean in a Thimble (Der Ozean im Fingerhut),” which will be screened at 6:30 tonight at IU Cinema.

Keller is a professor in the Germanic Studies Department at Indiana University and will be spending the next month acting as a co-curator, speaker and performer within the realms of medieval and literary-based culture.

The Performative Book From Medieval Europe to the Americas” has been open since January and will remain open until May 4. It includes such pieces as a large, thickly-bound parchment book of worship from 13th-century Italy to sections of a 9th- or 10th-century Quran and a handmade map of parts of the New World from the 1500s.

“The exhibition at the Lilly Library deals with the exchange between the Old World and the New (World) head on by juxtaposing and bringing into contact medieval manuscripts, books written and decorated by hand, with printed books made in or about the New World,” she said.

These manuscripts and other artifacts tell the story of the transition into printing at the same time Europeans began exploring the Americas, as well as how those manuscripts continue to inspire people today.

Keller said the text, images, formats and the materials used help to teach people and link them to the past. She has a fascination with time.

“I think we are all bound to a specific time,” she said. “Our time.”

Any event or exhibit like this one allows people to step outside the boundaries of their own time and expand their thinking to account for the lives and experiences of people long ago, she said.

To Keller, a performative book brings forth a “new continent” in people’s minds, causing them to see and think differently. She set up half of the exhibition and leads tours on her section in both English and Spanish.

Performed history

Related to this show is Keller’s own film “The Ocean in a Thimble (Der Ozean im Fingerhut).” The film will be shown free of charge at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26 at IU Cinema, accompanied by live Foley sounds by Tony Brewer.


“The Ocean in a Thimble” will be accompanied by live sound effects. Photo courtesy of Bloomlight Productions.

Within the confines of the film, Keller said she brought together four characters from four different time periods. The voices of these women, Hildegard of Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hadewijch and Etty Hillesum, allow people to experience history through their eyes from the Middle Ages through World War II.

Keller’s focus on strong women expands further into a live theatre and music experience taking place inside the Buskirk-Chumley Theater March 31.

A Journey With Alfonsina (Un viaje con Alfonsina)” is presented by Keller, along with Francisco Cortés-Álvarez and the Latin American Music Center in the Jacobs School of Music. Tickets cost $4 for students and seniors and $8 for the general public.

The multimedia event details the life and work of Alfonsina Storni, a Swiss poet who emigrated with her family to Argentina in her youth during the late 19th century.

“I have always been in love with the possibilities of the human voice as an expressive instrument,” Keller said.

This love helped to inspire the design of the event, which includes the reading of Storni’s poetry in English and Spanish, videos based on Storni’s poems, and an original score composed by Cortés-Álvarez.

Keller said she is in the process of completing a biography about Storni and has published an anthology of her poems translated into German. Keller will share some stories about her research during the event as well.

Women to remember

Keller said she has a passion for strong women in history, as evidenced by “The Ocean in a Thimble” and “A Journey With Alfonsina.”

Alfonsina Storni

Alfonsina Storni circa 1925 in the Argentinian seaside resort Mar del Plata. Photo courtesy of Hildegard Keller.

“Self-determination is the key to the lives of the women on whom I have been working as a scholar and an artist,” she said.

“These events are multilayered,” Keller said. From visuals and artifacts to music, acting and film, people will experience history on multiple sensory levels.

The film and the exhibit at the Lilly Library are connected in that they focus on medieval work and cultural links between the Old World and the New World over space and time.

Keller said the three projects were not originally conceived as part of one master plan. Instead, she said, they fell into place in a way that mirrors her own life.

She said her life is divided between Bloomington and Zurich and she speaks English, German and Spanish, the three primary languages of the exhibit, film and performance.

Keller noted that these voices and experiences are not generally available to the public. Often, she said, they are hidden away in thick dusty volumes lost to their own time in their own language.

Through her work, Keller strives to bring these voices to the forefront, allowing people to see and experience them fully.

“We make them accessible,” she said. “We bring them to you.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,