The instal­la­tion Eliz­a­beth con­sists of a num­ber of the­mat­i­cal­ly inter­con­nect­ed rooms. These pro­vide the work a chap­ter-based struc­ture sim­i­lar to the dra­matur­gi­cal sequence of a film. The indi­vid­ual rooms are an inter­ac­tion of mov­ing images, cin­e­mat­ic sequences, pho­tographs, and arte­facts.

In the first room of the instal­la­tion, the his­to­ry of a leg­endary ship—the “Queen Eliz­a­beth 2” (QE2)—is pre­sent­ed and serves as the start­ing point of the exhi­bi­tion. Chris­tened in 1967 by the Queen of Eng­land, and at one time a cel­e­brat­ed pres­tige object of the Cunard Line oper­at­ing on the transat­lantic route, the ship acco­mo­dat­ed the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al celebri­ties of an epoch, from the Bea­t­les, Sal­vador Dali, Hen­ry Kissinger, Roman Polan­s­ki, Diana Spencer to the band The Cure, or Mar­i­lyn Man­son. After thir­ty-nine years of ser­vice, the ship was sold to the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates and has remained idle ever since, rot­ting at an orphaned pier in Dubai.

The instal­la­tion jux­ta­pos­es the daz­zling his­to­ry of QE2 and its dis­mal end with a per­son­al his­to­ry, a biog­ra­phy that is, in a pecu­liar way, exis­ten­tial­ly tied to the ship’s chrono­log­i­cal tra­jec­to­ry. A for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence, an encounter with the ship short­ly after it was com­mis­sioned, pro­vides the begin­ning:

It was a coin­ci­dence, a chance meet­ing dur­ing a canal cross­ing to Eng­land in June 1972: from the deck of a fer­ry boat a child watched the enor­mous transat­lantic ves­sel set sail for America—at that time already an anachro­nism since the era of pas­sen­ger lin­ers on the North Atlantic had been over for some time. Famous ships had giv­en way to the mass-pro­duced plane, lux­u­ri­ent jour­neys became unprof­itable, and the “Queen Eliz­a­beth 2” was the only remain­ing pas­sen­ger lin­er oper­at­ing on the tra­di­tion­al route.

Soon the ship dis­ap­peared on the hori­zon, but its image remained anchored in the mind of the child, and before long in the mind of the youth and ulti­mate­ly of the adult, becom­ing for him a syn­onym for per­ma­nence and indi­vid­u­al­i­ty giv­en the steamer’s anguished, excep­tion­al sta­tus in the midst of wide­spread fast-paced advance­ments and a lev­el­ing of dif­fer­ences. The pas­sion­ate enthu­si­ast col­lect­ed every pho­to­graph of the ship, every news­pa­per report, mem­o­ra­bil­ia and books; with every­thing he finds on the steam­er, he is involved in every facet and detail of the ship’s history—from the day of the encounter to the present. Over the years, the ship thus becomes for him an object of yearn­ing and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and, against the back­drop of an ever-chang­ing world of glob­al net­work­ing, a shift to the vir­tu­al, and an omnipresent “be flex­i­ble, cur­rent, every­where, and inter­na­tion­al,” a spir­i­tu­al anchor point and emo­tion­al home. But he avoids an actu­al encounter with the real ship again.

It is only with the birth of his young daugh­ter that things change: it is her curios­i­ty, her child­ish wanting-to-know-about-everything-and-everyone—including the ship, whose anguish sub­sumes her father—that final­ly moti­vates him to trav­el to Dubai to see the ship. He takes his child with him…


Start­ing from the his­to­ry described, the instal­la­tion Eliz­a­beth the­ma­tizes the con­tem­po­rary loss of belong­ing­ness and sense of home. Refer­ring to Richard Sennet’s the­sis of the “flex­i­ble man” and the shift­ing under­stand­ing of home in a glob­al­ized soci­ety, the instal­la­tion presents the per­son­al nar­ra­tive as symp­to­matic of a more fun­da­men­tal phe­nom­e­non, which is also vivid­ly reflect­ed not least in the episodes from the QE2’s his­to­ry:

When the ship depart­ed Eng­land for the last time short­ly before being decom­mis­sioned in Novem­ber 2008, near­ly one mil­lion peo­ple lined the banks with their nation­al flags in hand. The mid­night scene with the ship immersed in flood­light resem­bled a rit­u­al­is­tic event from long-past epochs, a dance around the gold­en calf, behind which the real—and ulti­mate­ly profane—significance of the ship dis­ap­peared. A scene com­pa­ra­ble to the mass crowds of papal vis­its, exces­sive par­tic­i­pa­tion in foot­ball match­es, or the storm­ing of Apple stores by hys­ter­i­cal i-Phone disciples—a world seek­ing to evade the loss of a sense of belong­ing and com­mu­ni­ty and a lack of sta­bil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty.

Vir­tu­al net­works also con­tribute to the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the symp­toms: in con­trast to the protagonist’s for­ma­tive real-world expe­ri­ence from his child­hood, the seem­ing­ly unlim­it­ed arbi­trari­ness of dig­i­tal mass media makes indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ence and the inter­nal­iz­ing of an impres­sion hard­ly pos­si­ble any more. More­over, in the search for engage­ment and imme­di­a­cy, the con­crete points of con­nec­tion and close­ness promised by social media turn out to be an emp­ty con­so­la­tion: Face­book does not replace lived friend­ships, sen­sa­tions can­not be dig­i­tized, and one’s ori­gins and home are not glob­al. In the project Elis­a­beth, the high­ly devel­oped tech­nol­o­gy behind this is pro­trayed as an eco­nom­ic and diver­sion­ary fac­tor, a tech­nol­o­gy whose func­tion is to com­pen­sate for a close­ness rarely expe­ri­enced in real­i­ty, to unlearn how to tru­ly live, and to forge a con­nec­tion to the real envi­ron­ment.


The last room of the instal­la­tion depicts the loca­tion where the QE2 remains today as a melt­ing pot of these devel­op­ments: Dubai. Arriv­ing there with his young daugh­ter, the present-day metrop­o­lis built from scratch out of styl­ized satel­lite build­ings and mon­u­men­tal, inter­na­tion­al­ist archi­tec­ture appears to the pro­tag­o­nist like a pul­sat­ing hot spot of anonymi­ty and dereliction—a sym­bol of an uproot­ed soci­ety. Before the high-end facades of Dubai shim­mer­ing in the desert light, behind which all indi­vid­ual feel­ings of home appear lost, the once tra­di­tion-ori­ent­ed inn of a ship that sailed the North Atlantic, the QE2, resem­bles a lost par­adise. Moored at an orphaned pier in a ship­yard har­bour in front of the cityscape of Dubai, the emo­tion­al home the pro­tag­o­nist con­nect­ed with per­son­al­ly seems to have devolved into a nos­tal­gic moment, into a dis­pos­able prod­uct in an ever-chang­ing world, thus rep­re­sent­ing, so to speak, an image of the gen­er­al par­a­digm shift: the sense of home has noth­ing more to do with the actu­al place of one’s ori­gins; home only exists in one­self.

But on the pier before the colos­sal anchored ship, it is ulti­mate­ly the open-mind­ed and joy­ful qual­i­ty of his daughter’s play­ing that makes the pro­tag­o­nist real­ize the flawed nature of his pro­jec­tion. The ship—at one time man­u­fac­tured as an object for parad­ing and estab­lish­ing iden­ti­ty, and to the pro­tag­o­nist always noth­ing more than a com­pen­sa­tion for emo­tion­al­ly-devoid devotion—becomes a reflec­tion of a life he him­self has not lived. His decades-long per­sis­tence in object-obses­sion has pre­vent­ed him from see­ing his own points of con­nec­tion and the sense of belong­ing­ness he yearns for:

As the pro­tag­o­nist watch­es his care­free daugh­ter, a por­tion of the ship’s moniker in immense steel-blue let­ters comes into view behind him: “Elizabeth”—the name of his daugh­ter.