Contested Biography II (in memory of the lost) 2017
Burnt 1979 edition of Amalie Dietrich: Ein Leben by Charitas Bischoff, glass display cabinet, speaker, digital audio track
Many of the rare specimens Dietrich collected in Queensland, once held in German museums, were destroyed by fires in both World War I and World War II. Dietrich’s own botany fieldwork notebooks were destroyed by fire. Her daughter Charitas Bischoff is said to have destroyed any correspondence or other written material that did not agree with the pious religious version of her mother’s life she penned in her best-selling biography. Amalie Dietrich: Ein Leben by Charitas Bischoff was first published in 1909; the last edition was printed in 1980.
Dietrich collected the remains of up to thirteen indigenous people from Bowen, under specific instructions from her employer, the Museum Godeffroy in Hamburg. The current location of the ancestors is unknown, as is the circumstances surrounding their collection by Dietrich. Were they purchased? Were graves robbed? Were murders ordered by her as a journalist has sensationally claimed? They are widely assumed to have been lost to fire; repatriation now extremely unlikely. This work is my acknowledgement of this tragic loss and a recognition of the troubled legacies of western scientific collecting in Australia.