The Art of Being the Queen

On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Elisabeth Walther-Bense

On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Elisabeth Walther-Bense
On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Elisabeth Walther-Bense

When Elisabeth Walther-Bense passed away in Stuttgart in 2018 at the age of 95, there was hardly any public reaction. The fact that she was the first professor at what is now the University of Stuttgart seemed as forgotten as her achievements as a translator, semiotician and publicist. The ZKM, which holds her estate in its archives, marks the 100th anniversary of Elisabeth Walther-Bense's birth with a documentary recalling her life and work.

Elisabeth Walther-Bense, born in 1922 in Oberweißbach, Thuringia, succeeded in obtaining her Abitur (high school diploma) and university studies against her parents' will. The year 1946 became the turning point of her life: at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, where she initially studied cultural studies, she met the philosopher Max Bense. The multilingual young woman began translating philosophical and literary texts into German on Bense's behalf and, on his recommendation, switched to studying philosophy. It was the beginning of an intellectual and personal relationship that lasted over 40 years. Together they founded the journals »Augenblick« (1955), »rot« (1960) and »Semiosis« (1976). Through their publications, exhibitions, travels, and invitations, they quickly developed a network of experimental art, literature, and philosophy that reached from Japan to Brazil. Max Bense and Elisabeth Walther-Bense transformed Stuttgart into a meeting place for the international avant-garde in the early 1960s. In 1978 Elisabeth Walther-Bense was appointed as the first full professor at the University of Stuttgart, where she directed the »Semiotic-aesthetic Colloquium« until well after her 80th birthday.

It's not easy being the Queen

Anyone who visited Elisabeth Walther-Bense in her apartment in Stuttgart saw a gift from Max Bense on the wall, a sign that read "It's not easy being the Queen." "Queen," was the name Bense gave her, alluding to the head of the British royal family. Through conversations with friends, colleagues and family, diary entries, photographs and films, the documentary »The Art of Being the Queen« paints a nuanced picture of a self-confident scholar, translator and publicist who played an important role in the literary and art scene of the 1950s and 1960s, not least through her support for the work of Max Bense. She remained in the background, without ever expressing any regret.


ZKM Video Studio 2022

Concept: Margit Rosen, Felix Mittelberger, Andy Koch
Voice: Birgit Reutter
Quotes: Margit Rosen
Editing: Andy Koch
Sound recording: Christian Haardt, Anton Kossjanenko
Camera: Alexander Thelen
Editorial Assistance: Christian Platz