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Category Archives: Contemporary Art

jews-superJumbo

Source: Jodi Rudoren, The New York Times, January 26, 2014

There is no plot to speak of, and the characters are woefully undeveloped. On the upside, it can be a quick read — especially considering its 1,250 pages.

The book, more art than literature, consists of the single word “Jew,” in tiny type, printed six million times to signify the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. It is meant as a kind of coffee-table monument of memory, a conversation starter and thought provoker.

“When you look at this at a distance, you can’t tell whether it’s upside down or right side up, you can’t tell what’s here; it looks like a pattern,” said Phil Chernofsky, the author, though that term may be something of a stretch. “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims: These are not individuals, these are not people, these are just a mass we have to exterminate.

“Now get closer, put on your reading glasses, and pick a ‘Jew,’ ” Mr. Chernofsky continued. “That Jew could be you. Next to him is your brother. Oh, look, your uncles and aunts and cousins and your whole extended family. A row, a line, those are your classmates. Now you get lost in a kind of meditative state where you look at one word, ‘Jew,’ you look at one Jew, you focus on it and then your mind starts to go because who is he, where did he live, what did he want to do when he grew up?”

The concept is not entirely original. More than a decade ago, eighth graders in a small Tennessee town set out to collect six million paper clips, as chronicled in a 2004 documentary. The anonymity of victims and the scale of the destruction is also expressed in the seemingly endless piles of shoes and eyeglasses on exhibit at former death camps in Eastern Europe.

Now Gefen Publishing, a Jerusalem company, imagines this book, titled“And Every Single One Was Someone,” making a similar statement in every church and synagogue, school and library.

While many Jewish leaders in the United States have embraced the book, some Holocaust educators consider it a gimmick. It takes the opposite tack of a multimillion-dollar effort over many years by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum here, that has so far documented the identities of 4.3 million Jewish victims. These fill the monumental “Book of Names,” 6 1/2 feet tall and 46 feet in circumference, which was unveiled last summer at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“We have no doubt that this is the right way to deal with the issue,” said Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem’s director. “We understand that human life, human beings, individuals are at the center of our research and education. This is the reason we are investing so much in trying to retrieve every single human being, his name, and details about his life.”

Mr. Shalev declined to address the new book directly, but said dismissively, “Every year we have 6,000 books published about the Shoah,” using the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

The book’s backers do not deny its gimmickry — Mr. Chernofsky used the Yiddish word “shtick” — but see it as a powerful one.

Ilan Greenfield, Gefen’s chief executive, noted that there is a blank line on the title page where people can dedicate each book, perhaps to a survivor like his mother-in-law.“Almost everyone who looks at the book cannot stop flipping the pages,” he said. “Even after they’ve looked at 10 pages and they know they’re only going to see the same word, they keep flipping.”

The Gefen catalog lists the book for $60, but Mr. Greenfield said individual copies would probably sell for closer to $90 (buy 1,000 copies and it is $36 each). Since the book went on the market a few months ago, he said, 5,000 have been printed. One person bought 100 to distribute to the offices of United States senators, and Jewish leaders in Australia and South Africa, Los Angeles and Denver, have bought batches for their communities.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, enlisted three donors to buy 1,000 each and is giving them away: He wants one in the Oval Office and, eventually, on every Passover Seder table. “When he brought me this book I said, ‘Wow, wow, it makes it so real,’ ” said Mr. Foxman, himself a Holocaust survivor. “It’s haunting.”

The idea began in the late 1970s at the Yeshiva of Central Queens in Kew Gardens Hills,  where Mr. Chernofsky taught math, science and Jewish studies and, one year, was put in charge of the bulletin board for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“I gave them blank paper, and I said, no talking for the next 30 minutes — that was a pleasure,” recalled Mr. Chernofsky, 65, who grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and moved to Israel 32 years ago. “I said, ‘I want you to write the word Jew as many times as you can, no margins, just pack them in, just take another paper and another paper until I say stop.’

“We added up the whole class,” he added. “It was 40,000 — nothing.”

Years later, Mr. Chernofsky printed out pages filled with “Jew” six million times and put them in a loose-leaf notebook, which he showed visitors to his messy office here at the Orthodox Union, where he is the educational director. His uncle took the notebook to a Jerusalem book fair, where a bookbinder saw it, and made a limited edition. Mr. Greenfield eventually came across a copy and approached Mr. Chernofsky about 18 months ago with the idea of mass production.

Each page has 40 columns of 120 lines — 4,800 “Jews.” The font is Minion; the size, 5.5 point. The book weighs 7.3 pounds.

Its titleless cover depicts a Jewish prayer shawl, sometimes used to wrap bodies for burial. Mr. Chernofsky said it was Gefen’s choice; he would have preferred solid black, or a yellow star like those the Nazis made Jews wear.

An Orthodox Jew with nine grandchildren, Mr. Chernofsky is a numbers man, the kind of person who cannot climb stairs without counting them (41 up to his apartment). “Torah Tidbits,” the publication he has edited for two decades, always lists the number of sentences in the week’s Torah portion (118 in last week’s “Statutes”).

He likes to play with calendars, and is tickled that for the next three months, the Hebrew and English dates match: Feb. 1 is the first of Adar, April 30 the 30th of Nissan.

Mr. Greenfield, the publisher, said his goal was eventually to print six million copies of “And Every Single One Was Someone.” With each copy 2.76 inches wide, that would fill 261 miles of bookshelves — just shy of Israel’s 263-mile north-south span. (And net Mr. Chernofsky, at his contracted rate of $1.80 per book, $10.8 million.)

“Harry Potter, in seven volumes, used 1.1 million words,” noted Mr. Chernofsky, a devotee who has a Quidditch broom hanging in his office. “This has six million in it, so I outdid J. K. Rowling.”

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HitlerGhettoCattelan

Source: The Guardian, December 28, 2012

A statue of Adolf Hitler praying on his knees has sparked controversy after going on display in the former Warsaw ghetto.

The artwork by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, titled Him, has been installed in the Polish capital where thousands of Jews were killed or sent to their deaths by the Nazi regime.

The statue has attracted large numbers of visitors since its installation last month, but some organisations have criticised the decision to erect it in such a sensitive area.

One Jewish advocacy group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, described the statue’s placement as “a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazis’ Jewish victims”.

“As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler’s only ‘prayer’ was that they be wiped off the face of the earth,” the group’s Israel director, Efraim Zuroff, said in a statement.

The Hitler statue is visible from a hole in a wooden gate and viewers can only see the back of the small figure praying in a courtyard.

Cattelan has not made it clear what Hitler is praying for, although organisers of the exhibition in which it features claim the statue is meant to make people reflect on the nature of evil.

Fabio Cavallucci, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, which oversaw the installation, said: “There is no intention from the side of the artist or the centre to insult Jewish memory.

“It’s an artwork that tries to speak about the situation of hidden evil everywhere.”

It is estimated that about 300,000 Jews who lived in the ghetto either died from hunger or disease or were sent to their deaths in concentration camps under the Nazi rule.

Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said he was consulted on the installation’s placement but did not oppose it because it conveyed a strong moral question by provoking the audience.

He said he was reassured by the organisers who told him the statue did not aim to rehabilitate Hitler but instead show that evil can present itself in the guise of a “sweet praying child”.

“I felt there could be educational value to it,” Schudrich added.

 

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Source: The Jerusalem Post, December 7, 2012

Sweden has launched an investigation into an artist who made a painting out of Holocaust victims’ ashes, AFP reported Friday.

Police said the prosecutor’s office would investigate the case and was considering pressing charges against artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff. Police inspector Annika Johansson told AFP that authorities launched the investigation in response to a complaint filed by a member of the public, alleging the painting was “disturbing the peace of the dead.”

A Swedish art gallery owner has defended his gallery’s decision to show a painting made out of Holocaust victims’ ashes as “having no moral flaws.”

Martin Bryder, who owns a gallery in Lund, told Sverige Radio that he “sees no moral problem or flaw with exhibiting” a painting which the artist von Hausswolff made from ashes of Holocaust victims from the Majdanek extermination camp.

According to a local newspaper, Sydsvenskan, Von Hausswolff had collected the ashes more than 20 years ago. The exhibition is scheduled to open at the Martin Bryder Gallery in Lund on Dec. 15, according to the radio station.

Salomon Schulman, a teacher of Yiddish and member of Lund’s Jewish community, wrote in the same local newspaper that he found the display “disgusting” and called it “a desecration of Jewish bodies.”

He added: “Nowhere was the Third Reich more popular than among the educated academics. Today, the Holocaust and racism are still part of their salon talks.”

In a text published by the gallery, the artist is quoted as saying: “The ash has followed me, always been there … as if the ash contains energies or memories or souls of people … people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the 19th century’s most ruthless wars.”

The directorate of the museum at Majdanek is outraged by the art. “We are deeply shocked and outraged by the information that the painting allegedly was made with the ashes of Majdanek victims. This action is an artistic provocation deserving only to be condemned,” said a statement published on Wednesday by the museum staff.

“In addition, it is certain that the Swedish painter did not enter into possession of the ashes legally.”


Auschwitz I, January 27th 1945. Russian soldiers with prisoners of Block 19, the quarantine blockhouse in the medical section of the camp

Source: The Huffington Post Uk, October 29, 2012

Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse’s hauntingly beautiful photos remind us of the soldiers and civilians who suffered during World War 2 on the very streets that we walk down every day.

Teeuwisse sources original photos from World War 2, and after researching where they were taken, takes a modern day equivalent from the exact spot the original was shot.

By layering the two on top of each other Teeuwisse creates the ghostly images that show World War 2 figures on the streets of today.

Teeuwisse told the Huffington Post: “I have always been interested in history.

“The original war photos are usually very dramatic and it is tempting to leave it intact as much as possible, but sometimes you can make the emphasis bigger and the story more dramatic by only leaving a shadow of the original photo linger on the ‘now’ photo.

“I hope that my photos make people think about how history is part of our life and is everywhere around us, that the freedom we take for granted was fiercely fought over in the streets where we do our shopping, go to work or even on the steps leading to our homes.”

The collages created by Alex Ayaan, a photographer and graphic artist from Bucharest, exemplify how history and collective memory collapse into each other in Holocaust visual culture. Ayaan employs the same juxtaposition (past/present) and the same visual pattern (black and white/color) inaugurated by Alain Resnais’ Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), that became a recurring topos in Holocaust films up to Schindler’s List. The death camp is here both a memorial site and a contemporary “touristic” structure. See more of Alex Ayaan’s collages here.

The ethical limit of Holocaust representations (in art, literature, architecture, film, etc.) lies on a system of substitutions going from mimesis to abstract motifs. The set of patterns and artistic theories coming from the modernist and avant-garde movements provide a conceptual framework to explore the intersection of memory, ethics and aesthetics in the artistic expressions (one of the major issues in “Holocaust Studies”).

From this point of view, the Grid, considered as a Modernist Myth, is a fundamental visual pattern. As noted by art historian Rosalind Krauss, the grid “announces, among other things, modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse”. In the cultist space of modern art “the grid serves not only as emblem but also as myth. For like all myths, it deals with paradox or contradiction not by dissolving the paradox or resolving the contradiction, but by covering them over so that they seem (but only seem) to go away”.  A paradox, or contradiction, which involves the unrepresentability of Holocaust.

We can look at the grid structure as a myth not only referring to modernist artists like Ryman or Mondrian, but also to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas, 2005) designed by architect Peter Eisenman. In this specific case, the paradox is represented by a monument that Germany built to its own fault.

Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 10 Pier and Ocean (1915)

Peter Eisenman, Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas, 2005



Pictures from Kamp, by the Dutch theater group Hotel Modern. The performance, which premiered in 2005, mixes theater, music, video, sculpture and puppetry to portray Auschwitz. Despite some perplexed reactions, mostly revolving around the opportunity of representing the Holocaust through puppets, the performance has met with an overall positive reception in the many countries where it has been shown. The website of Hotel Modern presents “Kamp” with these words:

An enormous scale model of Auschwitz fills the stage. Overcrowded barracks, a railway track, a gateway with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei”. Hotel Modern attempts to imagine the unimaginable: the greatest mass murder in history, committed in a purpose-built city.
The model of the camp is brought to life on stage: thousands of 8 centimeter tall handmade puppets represent the prisoners and their executioners. The actors move through the set like giant war reporters, filming the horrific events with miniature cameras; the audience becomes the witness.

The performance can be seen on the Hotel Modern’s YouTube channel: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

***

Puppets of Nazi leaders were largely used in the highly theatrical film Our Hitler (Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland, 1978) by German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. The seven-hour film can be watched in its complete version on Syberberg’s website (German with English subtitles).

Self Portrait at Buchenwald: It’s the Real Thing (Digitally manipulated Photograph, 1991–1993)

In this artwork, shown at the exhibition Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art (New York, Jewish Museum, 2002), English Jewish artist Alan Schechner inserted himself in a famous photo taken by Margaret Bourke-White after the liberation of Buchenwald (1945), with a Diet-Coke can in his hand. “The Coke can marks a rupture between the moment in 1945 in which Bourke-White took the original photograph and Schechner’s contemporary presence in the image. The differences between the present and the past are divided by this ideological and historical gap. In this sense Schechner’s image works like an allegorical ruin” (Alessandro Imperato). Schechner is interested in a cultural re-appropriation of signs and icons from the Holocaust through the radical rupture marked by historical distance and touristic perception of memory. A gap that is here symbolized by the Diet-Coke can, a single element that functions as a paradoxical punctum of the image (something that “pierces the viewer”, as defined by Roland Barthes). Below, the original picture by Margaret Bourke-White.

Still from Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella, Roberto Benigni, 1997). While carrying his six-year-old son Giosuè in his arms back to their barrack, Guido takes the wrong way in the fog and is horrified to discover a huge pile of dead bodies. The film abandons here the comic register and embraces that of sublime, reproducing the visual patterns of Romantic landscape painting. The fog, the mountain, the dwarfed Rückenfigur confronting the immensity of nature are recurring motifs in the work of German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (The Monk by the Sea, 1808-1810; Morning Fog in the Mountains, 1808).

Below, a painting from the cycle We Are Not the Last (Nous ne sommes pas les derniers, 1970-1976) by Slovenian painter Zoran Music, based on his experiences at Dachau, where he had been deported in 1944.

Excerpt from a conversation between Zoran Music and art historian and critic Jean Clair (source: La barbarie ordinaire, 2001):

What was your first impression of Dachau?
Corpses everywhere. You couldn’t count them. It was a hallucinating world, a kind of landscape with mountains of corpses. (…)

You often speak of “landscapes of corpses”
Yes, it became a landscape because, when one saw hundreds, thousands of corpses, this was something indescribable. A painter expresses himself in these terms, he sees a landscape. (…) An artist can draw anything. More or less, better or worse. But when one sees a landscape of dead, it is quite different from the drawing of a leg at the Institute of Medicine. There, it is like a still life. But the camp was like a landscape, a forest of dead bodies. A virgin forest, if you may say so. You cannot describe it, you cannot imagine it. Those things were hallucinatory, unreal.

Rome, Italy, 2011. An installation inspired from the sign over the Auschwitz gate appears in Rome on April 25 (which is Liberation Day in Italy) in the multiethnic neighbourhood of “Pigneto”. The Italian media immediately censure this act as a neo-Nazi provocation. Shortly after, a 32-year-old graphic designer named Mimmo Rubino, who defines himself as a leftist, claims he was responsible for what he considers a “street art” gesture. In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, he explains his choice to use the phrase (and the visual pattern) from Auschwitz as a means to recall the horrible working conditions in Italy for both Italians and immigrants, adding that “everybody should consider that today a piece of Lager is in our cities”.