image: 2nd day of artists talks and discussions – Cristiano Berti talks about the “making of” his film “Lety” – in the background- Shelley Jordon
When I brought back the artists to the hotel on Friday evening, we were discussing in the hotel lobby the next day, and some of the artists said, we were such an incredible team, and only the next day all artists would be still together, so they proposed to continue this enormous intense and demanding talks and asked whether I would agree that the artists talks on the 2nd day would include also the two artists who were scheduled on the 3rd day, Sunday 3 June. It had been also my impression, that we artists were forming quite a wonderful group being open for discussion going deeply into the subject matter, artists of different background and countries, but all working on the same goal, which give all of us such a rich work out. After it was clear, that our host Dzintars (NOASS) agreed, as well, we decided to start the artists talks already on Saturday, 17h – including also the visitors of the exhibition.
Doris Neidl, actually scheduled on Sunday, 3 June started the session of artists talks on Saturday. Firstly, her film “If this is a Man, 2009, 5:09″ was screened, based on a poem by Primo Levi (1919-1987). There was a controverse discussion about how the images and the text was corresponding to each other, before she started talking about her motivation to create her film, which was, as she explained, her first attempt to deal with such a heavy topic like SHOAH.
The discussion after her talk was about using the textual component of literature for filmic creations, and the danger of illustrating a poem via images or illustrating the moving images via the text of a poem, instead of interpreting literature and transform the result into the language of the moving images. Such a discussion accompanies a special “genre”of videoart, called “videopoem”. There are a couple of festivals dealing with the visualisation of poetry as a form of literature, whereby most of them demand the appearance of the written text, even the letters of the text play a specific role. Primo Levi’s poem “If This Is A Man” is really a strong piece of poetry, and a wonderful basis for inspiring especially artists. Doris Neidl’s film can be considered as a good example how differently the motivation can be to approach to topic of Shoah. The Shoah Film Collection and the round of discussing SFC artists in Riga gave the best evidence. As a curator, I find it important to encourage the diversity of different approaches and particularly the audience to make up its mind by comparing and actively learning. So, what I explained earlier activating on different levels is representing one of the main goals of Shoah Film Collection and its event context “A Virtual Memorial – Commemorative Interventions”.
The next turn was on Jay Needham, who a earlier also scheduled for Sunday. He is an artist who embraces a multi-disciplinary approach to arts practice. He works as a sound artist, electro-acoustic composer, visual artist and scholar. His creative works are composed largely from fragmented family albums and sound recordings, the creations essentially serving as post-memory works, sound and visual pieces that explore personal migrations and erasures of memory. Themes of war and remembrance permeate the work he creates.
His collaborations with grass roots organizations such as the, Associatión Panamericana para la Concervación have increased awareness of the importance of natural places and disappearing soundscapes around the planet. His recent residency in Antarctica aboard the MV Antarctic Dream has resulted new series of sound sculptures titled South Polar Suite. He has been invited to speak at many noted programs including the Department of Techno-Cultural Studies, University of California, Davis, The Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands and California Institute of the Arts.
He is the founder of The Sometimes Orchestra, an artists’ collective dedicated to the performance of sound and moving image works. Needham is an Associate Professor and teaches courses in the audio arts, and graduate classes in the interdisciplinary MFA program in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University. He holds an MFA from The School of Art at California Institute of the Arts.
His piece, “This is a Recording” is a video created as a response after interviewing survivors of the Holocaust for the Shoah Visual History Project. “As a member of a national team who videotaped long form interviews with survivors, I began to reflect on what it was to enter someone’s home and listen to narratives of horror,separation and loss. After completing an interview, I would box up the case of videotapes and ship them to Los Angeles. Initially, this act felt fulfilling, to securely contain memories that were so important. Thus began a rhythm of videotaping and then mailing the tapes. I often returned home unable to think of anything other than a history, of histories forgotten and how I would internally process so much personal information. As I mailed each case of tape out, I began to understand that my recollections would fade and that I would be the person who would forget. This feeling of history erasing in my own memory held a compound irony for me because I was the person focusing the camera, plugging in the microphones, often times sitting in my own silence as I listened to the stories.
It was these feelings that inspired me to create This is a Recording. In the work, I use subtitles to act as a “voice”. Although silent, the subtitles read as character. The subtitled text serves as a super script of sorts and is formed from many of the memories I have interviewing survivors. The visuals are from the inside of my family home as well as 35mm slides taken by my grandfather during the 1940’s.
My connection to the Holocaust is indirect but then again very directed. By engaging in a large- scale documentary project, I was able to help preserve testimonies of a tragic time in human history. By creating art that evokes not only my own memories but also the memories of others, I hope to author works that are inclusive and meaningful. These acts of telling and re-telling are gestures of memory. My way of never forgetting.”
After a short break, the interventions continued with the next “session”, featuring Shelley Jordon, Cristiano Berti and Ben Neufeld.”
“Anita’s Journey, is a hand painted animation that imagines my mother-in- laws experience in hiding in Nazi Germany as a young child. My lecture will address my own journey and challenges in creating and researching the piece, including research at the Jewish Museum Berlin and environs. The power-point intersperses images of the paintings created for the animation with historical and old family photos. At the end of the talk, I will screen the 8-minute animation.
In Berlin, Germany, in 1942, six year-old Anita Graetz and her family were forced into hiding for 2 1/2 years. Against all odds, three generations of the family survived underground in and around Berlin, eventually setting in Portland, OR, USA. Four years ago my brother-in-law, Alan Greenstein, transcribed a handwritten memoir written by his grandfather Robert Graetz in 1976 about the family’s experience in Nazi Germany. Although I was aware of their family history and had heard bits and pieces of their story, it wasn’t until I read a meticulously documented account of the family’s experience that I felt inspired to create a project based on the story. The writing is filled with visual details and insightful particulars, including terrifying close calls and fortuitous confluences of circumstances that make it a compelling narrative well suited to visual interpretation. Together with her four-year old sister, Renate, her parents Robert and Erna Graetz, and her grandparents, Anita was scuttled from one hiding place to another, sheltered by people motivated by friendship, compassion and sometimes greed.
I knew immediately that I wanted to create something in response to the memoir from Anita’s point of view as a six-year-old child, but I didn’t know what form that would take. My daughter Clara was just a bit older than Anita was and I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a child in that situation. I didn’t want to just illustrate the story, but to create something that communicated the emotional power of the experience. Sadly, Anita survived the holocaust only to succumb to complications from multiple sclerosis at a relatively young age. By the time I met Anita, her disease was advanced and she passed away when my daughter was just three years old. This story is important both personally and historically. Anita was a girl who survived the terrors of war through her family’s wiles and good fortune but was also my husband’s mother and the grandmother my daughter never really knew.”
Shelley Jordon placed her film in the context of her artistic working, explaining she came actually from painting, a series of slides gave evidence, but she felt that for her future working the static visual medium did not fit any longer, but she found her own way of doing – a stop motion animation via live painting and drawing which she demonstrated showing some movies and, of course, her film included in Shoah Film Collection.
The discussion forum was very impressed by the way how she found her individual language for transporting her ideas via that complex stop motion animation technique.
image 1: Shelley Jordon (on the right) – Agricola de Cologne (on the left) – private view on 1 June
image 2: Shelley Jordon (preparing her presentation)
Next following was Cristiano Berti from Italy, who introduced his film “Lety”, 2009, 19:40. After the screening of the film, he explained its “making of” – Lety. Between oblivion and the perpetuation of memory.
The Porrajmos, literally “the Devouring”, is the term that the Roma use to describe the Nazi regime’s attempt to wipe their people off the face of the Earth. Roma and Sinti minorities are Europe’s largest minority and are still discriminates in Europe of nowadays.
In Lety by Písek, Czech Republic, an industrial pig farm is located on the site of a former nazi concentration camp for Roma. The farm was built in 1974 by the State, privatized in 1994, and it is still active. From the ‘90s Czech politicians began to concern themselves with the problem, but they have not yet solved it. Challenged by the European Parliament, the Czech Government promised to take in serious consideration the issue, but the regional government of South Bohemia seems less concerned, stating that it should be taken into account the costs of the demolitions, the jobs that the pig farm offers, and the processing of local raw materials.
The “Lety” project aimed to open a conceptual and visual side path running on or along the memory of Romani and Sinti Holocaust. It consisted of the involvement of two Roma singers as poetic guides with whom to share our path. As we all know, the Roma and Sinti culture is oral and has in music one of its more high, beautiful, funny and moving expressions, and Ferko and Martinka are very fine singers. Brother and sister, they are both disabled, and therefore the project establishes an explicit bond between social and physical “diversity”.
“Lety” shows an alternative possibility to think about the past. The project was conceived as a way to “bump the raise” of the game: the theme of diversity is pointed up by the fact that the project involves two protagonists who are bearers of a social diversity and of a physical diversity, but also able to transform their disability into a “different ability” through the music. From the ecstatic uneasiness experienced by the audience, rise the possibility to open the political talk to new meanings and new intuitions.
LETY is a work conceived in 2009 containing memories: personal, collective, verbal and musical. It consists of moving and still pictures, words and songs, which can also be seen or heard individually (the video has already been presented as a work in its own right).
The title has been chosen precisely because it has no meaning for most people, but is particularly significant for anyone who knows about what happened there. A “difference” is therefore apparent, right from the title itself, and “difference” becomes the key word for the entire work.
Lety documents an action which took place in May 2009 involving two Slovak Roma singers, František Ďuďa and Martina Ďuďová (the Ďuďovci). Brother and sister, Ferko and Martinka are blind and forced by illness to move about in a wheel chair.
The central part of Lety is the video of the journey from Sol’ to Lety which, as the story gradually unfolds, allows the Ďuďovci to give an intimate and absorbing description of their daily lives, their vision of the world, and their own reminiscences as well as stories told by their grandfather, who was interned in a labour camp during World War II. These accounts are interspersed with songs from the Romany tradition or composed by them. The Dudovci are in fact two extremely fine singers and transform their disability, literally, under the eyes of the audience, into a “different ability”.
The event involved visiting a commemoration for the victims of the concentration camp at Lety, a village that is now in the Czech Republic, which during the Nazi occupation was the prison for 1,309 Romani, most of whom were later transferred to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Since the 1970’s the site of the Lety camp has been used as an industrial pig farm. For this reason, the commemoration is held in a nearby woodland clearing.
Lety is a work which considers the situation of Roma people in contemporary Europe through the representation of a form of “double prejudice”. It does so by bringing together situations in an entirely arbitrary manner, or in other words, through the poetic choice of combining the stories of two disabled Romani people with the history of the Roma holocaust or Porrajmos.
Castaway pt. 2
In Robert Zemeckis’ Castaway, Tom Hanks–stranded on an island for four years–maintains his sanity by personifying a volleyball named Wilson. On his voyage back home, Hanks loses Wilson in a convenient plot twist that allows him to avoid the problem of reconciling the irrationality of his experience during his return to society . What happens when you can’t just get rid of Wilson? f)