Performance by Doron Polak (Israel) – in preparation for the performance in Riga, photograph by Eitan Vitkon (Israel)
The performance by Doron Polak in Riga had a special relevance since his father’s family comes from Riga, his father entered the Riga Ghetto, but was able to survive and escape to Israel where he is still living at his son’s home in Tel-Aviv. The diary of Doron’s father about his experience at Riga Ghetto was over years an inspiration for his artistic work dealing with the memory of the Holocaust. So, the event in Riga and being able to perform in Riga, did not only bring back the collective, but also the individual memory of his father.
Doron’s performance in the belly of the gallery ship BETANOVUSS was inspired by this unusual place and authetic space referring and reminding to the suffering Jews of Riga Ghetto, as if it was in the very moment.
Doron adapted this space and made it for himself and the visitor perceivable like in a time machine, suddenly unwanted images came up from unknow people who left their anonymity and became true faces of true people, it was Doron who gave them a new face, new breath and a new life. It was just magic! A very rare artistic moment, which nobody will ever forget who was present.
The visitor was confronted not only with an extraordinary performance by an extraordinary artist, but was diving deeply into nearly forgotten memory of collective an individual trauma, and also happy times before and within. Doron himself was explaining afterwards, that performing deep in the belly of this boat in Riga had been one of his most important experiences of his whole life.
For me as the initiator of the project in Riga, this performance and having the change to learn so much about this unusual artist was the most wonderful way to experince the collective trauma so true, so vivid, so authentic, a dream came true – that was the reason for starting my project to become involved in processes of the Unknown and Unexpected.
Thanks Doron Polak for these magnificent moments in life!
Doron Polak send us his personal impressions of visiting Riga.
Impressions of a visit to Riga – June 2012
As a result of an invitation from the artist Wilfried Agricola de Cologne who initiated the Holocaust Film Festival, to come to Riga and attend a special conference on this topic, the photographer Eitan Vitkon and myself arrived in the city. For me, this was a unique chance to return to Riga, the city where my father was born and spent the war – the city where he lost part of his family.
First, I must say that the initiative to continue to work towards an artistic presence that commemorates this darkest period in human history, is of utmost importance. It is significant that the Holocaust Museum, the Shamir Organization, the NOASS Gallery and the embassies, enabled the Holocaust Film Festival to combine forces with the conference and that they found it suitable to support artists and creators from around the world in exhibiting their work dealing with this topic.
The inclusion of young contemporary artists contributed to finding a visual creative expression in photography, painting and video art – a representation of real, honest, intensive and current work dealing with the Holocaust. Each participant presented in his or her own artistic language, painful and personal interpretations of this topic. In addition, this was an exciting meeting between artists, each with their own real and personal story that influenced them – until deciding to deal with the subject of the Holocaust. It is important to remember that actually creating around the subject of the Holocaust has aspects that are relevant for today, in addition to those that focus again and again on what happened. Regrettably, the topic of control, the journeys of death and humiliation, the destruction of nations and oppression of peoples, are still day to day topics that can be found in different parts of the world. The advancement and development of culture has not been able to stop the inherent catastrophe in man’s behaviour towards fellow man.
The meeting of artist in the NOASS Gallery in Riga around the topic of art dealing with the Holocaust, presented a series of formidable achievements that are an enlightened example of high-quality creativity connected to every-day realities whose educational goals are no less important or evident than their artistic ones. The mere holding of such a meeting in the place where the Riga Ghetto used to stand while allowing to visit the sites, especially the Holocaust Museum – the place that is today reconstructing that period – this alone created a unique and stunning experience. For me personally, as I said, it was the experience of a lifetime to recognise the names of my grandmother, uncle and most of his family that perished here, on the plaque of names of the Holocaust victims of Riga.
During the meeting, the artist Eitan Vitkon and myself had the chance to participate in three creative areas. The first was to present a very emotional exhibition of photographs in the NOASS Gallery that summarized an ongoing process of examining and coming to terms with memories of the Holocaust. My project is concerned with real feelings towards memories and the reaction of the body itself to these memories. I have been lucky to be able to work with such a special and talented artist as Eitan Vitkon, who was able to translate our intimate and border-less meetings from the studio in Israel, to such an empathetic and emotional series of photographs. The project did not deal with the image of the Holocaust survivor. It was aimed at showing the day-to-day ways that a second-generation, son of a survivor, actually deals with this topic – an artistic creation that is inspired and is related to the horrible trauma of life every moment of the day. It was especially emotional to see the reaction of the crowd to the exhibition that was shown together with artistic videos dealing with this topic playing continuously in a loop.
The second project was a piece of live performance art that took place in the gallery space during the opening of the conference. It was important for me to bring the the daily, current moments of life and so I used local newspapers in combination with some I brought from Israel. In addition, I used a real prayer shawl – a Talit – on which I attached family photographs. At the beginning of the performance I asked the audience to write their ID number on white sterile shirts, which I combined into the performance itself. Each member of the audience personally participated with his or her ID number – which hinted at the fact that this colossal tragedy can happen to each and everyone of us today. The warm response and tears in the audience’s eyes was for me the most suitable reaction I could ever hope for.
The third work allowed me to conduct a live performance in the Rabola forest where tens of thousands of people were buried alive, which was photographed and documented by the attending artists. This stunning piece of work allowed for the live physical collaboration with some of the artists participating in the meeting and was an experience I will never forget. Creating here and now, in a place of real feelings towards what happened, turned into a single, photographed moment that managed to take the deep spiritual power of the creative process to other places.
The journey and meeting that was initiated by Wilfried Agricola de Cologne in Riga was for me an example of a unique project whose artistic qualities are connected to and accompany life itself, and are an example of a project with meaningful educational and historical achievements. The personal experience becomes a model for dealing with the Holocaust among second and third generation survivors and its cultural power is used as a tool for expressing memories of this terrible traumatic event in a strong, dramatic visual way that will never be forgotten.
Doron Polak, artist
But this performance was again the beginning of something new. The day afterwards, Doron and Eitan, the photographer documenting Doron’s performances and the group of attending SFC artists went to the Rumbula Forest, the historical place where a massacre took place killing 25000 Jews at one day.
Being inspired by this historical place, Doron und Eitan made this usual piece of wood, again a magic space performing a session of photo and video shoots for another artistic project using moving images in static photography.
For Doron, as well as for Eitan, Riga was representing a magic creative act in many concern.
Good luck to both artists!