Watch the Birdie/Wo ist das Vögelchen?
Artist Residency at the University of Essex for Holocaust Memorial Week Jan 21-27 2013

The Rabinowitz family by kind permission of Dora Love

'Like a First Year undergraduate, faced with a hangover, a blank screen and huge bibliography to digest, this week-long artist residency was monumentally problematic. Art and the Holocaust. Jesus.

I have spent my whole adult life trying not to think about the Holocaust. In fact, I have gone out of my way to avoid it. When, with much trepidation, I watched Jonathan Lichtenstein's powerful play, Memory, there was a moment when I squirmed on the seat and actually put my hands over my ears to avoid hearing, feeling, becoming infected with acts so barbaric that I did not want my brain to conserve and re-play them.

So I was probably a strange choice to do this - a blank canvas (not in a good way) to begin and a bibliography I still am too scared to read; photographs and film I am too frightened to watch.

Because this subject-matter can drive you mad.

I wondered whether there is another way in - an artistic response that gives those who exist in the living, interaction with those whose carbon atoms have never gone away. Human beings who have every right to exist in vital effervescence not plunged into the unfathomable depths.

With the famiy

Exploring the art of shared obliteration I can cope with - death, the means, gas chambers, that is much, much harder.

The chemist Primo Levi beautifully describes the carbon cycle as a molecular dance. In death, only the venue changes; the music does not stop.

I therefore wanted this residency - my art and the Holocaust - to be about life. I am not productive around Holocaust death. I wanted to face life head on, to capture the moment and beam it up to the stars.

If that sounds horribly idealistic, well so was Primo Levi, before the war.

With us for the week was a family who were also caught in the moment. Like us, they were free as birds. We brought them over from the early 1930’s and into our time for precious seconds, in a flash and an Instagram. Photographed together, with us in the present and just like us, unaware of what the future holds.

At the end of the week there was an exhibition and a text to supplement the journey. In the evening was premiered a short video where we sat, side by side with the Rabinowitz family for their studio portrait.

Sincere thanks to the students and Charles Rendle, Professor Rainer Schulze, University of Essex for organising the week and Jo Nancarrow. Also to Jovan Djordjevic ( sorted the print and the University carpenters who made the board.

Accompanying Text:

For short film please see Video/Slides page