A Arte Pós-Holocausto
Obras temáticas de vários artistas - pintura moderna e contemporânea -
"To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric".
With these words, written just a few years after the war, the German social critic Theodor Adorno offered an inconsolable rejection of artmaking after the Holocaust. For Adorno, the very act of creating art to express the pain of Auschwitz was a kind of betrayal. Artistic representation of the horror was not simply misguided. It was a barbarous reversal of standards, in which the aesthetic would take precedence over the moral. In this reversal would be faint echoes of the crime itself, which emerged from the Nazis' subordination of morality to national, racial, and, at times, even aesthetic ideals.
Adorno's injunction has also been understood in another way: as a call to silence, in the face of a tragedy that goes beyond human comprehension. No words, no music, no images can properly express the loss. Better, it is argued, to acknowledge through silence our inability to understand, than to diminish the enormity of the crime by futile expressions of incomprehension.
Should silence be the final word?
For some, the need to break the silence is urgent. In 1948, Wanda Jakubowska took a cast and crew onto the grounds of Auschwitz to film Last Stop, an account of her years as a prisoner in the extermination camp. Svay Ken began to paint his series, The History of My Family, right after his family was reunited, just a few years after the end of Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia.
For others, the sifting of experience stretches over time. Boris Sveshnikov's first drawings of the Soviet Gulag are spare, seemingly escapist. Over the next five decades, the distorting horrors of his imprisonment transformed Sveshnikov's work into a surreal, inescapable nightmare. Jorge Semprun's Literature or Life filters his two years in the Buchenwald concentration camp through more than 50 years of reflection on how to make a life after Buchenwald. Semprun is torn between silence and imagination. The smoke of the Buchenwald crematorium, he writes, obscures the view of outsiders who wish to understand: "The smoke, however, is beyond them. And they will never really understand it. Not these people, that day. Nor all the others, afterward". Yet Semprun's final faith is in words, with which he struggles to impart the substance of his eyewitness: "The only ones who will manage to reach into this substance, this transparent density, will be those able to shape their evidence into an artistic object, a space of creation. Or of re-creation. Only the artifice of a masterly narrative will prove capable of conveying some of the truth of such testimony".
This "space of creation" has called out to countless artists, writers and thinkers. Not because the victims of violence could be restored, nor because art could redeem their suffering. Their loss is an immutable legacy of history.
Rather, this space has provided a natural setting for reflections on traumatic events and their ongoing consequences. Events are examined in order to understand the breakdown of communities and individuals. The present judges the past - its beliefs, its actions, its casualties. A process with flaws, no doubt. But illuminating the differences between the past and the present is the way in which a moral imagination grows. Contrasting "what they did" with "what we would have done" is how we clarify the moral dimensions of normal life; normality is understood anew as daily life shielded against violence on a massive scale. For those who believe that forgetting the past risks repeating it, silence is, finally, impossible.
In considering the creative works gathered by The Legacy Project, we must recall a critical fact: The time we live in has been shaped by what we know today about the terrible events that came before. By the demands of silence: how it is honored, and how it is broken. Emerging from spaces of creation around the world, these disparate works may be understood as a collective, retrospective reflection on the consequences of living in a time of "afterwards".
The large events of conflict and killing that marked so much of the 20th century are receding into the pasts of societies around the world. Soon enough, the people who survived the Holocaust, the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, Hiroshima and the Cambodian Killing Fields will pass on. Irretrievably, the authority of living eyewitness will pass with them. Irrevocably, those left behind will be faced with the responsibilities of living beyond the survivors and their experiences. The next question is inevitable: When living memory is no longer present, what will remembrance be?
To answer, we must acknowledge the spirit of "afterwards" as an essential characteristic of remembering, and as a way to integrate new concerns into the cultural and political dialogue of the 21st century. This will not - and should not - dilute the real distinctions among historical events. But while historical research and legal processes continue, we must also recognize that the aftermath of large-scale violence is now a condition of contemporary life, a social passage that must be better understood. The works included in this exhibition, The Art of Afterwards, represent the beginnings of such understanding.
These works recall moments of trauma, offering evidence or documentation through the depiction of victims, ruined sites, or other forms of physical destruction. They demonstrate how artists bring audiences into contact with the immediate consequences of these first acts of violence.
It is not possible to hold onto the past. The passage of time, and generations, changes the meaning of events for individuals and societies. Thus, there is a tension between commemoration and memory, between defining experience and recognizing that it shifts over time. This gallery features works that commemorate violence and loss, and works that struggle to retain disappearing images of the past.
Isolated and Apart
As societies break down under the pressure of violence, individuals must struggle with deeply threatening or radically reduced conditions. This gallery gathers works that focus on individuals struggling with isolation, during or after traumatic violence.
Refiguring the Past
How does one understand traumatic events across and ever-increasing distance of time? Through research and debate, societies try to clarify the conditions under which traumatic events occur. But the true resonance of such explorations emerges from the questions posed. Do the questions raised by the past evoke recognition in contemporary settings? Would we today make the same mistakes, commit the same cruelties, muster the same resistance? What, if anything, can be learned from what happened? In this gallery, an ongoing interrogation of the past.
Clifford Chanin, The Legacy Project