In James E. Young’s The Holocaust as Vicarious Past he explores the way that this generation of artists is engaging with the Holocuast. Because these artists never directly experienced the Holocaust, they draw upon the collective memory to create their art. Instead of drawing upon memories of survivors, contemporary artists are drawing on their own personal relationship to the Holocaust and not trying to repeat the memories that belong to someone else. These artists are still connected to the Holocaust, however they portray the Holocaust as a “vicarious past”.
Young looks specifically at the work of David Levinthal in this context. Levinthal uses vintage nazi era toys and arranges them in different battle scenes. Instead of photographing the historical realities, Levinthal arranges his toys into tableaux because that is the only reality of the Holocaust he knows. Levintahl chooses to limit his work to his knowledge from textbooks and history lessons, and thus creates a new conversation about the Holocaust and the relation it has to people today.
Young also addresses the issue that these artworks are “self indulgent by a generation more absorbed in its own vicarious experiences of memory than by the survivors experiences of real events.” While it is a fair argument to make that these artists should be making art about the Holocaust, rather than about themselves. These artists draw entirely off collective memory and thus don’t know anything directly about the Holocaust. Personally creating art about the Holocaust despite having a direct connection to it enters into the territory of an inauthentic representation. While this can be it’s own valid artists expression, I argue that it is far more powerful to create art from personal experience. By continuing to make work about a “vicarious past” the connection to the Holocaust lives and continues to affect modern people.
In James E. Young’s Memory, Countermemory, and the End of the Monument he looks the monument problem that Germany faced after WWII, and addresses the way that classical monuments can only aid in forgetting. The first example that Young uses is the artist Horst Hoheisel’s “memorial to the murdered jews of Europe” proposal. The artist proposed that instead of building some new edifice to add to the landscape of Germany, that instead they should destroy it. Hoheisel proposed to demolish the Brandenburg Gate and allow the empty space to serve as a permanent reminder of the missing Jews. Hoheisel argued that creating a place for memory only served as a way for Germany to permanently end this chapter of their history. Thus encouraging people to forget.
From this radical proposal has come a rethinking of the purpose of monuments and their role. While many monuments are meant to serve as place for remembrance, they instead become “figurative icons of the late nineteenth century celebrating national ideals and triumphs to the anti-heroic”. While a monument to celebrate the victory of a war in one country rises triumphantly, it ignores the destruction of the other country.
While this idea of a different style of monument feels new, Lewis Mumford argued for this idea in the 1930’s. Mumford argued that the style of all monuments needed to be that of modernism architecture. “Believing that modern architecture invited the perpetuation of life itself, encourages renewal and change, and scorns the illusion of permanence.” While this idea is starkly planted in the modernist ideology, it is becoming clear that monuments nor their meaning is everlasting. Further using the same methods of creating a monument was counter to the new ideals and meanings of art after the Great War.
While all monuments are created to preserve memory and offer consolation, by creating large classical monuments they allow people to move on. While this can be important for the healing process, in many cases it allows for people to move forward without allowing the mourning process to be completed.
The new Migration Museum opened in London last week, the institution has the aim of connecting the people of London with it’s rich history of migration. The museum has been holding temporary exhibits and gaining funding since 2013, and just opened their official space. The desire to create a museum of this type was to help alleviate some of the tension around the migrants living in London.
The museum opened with a show titled Call me by my name: Stories from Calais and beyond which shares the stories of refugees and artists. The refugee camp in Calais was torn down this past November, causing an International stir. Since November 13 immigrants have died trying to cross the english channel into the UK.
The opening also features 100 Images of Migration, a photo exhibition of migrant families in the UK from 1950 to present.
Here is a link to the artnet story.
Robert Capa’s Falling Soldier remains as one of the most famous war photographs ever taken. The image was taken during the Spanish Civil War, and depicts a solider being shot and falling backwards with his spine arched and arms splayed wide. The image is so famous for the way it captures the exact moment when a man died. However, while the photo is very famous it has long been questioned if the image is staged. Recently a professor named José Manuel Susperregui began researching the image and concluded that “”Capa’s picture was taken not at Cerro Muriano, just north of Córdoba, but near another town, about 35 miles away. Since that location was far from the battle lines when Capa was there, Mr. Susperregui said, it means that “the ‘Falling Soldier’ photo is staged, as are all the others in the series taken on that front.””
While the shot captured in the image has long been thought to be the work of a sniper, because there are no other soldiers in the frame. This causes more questions because Capa frequently stated that the image caught the shots of machine gun fire. Capa also told various accounts of how he was able to capture the image in interviews over the years. The issue remains however that whether or not the image was staged, all photography is staged to a certain extent. The nature of photography allows the photographer to select the frame of the image and reveal only what they want you to see. While there is no concrete evidence as to the authenticity of the image, it remains a powerful document of the Spanish Civil War.
In an exhibition curated by Takashi Murakami, he addresses the shift in Japanese culture and the movement of otaku. The exhibition looks at the cultural effects of the Little Boy atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The idea of the exhibiton focused around the idea of the superflat, which “presented a visual logic for popular Japanese arts based on their “flat,” cartoon-like style and fascination with supernatural realms”. The exhibition however goes beyond the cartoonish aspects of Japanese culture to the darker threads that have presented themselves post war. After the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, there was not only fallout from the effects of radiation, but the censorship of the event made it a topic that was not addressed. It wasn’t until later that the children of the atomic bomb survivors began to ask questions, that the issues surrounding the bomb began to be addressed by cartoons. Additionally movies such as Godzilla also addressed the bomb, but did so in a way that did not directly reference the event.
The changes in the culture of Japan were extremely evident after the bomb fell on Hiroshima. The way that Japanese people addressed the issues after the fallout is very different from other countries. Because while there are memorials and quiet places of contemplation, the art and everyday culture was radically changed to reflect the superflat anime otaku culture.
Here is a link to the NPR coverage of the show.
Here is an New York Magazine article about the show.