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Installation view at the Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris

Esther Shalev Gerz
Nuit Blanche Paris,

October 2nd 2021

Esther Shalev-Gerz, “Between Listening and Telling: Last Witnesses, Auschwitz 1945-2005″, 2005, Video triptych, 40 minutes.

I am in Warsaw. The second trip in two months; talked to Joanna Fikus the chief curator of exhibitions at POLIN on Thursday about this very work which to my mind is one of the masterpieces of the Shalev-Gerz oeuvre. It was made on the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2005; the work is a record of the 60 survivors from this camp who were then alive in Paris. The entirety of the video testimonies was presented in a large installation in 2005 at the City Hall in Paris. It also appeared at the retrospective exhibition in Jeu de Paume, Paris, in MCBA Lausanne, in The Belkin Art Gallery, UBC, Vancouver as well as in Montreal and Detroit.

For this Nuit Blanche 2021, large screens will be projected on the wall above the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, lighting the night sky. When talking to Joanna Fikus I said that to my mind, this work with its intuitive strategy of showing the silences in-between the spoken interviews was perhaps the most stirring reading of the human experience of living through what has become more and more unspeakable as time passes. It has also the potential of becoming beyond understanding once the survivors are no longer living. So the sculptural and visceral changes in the larger than life faces of these witnesses leaves a deep mark in the spirit of the viewer. In these moments of time passing, the brow becomes a landscape of pain, the eyes look away into a distant memory of things impossible to render in language, the chin, the lips, the cheeks become elements in the act of memory that transcends understanding. It becomes a mirror of our own capacity to empathise and listen in silence. We watch, we listen, we witness this silence. Shalev-Gerz allows both the healing of silence and the loud music of silence to wash through these long sequences in filmic terms. These are our relatives, even those of us with no connection to the Holocaust at all. They are our family members in the lost tribes of centuries ago, all of whom somehow managed to be in a part of the world that became nothing but a killing field.

Dinner last night in Warsaw a question fluttered across the table; how large was the Jewish community today in Warsaw. An affable heartfelt native said not more than 30,000. Which included those who were members of the community as well as those with secular associations. There was a pause among the four of us; and then he continued, ‘we once had the largest Jewish population in the world second only to New York, but that was before.’ Shalev-Gerz may well have been with us in the dining room in spirit. Certainly her work emits a transmission of human strength and resolve that certainly followed me to Poland.

Photo captions:

3-10 Esther Shalev-Gerz, “Between Listening and Telling: Last Witnesses, Auschwitz 1945-2005”, 2005, Video triptych, 40 minutes

More info:

Esther Shalev-Gerz
Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris
Nuit Blanche à Paris