Polish Art and the Holocaust

Openning of the exhibition at the Kordegarda Gallery

Apr 19 – Apr 28
19 April 2013, Friday 18:00

Archeology is the action of digging up the remains of the former existence, buried deep or just below the surface. It allows us to partially reconstruct an image of the past world, study the outlines, and sometimes slightly larger fragments that the passing time has covered with a thick layer of dust. Each successive layer of soil unveils other pieces, bringing us closer to the full image of the past. They are not only objects, but also the ideas contained in the memoirs, narratives that we discover, reaching the last living witnesses.

Excavation site left alone obliterates over time, slowly disappearing. Finally grass grows over it and then it is included in the natural course of things.

Discovering and reconstructing the memory of the Holocaust is an extremely difficult task. The past seems unreachable here in particular, the picture still eludes our expectations. We are always lacking the means by which the horror of the Holocaust could be described. As a result, what we are left with are: making outlines, documenting the remains, listening to the witnesses, reconstructing the memory.

Such attempts to collect and understand the parts of the past are presented in Kordegarda Gallery: films, drawings and installations in a variety of ways related to the problem of the traces of the Holocaust. A small, rusty, dug up in the former Warsaw Ghetto area cafe table and not complete dinner service placed on it are the most meaningful of the exhibited archeological artifacts. They are the relics and the direct witnesses to the Holocaust. They are symbolic marks on the map of the memory of the city.

We can see precisely how the fragments of the past are extracted from the ground in a 1967 film “Archeology” by Andrzej Brzozowski. This moving sequence of images shows the archeological works conducted on the former area of Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. On the excavation site, men are quietly working in concentration. When they are turning the objects in their hands, we can precisely see a Soviet star from a military hat, a Dutch ceramic beer cork, some pencils. After a while, the camera changes the angle. We can see a scenery with barbet wire in the background. Only then, we are able to recognize the exact location of the excavation site.

Also, a never executed project of a monument “Road”, prepared in 1955 by a team led by Oskar Hansen is related to the problem of the space marked by the Holocaust. The artists’ concept places the area of the former camp into the structure of a monument in a very unique way. The eponymous road runs diagonally through the area of the concentration camp, keeping the buildings as they are and making them steeped in history. The closed entrance gate does not allow us to enter the designated road. The buildings on both sides of it were supposed to be gradually destroyed by Nature.

Nature erases traces of the painful history in the urban landscape. A film by Jarosław Kozakiewicz presents a vision of dead area of “Osiedle za Żelazną Bramą”, which becomes an ecological land, which becomes overgrown with lush vegetation. Houses built on the ruins of the ghetto in the artist’s vision are blurred. They are becoming overgrown with the vegetation, just as earlier, the ruins were overgrown with grass. 

Archaeology in the exhibition is understood in a different manner than usual. It is not used only to study ancient cultures. It discovers traces of not so distant past, which many would prefer to forget. Exposing the Holocaust testimonies is extremely difficult and often doubted. However, we cannot allow ourselves to forget so much human suffering, or stop asking about it. Artists in the roles of archaeologists reveal before us the shocking testimonies and help to understand them although it is possible only to a small extent. They ask us how we deal with the presence of the testimonies.

The Honorary Patronage over the exhibition has been assumed by the President of Republic of Poland Bronisław Komorowski.

The exhibition was created in the collaboration with the National Cultural Center

More, on the website devoted to the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Resistance and the Holocaust

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