Work in Progress:
The Landscape of our Memory
The Landscape of our Memory is a long-term artistic project that addresses the “dispersed Holocaust” or “Holocaust by Bullets” by commemorating the more than 2 million individuals who were killed in or near their hometowns rather than in concentration camps. Inspired by the work of academics studying the Environmental History of the Holocaust (a relatively new sub-field of Holocaust studies), the artists also explore the links between genocide and ecocide and call attention to the environmental crises we currently face, including climate change. Some preliminary imagery from the first phase of the project, created during ten months of work in Poland in 2022-2023 under the auspices of two Fulbright Scholar grants, is presented here.
Commemoration of Individuals Lost in the "Dispersed Holocaust"
The centerpiece of the project consists of portraits of individuals murdered during the dispersed Holocaust using the antique “anthotype” technique, discovered in the 1840s, in which photographs are created from plant material. Leaves and flowers found at mass killing sites are blended with high percentage alcohol to create an emulsion that is then painted onto art paper. A positive image, identified through painstaking archival research, is printed on acetate, placed on top of the emulsion, and exposed in the sun. Depending on the specific plant, exposures are completed in minutes, days, or even weeks or months.
Because the plant material is gathered from the mass grave sites where the bodies of the murdered individuals lie, the final photograph likely contains, at the molecular level, something of his or her remains. The physical trace of these individuals restores their humanity and avoids consigning them to the status of faceless statistics. The prints, which do not contain sharp detail like contemporary photographs, exist in a liminal space, somewhere between being and non-being. If exposed to continued UV light, they will begin to fade away, much like human memory.
Anthotype printing is a 100 percent sustainable photographic practice that doesn't use any harmful chemicals.
Witness and Living Memorial Trees
In order to ensure proper memorialization of those for whom a photograph does not exist, the artists are also working with the concept of “witness trees” or “trees as living memorials” to Holocaust atrocities. As has been noted by scholars, some trees existed at these sites at the time of the Shoah, and even those that grew later are drawing on the soil at the mass grave and now contain human remains. The artists create stark silhouettes of these trees, rising from the darkness into light, created as complex collages from single frames of analog film exposed in a camera in use at the time of the Holocaust.
The current project also expands the concept of trees as "witnesses" or "living memorials" to include trees that are witnesses to severe environmental damage, including the climate crisis and severe pollution. These images, created digitally to better represent the contemporary nature of the threat, are also conceived as black and white silhouettes that loom over the landscape in a monumental manner.
The artists are also experimenting with another manner of commemorating individuals lost in the dispersed Holocaust. They use an antique process known as "lumen printing" to create abstract images that memorialize those for whom no name or photograph exists. In order to fully respect Jewish law and avoid disturbing the soil at killing sites, a small amount of soil is gathered from nearby the mass graves. It is then placed on analog photographic paper and exposed in the sun. The soil often bonds to an extent with the paper in a manner that may symbolically or literally contain molecular remains. The resulting images, which vary widely in terms of color, shape, and texture, suggest the diversity and uniqueness of every individual lost in the Holocaust.
Podcast Hosted by Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre
The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre invited us to participate in a series of podcasts titled "Standing Up to the Assault on Democracy." You can access the podcast here. We would like to thank the four academic leaders who interviewed us, including Andrea Pető, Tali Nates, Steven Carr, and Bjorn Krondorfer. We admire their work and look forward to an ongoing dialogue.
As the project progresses, it will likely expand to include other nations where the dispersed Holocaust was prominent, including Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. It will increase its attention to environmental trauma and ecocide, including the extinction of plant and animal species. And it will use video projection, sound, and other strategies to call attention to the links between genocide and ecocide, the contemporary threat both pose in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the importance of preventing them in the future.