The Sprengel Museum in Hanover presents from May 26th until September 22nd 2002 an exhibition titled “Esther Shalev-Gerz: Geht Dein Bild mich an-Does Your image reflects me- Est-ce que ton image me regarde?”
The Sprengel Museum Hanover has invited Esther Shalev-Gerz to develop one of her projects about remembrance. Her research started at the former concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen, near Hanover, a place filled with horrifying history yet, oddly, this history is entirely absent in nearby Hanover today.
Shalev-Gerz approached this period by examining historical and current photographic documentation, focussing on the stories of two women: one was in Bergen-Belsen during the war, the other in nearby Hanover.
Her installation forces the viewer to reflect on what remains as traces of history and the hidden histories and fates contained in everyday existence, the image of a city and the landscape.
Isabelle Choko grew up in Lodz as the daughter of assimilated Jews. After Hitler's troops invaded Poland, she had to relocate to the Jewish ghetto. After her father's death, the Nazis deported the girl and her mother to Auschwitz, then Celle, and finally Bergen-Bergen. Her mother died there. Isabelle Choko was 16 years old at the end of the war. Charlotte Fuchs is an actress. She studied in Gera, where she first appeared in the theatre professionally. She relocated to Berlin in 1932, moving on. In 1934, she followed her husband to Hanover, who was also an actor. Her two sons were born there in 1939 and in 1944.
Her husband was shot by Canadian troops in 1945; she didn't know of his fate until 1948. Neither of the women knew each other until this video project brought them together.
Isabelle Choko tells the viewer about starvation, abuse and survival strategies in the ghetto and in the camps. "I was always hungry...I never had enough to eat. I noticed that reading helped enormously. That was my way of spending time. I worked and I read." "When I returned, my father was dead. What did I do? I found a book and read all night long." Charlotte Fuchs tells, among other things, about how difficult it was to get by in the collective political atmosphere.
"Intelligence and circumspection helped her to live well. The worst was in 1939; that was the most difficult period in terms of hiding one's anti-fascism. In our first flat, every morning when a neighbour appeared, greeting me with a "Heil Hitler", I let them in and didn't go out. I waited until they had disappeared into their own flat before I went out."
Working with the stories of these two women's lives is Esther Shalev-Gerz' way of posing the question, " Does Your Image Reflect Me?" the concept and exhibition title. The front section of the Upper Gallery contains an installation in two rooms. There are four video images projected in the first room, diagonally. The two women tell their stories, listening to each other. In the second room, large format photographs hang, showing the past and present Bergen-Belsen.
Financial support, graphic design and Vincent Perrottet's translation of the text was made possible with the assistance of the Institut Francais de Hanovre (www.kultur-frankreich.de)
Esther Shalev-Gerz was born in Vilnius (Lithuania) in 1948. She studied at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem from 1975-1979, and then spent a year in New York. Shalev-Gerz has been working three-dimensionally since 1971; her photographic oeuvre dates back to 1973. She taught at the Bezalel Academy and at the Bat Yam Academy for the Arts as well from 1982-1983. She and Jochen Gerz married in 1984 and they worked together on numerous projects as well. The Departamento de Escultura of the Valencia Polytechnic University, Ecoles des Beaux Arts in Paris, Marseilles and Cherbourg invited her to teach from 1988-1989. In 1984 she settled in Paris, making it her focal point. Her installations in the 1980s included L'Huile sur pierre at Tel-Hai (Israel) and the Mahnmal gegen den Faschismus (monument against fascism) in Hamburg-Harburg together with Jochen Gerz. Towards the end of the 1990s, her interest moved towards multimedia projects using video and photography.
Esther Shalev-Gerz' work is repeatedly concerned with the "Third Reich" period. After the "Mahnmal gegen den Faschismus" project, in which a lead column carrying a petition signed by local residents was then, step by step, lowered into the ground until it could no longer be seen, she commented, "For me, the monument is a building block in a process that continues. The idea could revolve around fascism or any theme that comes out of it, those are concepts that I can work with. Whether as a monument, a video, or a book. The monument was a means to confront people. I believe that this process will continue as it takes root in language so that we can write with it, tomorrow."