Artist Statement: In Memoriam

From In Memoriam

I was born in 1934 in Montreal and most of my life will have been lived in the terrible 20th century. Even as a child, I knew that what happened in the world had to do with my small life. It was these facts that gave rise to Notes From the 20th, a continuum of 5 installations created from 1994 – 2003; another impetus for these works is that the same cycles of war and violence have continued into the new century. I have exhibited all 5 installations in different configurations in various galleries and small museums in Canada, but only the first two have been shown in Montreal.** I am applying for an exhibition of the 3 others at the Centre Clark.

The 5 works follow a trajectory that moves from an examination of the contingencies of my own life (being female, middle class, Jewish, the particular time and place,etc.), those forces that formed me amidst the political upheavals of the time, to the work of Walter Benjamin, and then to his own tragic life story.

Walter Benjamin was a brilliant social theorist of the 20th century and one of its many victims. In his allegory of The Angel of History, based on a Klee drawing, the Angel faces the past, trying to understand it, to awaken the dead, to change history, which he sees as a piling up of one catastrophe upon another.

Benjamin’s answer to our dilemma is that we must awaken from the dream world we live in. He articulated a vast understanding of the great upheavals and movements of the 20th century and importantly, the revolutionary changes brought about by new technologies and their impact on the arts.

In deference to Benjamin’s prescient analysis, older technologies of communication are prominent in these works –large upright radios, old TV sets and phonographs. They are meant to have a metaphorical role – standing as presences, speakers, ghosts of the past, warning voices.

Another aspect of my work is the use of anamorphosis wherein a distorted image can be restored to its true perspective by viewing it in a mirror cylinder.  The images I use are of Hitler with ecstatic masses, Hitler with children, images that have a disruptive function meant to interfere with the usual gut-level reaction to Hitler as evil incarnate. I would like viewers to have a moment of ‘awakening’, as they search within the mirrored surface for the ‘real’ image, an awakening to the disturbing fact that Hitler was followed blindly by most Germans, and that violence and war have their own seductive aesthetic that we today are not immune to.

Freda Guttman