Well, it’s come and gone, but I’m still here, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. The show of work by students in various summer residencies at the School of Visual Arts (sculpture, painting, bio-art, printmaking, illustration) happened last Thursday night. It was our Big Event after a month of listening, talking, thinking, making and reviewing. A sizeable crowd turned up – mostly rellies and friends of the students – and quickly demolished the wine and beer we students provided, possibly because we didn’t have the foresight to supply exhibition-opening quality wine, but actually handed out drinkable stuff at our individual studio booths. This is a lesson I won’t forget.
I finished my installation a whole half-hour before kickoff, which wasn’t bad considering the number of last-minute adjustments needed, and the fact that I had to teach myself to use iMovie and a couple of iPhone apps at the last minute to do my video-editing.
For those coming new to my blog, this suite of works is called Kristallnacht. I’ve been intrigued by the disparity between the beautiful sound of the word – evocative of tinkling glasses at a party, the shine of stars on a clear, crisp night – and the horrendous event in Germany in November 1938 in which Nazi paramilitary attacked Jewish businesses and homes throughout Germany and Austria, precipitating the second world war and one of the worst genocides to occur.
I installed the works in two spaces: my regular studio space in the basement with the other sculptors, and one of the dedicated installation rooms upstairs with the painters.
In the downstairs space I had three works: Die Deutsch-Family (The German Family), made largely of timbers painted in the German imperial colours and the yellow the Nazis imposed in the stars required to be worn by all Jews; Ziel (Target), a work in stained timber and yellow ink on tissue; and Strichcode (Barcode), made of split painted timbers and glass sheets. They worked well in the space, with enough room to be seen individually.
My major work, Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), went into the installation room, notionally to give it somewhere where its sound and video components would be able to be played – and heard – without disrupting adjoining shows. In the end, the space proved too small and claustrophobic for the work, and the sound was hard to hear properly over the hubbub of wine-fuelled voices in the corridor outside (another reason not to supply free good wines and beers on opening nights) and an always-on food beater in a nearby installation. I guess that’s Lesson Two – controlling the sound space. When I re-make the work back home I’ll make a room to go with it.
The hammer head was an accidental touch. I grabbed it out of the SVA metal shop, painted it in the German imperial colors and used it to splinter the wood for the work. It didn’t last the distance. Along the way I broke three hammer handles (sorry, SVA), and the smashed timber and video component reflect the violence involved in creating it.
Also in the room with the main piece were Reich (Empire) I and Reich II, and Wiederaufbau (Rebuilding), of fractured painted timber, glass and string.
Outside the installation room was the final piece, Reich III, made of painted timber and clay, and my iPhone set into the timber and playing a video loop showing a hammer smashing a piece of wood to splinters.
Kristallnacht got good feedback on the works from fellow students (both sculptors and painters) and several faculty (two of whom who saw some sympathy with works by Joseph Beuys, one of the most influential German artists of the twentieth century). It also clearly moved some of the other visitors. One of these, whose artist husband’s Jewish family narrowly survived the Nazi pogroms, was quite shaken by it and unable to step inside the room.
By the end of the residency the Kristallnacht theme had really got under my skin, and I think I’ll keep working on it when I return to Australia. It’s a universal story, and an uncomfortable one. With these works following on from the Rendition series I made when at the University of Massachusetts last year, I seem to be heading down a pathway of art as social commentary. Only time will tell if it’s marketable.