Ellen Sandor, Stephan Meyers and Janine Fron
Stephanie Barish and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
Cibachrome, Kodalith, Plexiglas
Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
Overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust opened to the public in September 1997, with a mission to educate people of all generations and cultures about Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust.
The Museum's core exhibition combines archival material with contemporary media to provide a thoughtful and moving chronicle of history, keeping the memory of the past alive and offering hope for a future that includes tolerance and preservation of human history.
Ellen Sandor, the founding artist and director of (art)n was commissioned by the museum's director to create a pictorial series of PHSCologram images for the Rotunda Gallery, as a narrative climax to the museum experience. Re-presenting museum artifacts and archival images with a palate of computer applications, the installation includes expressions of faith, tradition, self-reliance, hope and renewal. This provocative installation, weaving history with personal memory, surrounds a Torah lit by a skylight, with the Statue of Liberty in view as a final gesture of freedom, tolerance and friendship. When museum visitors experience this enriching environment, they react with palpable emotion, and are impacted by the intersection of history, cultural heritage and reflection.
It was essential to the museum that the permanent installation was produced with digital media to create a lasting message of tolerance that would resonate with future generations in the visual language of contemporary society. Ellen Sandor was deeply inspired by the mission of the Survivor's of the Shoah Visual History Foundation to record living testimonies of survivors, as well as works by artists Anselm Kiefer, Marc Chagall, and photographers Roman Vishniac and Jacob Riis. In 1994, (art)n collaborated with the Shoah Foundation to create a tryptich of virtual photographs, based on archival hand drawings of the interior architecture of the barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The tyrptich preserves this historic site with virtual photographs, un-processed in full color, image processed in black-and-white, and image processed in full-color, to reveal an intimate portrait of memory and reflection for all generations. The image processing effects added layers of textures to the drawing to convey messages of a harsh reality from a time that has passed. These haunting and engaging virtual artifacts inspired the pictorial series for the museum, which was produced across multiple time zones by a large ensemble team of artists, historians and multimedia producers from (art)n in Chicago, Iowa State University's Virtual Reality Applications Center in Ames as well as other collaborators in Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C. and Rhode Island.
The body of work Sandor produced with the Shoah Foundation and the commissioned series for the museum provides a compelling defense of the importance of using new technologies to illuminate visual history in multiple dimensions. The images preserved as virtual artifacts are liberated from their actual time and place, and function as immersive extensions of the social contexts for which they were created. By working under the artistic licenses of virtual reality, virtual photography and art history, Sandor and her collaborators developed a rich mode of social interpretation, providing a direct opportunity for people to eyewitness a tragic period of human history.
More recently, Sandor was inspired to recreate Auschwitz-Birkenau as a powerful memorial to those who lived through this experience and to reaffirm our global need for tolerance, freedom, and renewal. This provocative virtual reality project creates an opportunity for people to pass through a recreation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau site to experience a link to its history and a connection to its people with a passing message of despair for life without tolerance and freedom. The true nature of the virtual experience empowers people to create a personal relationship with the place, time and spirit of the Auschwitz-Birkenau people, creating a context for a true interaction with visual history and reflection to occur.
Sandor uses art as a channel for communication to create a context for storytelling that reveals intimate portraits of history and social healing. Sandor's compelling vision uses technology in a responsible way that educates and empowers society to engage in modes of creative expression and discussion with a respect for history and cultural preservation. The immersive, three-dimensional effect combined with the interactivity of this memorial project transforms our experience with the past in the present, to influence our thoughts and actions in the future. As we embark on the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly difficult to preserve the living histories of Holocaust sites such as the remains of the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where more than half a million tourists make a special pilgrimage every year to imagine and understand the incomprehensible events that took place more than half a century ago. The ability for artists and historians to recreate a passage beyond the written word or the decay of such sites is both an opportunity and challenge that is worthy of continued exploration with the virtual reality medium. It is Sandor's hope that this project will inspire future virtual monuments that heighten our social consciousness of these events from a time that has not so long passed, for without a proper means of expression, our collective memory regarding this human tragedy
may fall into a lost crack in time, where mistakes can easily be repeated.
Agnes Meyer Driscoll (the "Mother of Cryptology")