Tuesday, March 15, 2005


hey all - for those anonymous and silent who visit this spot of weblicious candour and convey. I'm back in Seoul since Friday, expecting the delivery of materials from Tokyo. I will reprocess them into large square lamps to hang along the long wall at O Patro Vys in Montreal. It's really art on the edge of decor, but the fact that the imagery is from my skin, it has that macabre element which seems to push it artward.

I researched the legend of the lamps made from human skin. They are famous, but did they really exist? According to all I read, despite the reality of the horrifical scale of nazi atrocities, the lamp of human skin remains a legend and has never been proven to exist.

I didn't choose to make these lamps. I have been working with surfaces of skin for 4 years now. The idea just occured to me and I was inspired... only after reflecting on it I became aware of it's historical resonance. The lamp of human skin has come to represent the nec plus ultra of repugnant acts committed by the Nazis, in part, I believe because it is so horribly beautiful. despite the circumstances of its removal the idea of illuminating a human from inside eternally, with electric light has a kind of faustian ecstacy about it.

The lamp made of human skin may or may not have existed, but I have come to acknowledge that it has a horrible glamour that captivates the world to this day. Jews and non-jews alike. The story, if it is only that, came from people in conditions of excruciating misery and utter despair. The story, the image itself is evidence of the unbearable experiences and sheer unmenschlichkeit (inhumanity) of the industrial extermination and work camps of 60 years ago.

A few weeks ago I visited the Shoah museum in Paris, right across the street from where I was staying at the Cite International des Arts. From the window I could see the queues stretching around the block on the weekends, they long strands of schoolchildren shepherded there before lunchtime on field trips, and tourists and locals waiting patiently to go though the bullet- and maybe bomb-proof security booth so discretely built into the enterance you don't know its there until it's almost your turn.

Some Parisians complained that the Shoah has become a kind of religion in France. I guess this is a valid comment to counterbalance with gallic irony the startlingly articulate, hard-hitting and well paced communication in this museum. Compared with the crowded, confused and ineffectual exhibit in the Jewish Museum Berlin, the Shoah museum packs a real punch and stays coherent - I haven't seen the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, but it would be hard to beat this one, especially in its frank and in depth acknowledgement of French tolerance, involvement and collaboration with the worst of Nazi policy.

One of the most horrible exhibits is a bag made fromhuman hair. If one looks closely one can see the little curly ends of hair lifting indomitable from the woven surface of the bag. incredible. unforgettable. and yet, please don't hate me, a person does not have to die for hair to be harvested for industrial applications such as this. There is a gulf of mournful meaning between the physical evidence of the heartless reuse of human materials for industrial applications and the lightless void and screamless silence of the unrecoverable exterminated millions.

When a half-filled auditorium heard Elie Wiesel ask "WIll the world ever learn" to close his commemoration speech for the 60th anniverary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps , many must have sighed with despair. This eloquent witness made a simple and moving appeal, but the fact is that human beings can only evolve so fast. Despite the unbridled exploits of our technology, we humans are deep down largely the same animal we were 10,000 years ago. The world will learn, Mr. Wiesel, but slowly, with excruciating setbacks and unsung accomplishment.

No comments: