This week’s readings shed light on how we see things and how we remember. In Jennifer Hansen-Gluckich’s book, Holocaust Memory Reframed, we learn about the exhibitions of Yad Vashem, the Jewish Museum of Berlin, and the USHMM. Gluckich examines how these museums are designed with the intention of creating meaning and how each of the museums use aesthetic and spatial techniques to tell stories of the Holocaust. I found Gluckich’s reading incredibly interesting and really liked how she explains installation techniques, and how they can shape a viewer’s understanding of an exhibit. For example, in her discussion of the Tower of Faces and Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names, Gluckich demonstrates how these two installations – both of which present powerful photographs of victims of the Holocaust – evoke different emotional responses from viewers.
The Tower of Faces consists of a three-story high tower, filled with photographs of ordinary life in a Jewish town before the Holocaust. Gluckich explains, “visitors connect to these photographs in a personal, intimate way; they remind us of the old black-and-white and sepia-toned photographs of our own grandparents and great grandparents” (Gluckich, 94). Visitors return to the Tower of Faces a second time, after passing through exhibits on the ghettos and concentration camps, and after reading a text about the first Holocaust victims. According to the reading, “[photographs in the Tower of Faces] no longer reveal glimpses into individual lives but rather project the image of a single great catastrophe. The power of human portraits to evoke empathy in their viewers is here eclipsed by the exhibit’s aesthetic technique, which transforms each individual into a fragment in an artfully rendered mosaic of loss” (96). Furthermore, the design of the Tower, a three-story high ascension of pictures, reinforces the massive loss of individuals among a sea of anonymous faces. In Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names, on the other hand, there are names accompanying the photographs of the victims of the Holocaust. Accordingly, Gluchick explains that here, “the power of living presence strengthens the ability of viewers to empathize and even identify with the victims” (100). The Hall of Names aims to give identity back to the victims of the Holocaust, those who had been horrifically stripped of all identifying features and reduced to numbered labels. Alternatively, the Tower of Faces “imitates the structure of a traumatic memory”. These experiences in their entirety evoke a range of emotions and a total artwork experience [Gesammtkustwerk] (103).
Melissa Weiner examines how national memories of slavery and colonialism are preserved in Dutch textbooks and remembered throughout history. Weiner’s study reminds me very much of the way slavery is remembered in the United States and how history is remembered in the Southern United States compared to the Northern United States of America. Several years ago, there was great outrage over the fact that Thomas Jefferson was being removed from textbooks in Texas. Weiner’s reading also made me think about the symbolism of the Confederate flag. I have come across many Southerners who believe that the flag represents southern pride. On the other hand, I have been taught that the confederate flag symbolizes the southern states breaking from the Union because they wanted to preserve slavery. Weiner contends that, “given the long-documented role of education in shaping children’s radicalized conceptions of their nation, realities, and identities, these textbooks reveal the radical neoliberal foundation that young adults in the Netherlands today encountered and that with which the current generation of Dutch children will be embedded” (345). I agree with Weiner that education lays the foundation for shaping national identity and for setting up the foundation for a future that can learn from it’s past. Here I think the Beasley article fits in nicely. In “The City as Museum and the Museum as City,” Larry Beasley discusses turning cities into places where people can convene to learn about city issues and actively participate in their space. Beasley proposes that urban planning include historical elements which can help citizens engage in their city’s culture and development. Beasley proposes creating places where people can come together and learn about city issues, debate change, and review development projects that impact the cityscapes daily.