Edith Altman

It Was Beyond Human Imagination

Seven vignettes illustrate the fragmented information we receive from our mass media. Asking, How Does The Mind Work?  How Do We Learn?  Can We Learn? How do we relate to human rights violations, war and intolerance.  Among other dark events, it focuses on the Holocaust as a paradigm of evil, questioning how can visual elements help us to make sense of our collective memory of major disasters. The objects and texts relate to teaching and working tools: artist's drawing benches, workbenches, textbook directions, samples of propaganda art styles and enlarged children's blocks, etc.


A large sign painted with the features of a face that says, "Eye/See," "Ear/Hear," "Nose/No," "Mouth/Silence." Its title asks, "Did you/Didn't you?" Throughout the installation, the choice of color, materials, image, form, text and style of printed material are used aesthetically, symbolically and historically to suggest the paradox embodied in the spectacle of the aesthetics of the evil of Hitler's Third Reich.  The wood constructions and other objects are all  built in a very highly finished, seductive manner.  They  exist  somewhere  between  art object  and  functional object.  The paintings function both as symbol and image.  The drawings, photographs, and sentences speak  of the paradox of communication  systems.   The painting of a simplified Red Cross truck, a universal symbol of healing, yet these trucks also carried deadly gas for the Nazi extermination

of prisoners.


A finely crafted work  bench is painted with a sign on its top that reads, "They Needed A Language Of Resistance." Strewn in front of the bench are seven oversized wooded children's blocks that read, "Thinking Blocks," "Building Blocks," "See," "Grasp," "Understand," "Move," and "Act." On the wall behind is a painting of a cut-off  black figure in a uniform wearing a red, white and black swastika armband and hanging next to it is a red-framed drawing that includes a textbook of instruction on how to draw in perspective, and also three red-framed texts of sentences (taken from popular culture magazines), both in English and in German.  The first says, "He Was A Slow Learner," the second, "The Pain Only Lasts For A Short Time," and the third, "It May Be A Little Uncomfortable."


Another example (in slide #9) is a vignette with an artist's drawing bench that reads (from a sign leaning on it), "The Trick Is To Remember And Forget To Continue To Start Anew." Another sign board balances on top of the bench next to a painting of a cross used by Hitler. It reads, "Mind Over Matter." This relates to another sign board in a different location of the installation that asks, "Does It Matter, Matters Big and Small, It Matters Little, It Doesn't Matter, Do You Mind?" On the wall over the bench are two black-framed artist's perspective drawing lessons, a simplified red painting of an artist's bench and seven sentences framed in black or red.  One reads in English and in German, "While They Hadn't Been Directly Involved, Being A Witness, Having Witnesses Almost Everything That Had Happened, Had Given Them A Sense of Power." Another of the seven sentences reads, "Their Only Real Involvement Throughout the Entire Affair Had Been That Of Innocent Bystanders" (Also taken from cultural popular magazine).