In some of the literature on Wodiczko’s work it is mentioned that he was born in 1943 in Warsaw. Is it a fortuitous fact that the Jewish ghetto, established by the Nazis in 1940, and which, by 1942, sequestered 500,000 Jews, rose up in the year of Wodiczko’s birth? Such shadows never diminish, I suspect. In his new exhibition, Wodiczko once again addresses the scandal of death into which he was born (only some 40,000 Jews had survived the battle of the ghetto and they were quickly eliminated by the Germans). He was born at death’s door.
So death as eternal scandal is never far from Wodiczko’s thought, as this new installation testifies. Presented with his usual austerity, and a most expressive reserve, Wodiczko’s oblique commentary on events taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan is a solemn affair. In an exacting press release probably shaped by the artist himself we are offered a summary:
We enter a darkened gallery space with the only source of light being projections of horizontal windows along the perimeter towards the ceiling…soon events unfold outside…Innocuous sounds of daily life…are interrupted by sounds of gunfire and active combat…We cannot see the events occurring or the people’s faces—we perceive only a palpable level of fear, disorder, and panic.
Seeing the drifting clouds reflected on Wodiczko’s windows, and the sinister shadow of a helicopter, my own apprehensions were bestirred and my thoughts turned to another great disparager of men’s lust for destruction, Shakespeare. Did the artist have a young Clifford’s speech in King Henry VI in mind?
Shame and confusion; all is on the rout;
Fear frames disorder and disorder wounds
Where it should guard. O war, thou son of hell,
Whom angry heavens do make their minister,
Throw in the frozen bosoms of our part
Hot coals of vengeance! Let no soldier fly.
He that is truly dedicate to war
Hath no self love, nor he that loves himself
Hath not essentially but by circumstance
The name of valor
And how many times does the Bard recall, as the King says, “For what is in the world but grief and woe?” and young Clifford implore, “O, let the vile world end,” finishing the speech with “Nothing so heavy as these woes of mine.”
In the most of Wodiczko’s productions—for these are, like any opera, elaborate productions—there have always been both topical references and a broader, philosophical speculation. He is a born and bred watcher, whose deep intelligence moves on to speculation. That is never easy. At this writing, there are images on the television of the events in Egypt, which will probably turn out badly. But an artist with Wodiczko’s deep culture will probably tease out the significant details in what, as Shakespeare already recognized, is marked by circumstance. Moreover, as the ancient Greeks established, remembrance is the mother of the Muses, and, it seems to me, Wodiczko has remembered her, that all-embracing mother, with more than a little reverence. Viewers of this exhibition are forced into a waiting mode, an atmosphere of apprehension, while at the same time being admonished not to look away. Perhaps the whole impact of the show will be a suite of afterimages. And that is not mean accomplishment.
Dearest compagnon de route, or at least I hope so…
I send you this brief, but I hope pertinent, review of Krzysztof’s show at Galerie Lelong. I hope you will appreciate by brevity. I always bear in mind one of Shakespeare’s most memorable lines:
Words, words, words, words
I know you are whirling around to get the auction together, but perhaps when it is over we can spend a long session together. I miss you