Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

When Silence Speaks Loudest: Can You Treat the Holocaust as an Appropriate Subject for Contemporary Art? Not If You Use It to Give Weight to an Otherwise Thin Idea, Writes Sue Hubbard

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

When Silence Speaks Loudest: Can You Treat the Holocaust as an Appropriate Subject for Contemporary Art? Not If You Use It to Give Weight to an Otherwise Thin Idea, Writes Sue Hubbard

Article excerpt

In 1976, the late film-maker Stanley Kubrick travelled to New York to try to interest the Jewish novelist Isaac Bashevis Isaac Bashevis Singer in writing an original screenplay for a project on which he was working, about the Holocaust. Not a Holocaust. Not a Holocaust survivor himself, Singer declined, saying he did not know the first thing about it.

The project was shelved until Kubrick read Louis Begley's short novel Wartime Lies, about a young Jewish boy and his aunt who manage to escape from Poland by pretending to be Catholics. In 1993, Kubrick made a deal with Warner Brothers to make a film called Aryan Papers (a reference to the documentation required to fend off deportation to the concentration camps). The film was developed and went into pre-production. Sets were located, costumes were designed, and Julia Roberts and Uma Thurman were considered for the main role of the aunt, Tanya. Eventually Kubrick settled on the Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege. Yet the film was never made.

Being of Jewish--European origin, Kubrick had been fascinated by the Holocaust his whole life, but was extremely sceptical as to whether any film could do it justice. When Frederic Raphael, who worked with him on the script of Eyes Wide Shut, suggested the subject of Thomas Keneally's Schindler's List, Kubrick's acerbic response was: "Think that's about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler's List is about 600 who don't. Anything else?"

Kubrick, like many Jewish thinkers and artists of his generation, had a very real anxiety about how to represent the horror of mass extermination artistically, echoing the German critic Theodor Adorno's belief that to write poetry after the Holocaust was barbaric. Kubrick, according to his widow, sank into a depression while working on Aryan Papers. He also learned that Steven Spielberg had started working on Schindler's List. He therefore shelved the project and concentrated instead on Eyes Wide Shut.

Now the British duo of Jane and Louise Wilson, who were nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999, have made a new work--Unfolding the Aryan Papers--based on research they conducted during a residency at University of the Arts London's Stanley Kubrick Archive. The Wilson twins have worked together for more than 20 years on research-based projects that have focused on, among other subjects, the dilapidated former Stasi headquarters in Berlin, Greenham Common and, in their "New Brutalists" exhibition, the murky waters of colonialism. Using film, photography and sculpture, they have created theatrical and atmospheric installations that investigate the darker side of human experience.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This gallery installation concentrates on newly shot footage of Johanna ter Steege and stills from the wardrobe research for the film, together with period images of the Warsaw Ghetto and other Holocaust images drawn from the pre-production period of Aryan Papers. …

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