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Tableau of roses

 

Tamarah Benima

(New Israelitic Weekly 23, 19 March 2010, p.31; translation: Maarten van der Heijden)

 

Is it possible to make art about the Shoah? The question was asked immediately after the war. Especially after the famous statement of the German philosopher Theodor Adorno that ‘writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.’ But art is not only aesthetics. Art also confronts us with (unsettling) questions. And art can offer consolation. Therefore, Adorno's statement is still meaningful while at the samen time beautiful poetry, great novels and impressive paintings are created with the Shoah as a starting point and subject.

 

Maarten van der Heijden is one of the artists who has made an attempt to do 'something' with the Shoah. Van der Heijden, originally a psychologist, graduated at the Rietveld Academy and last week showed three works in the context of an exhibition of graduating students. In the past year I have seen him struggle to make good art. At first he tried to do thiss with junk that I inherited and to throw away, but turned out to still be interesting to him. It did not work. It lacked quality. But with his last three works he achieved what he set out to do. As a member of the so called second generation he investigated how  an artist can use the Shoah to create images that exeed the horrors, that go beyond it into another realm. Without denying the Shoah.

 

As the child of Shoah-survivors one does not have the direct experience of persecution and loss, but the images of the Shoah are nevertheless part of one's identity and existence. How to deal with that? There are two options, either you become insufferably shallow, or you go crazy. Neither are attractive options.

 

How did Van der Heijden's resolve the dilemma: not denying the Shoah but also not drowning in the subject? He took a little fragment of a photograph of emaciated dead, multiplied it and put these together in a kaleidoscopic way. By doing this, in one image/work that was constructed this way, a pattern originated that can be associated with a tableau of roses. In another image/work the association with pop-art imposes itself. In his images death and life are inseparable, as is the case in reality. The living is already dying, and what has died is already a building block for life. What remains is the way the dying took place. The horrible way of dying and be put to death remains, and if one looks carefully, one sees indeed the unbearably terrible. In experiencing these works of art by Van der Heijden one has to make an effort - in the same way as one has to make an effort in the Alhambra or in the Aya Sofia - tp not forget the people that were slaughtered amidst all that beauty.