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Curator's Introduction

The exhibition sets out on a memory-aided journey to the future, to face works of art which expose us to images delved from the archives of repression and denial of fears and anxieties from our past experiences. It attempts to examine through them future scenarios awaiting us and to learn from them how to avoid repeating past mistakes.
Themistocles, who lived in the 5th century B.C., deliberated his desire to learn the art of forgetting rather than the art of memory; "I remember things I wish to forget," he said’ "and cannot forget things I wish to remember." 1
These words express the desire to be relieved of the burden of memories, weighing heavily upon and imposing responsibilities on the individual and on society wishing to confront them.
Many philosophers have attempted to understand the value and meaning of memory, attempts which have resulted in more questions than answers, leaving us and the generations to come in a state of contemplation and deliberation.

Are we born as a tabula rasa, devoid of all wisdom and memory, confronting it while mustering our brain in order to store it with recycled and accumulative knowledge which serves us during our lifetime – as John Locke suggests2, or rather, should we adhere to the belief that "experiences are inborn in us", that things were formed prior to our existence, and that we are to face the unknown, sunken in the deep pool of collective memory, incapable of changing anything apart from operating the sole self-defense mechanism which enables us to cut oneself off from all knowledge and weight of memory by way of denial – as suggests Carl Jung?3 Those are undoubtedly indications which push the individual and society as a whole towards the Freudian sofa and related psychoanalytical processes, inspired by the constant threat of forgetfulness and repression.

The complexity of the notion which the exhibition seeks to encompass – a mental archive or a reservoir beyond memory – is inherent in the actual talk about it. In this act per se we increase our readiness to confront the absence of knowledge and the feeling of helplessness following it, thereby playing in Derrida’s field, who takes a further step in stating that “knowledge in this sense is distraction".4

"The war created a disturbance in our former attitude towards death," says Freud in an essay written in 1915, perhaps anticipating Heidegger’s ideas regarding the inevitable end, according to which “we were prepared to maintain that death is the necessary termination of life, that everyone of us owes nature his death and must be prepared to pay his debt, in short, that death was natural, undeniable, and inevitable. In practice we were accustomed to act as if matters were quite different. We have shown an unmistakable tendency to put death aside, to eliminate it from life. We attempted to hush it up."
However5, the archives do not hush. We will never know how the various holocausts which humankind experienced, the numerous wars, the acts of terror or the atomic bombs which put an end to World War II affected the archives of the sub-conscious.
Undoubtedly, the outcome of a bloody history, pain and mutual violence has been the development of fear, suspicion and a catastrophic view of our very existence. The public discourse and the prevailing atmosphere affected by the apocalyptic anxiety demonstrate the feeling of uncertainty regarding the unpredictable destiny awaiting humankind.
A sense of urgency calls for a universal action aimed at preventing the horrific end, and the prediction of world-wide catastrophe is reflected from the works at the exhibition, threatening us double fold, as if ratifying our fears from the eminent destruction. In his book, "The Writing of the Disaster", Maurice Blanchot – writer, philosopher and literary critic, one of France’s most prominent writers in the period following World War II – addresses the fatal significance of a disaster causing total destruction, such as might be caused by a nuclear war.
"We are on the edge of disaster without being able to situate it in the future," writes Blanchot6. That is to say, the disaster erases its own historicity; it is the event which, should it come to pass, will wipe away all historicization.
For Blanchot, the ultimate disaster might appear to be the total destruction resulting from war between nuclear superpowers, one which would leave behind no survivors to record its happening7. But, insofar as this disaster has not yet occurred, it can only be understood by analogy with the tremendous disasters that the twentieth century has already witnessed. A century in which the catastrophic state of mind has constantly hovered above mankind, like a disappearing and reappearing cloud.

In the shadow of these events, many attempts were made to arouse the public’s awareness through art, poetry and literature. The impact of art in the 20th century didn’t suffice to warn and prevent the horrors that took place in the world, but it no doubt increased the awareness of people to their very existence.
The visual protest was particularly powerful in the expressionist art prior to World War I, and in the period between the two wars in Germany, shortly before the Nazis took power. Artists like George Grosz, Otto Dix, Ludwig Kirchner, K. Rottluff, Erich Heckel, Max Pechstein, Otto Müller and Max Beckmann, and later on Marcel Duchamp and the artists of the Dada Movement, who caution against the chaos while at the same time undertaking to describe the absurd, and the spread of anarchism, social decadence and deteriorating morality.
Picasso’s work "Guernica" and Juan Miro’s "The Harvester", both of which were displayed in the Spanish pavilion at the international exhibition in Paris in 1937, on the eve of World War II, undoubtedly represented art’s protest against the human brutality which the world had experienced as well as a fear from the future, and neo-expressionist artists like Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer, who faced the post-war reality and the open wounds, and through their intensive works continued to describe the destructive nature of Man and the depression he has left behind him, with a growing involvement in their contemporary politics.

But the biggest contribution should be attributed to the documentary camera, which left the world dumbstruck facing the images the Nazi monster recorded in the concentration camps, of the greatest crime committed by one human being against a fellow human being.
No work of art could ever compete with the hair-raising visual expression of the horrors documented by the camera there. Theodor Adorno, one of the most prominent and influential theoreticians who dealt with the history of the European Jewry Holocaust, took this view a further step, stating that to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.8
Adorno expresses the weakness of man facing the extent of catastrophe of the Holocaust, the feeling that a disaster of such immensity cannot be represented, neither rationally nor aesthetically-artistically.

The exhibition "Beyond Memory" is another attempt to raise the questions, not by way of browsing through picture albums of the events and horrors, and without animating the problematic images stored in the memory reservoirs and in humanity’s consciousness, but rather "in an effort to cleanse dangerous sentiments" as Aristotle defined the role of art9. The curatorial work focused on reaching the viewer’s sub-conscience through metaphoric images beyond memory, rather than through the documents stored in it.
Before it is too late. Frances Ferguson explains the inability to imagine the potential future disasters or total destruction, naming it the "nuclear sublime", since knowledge and intelligence cannot grasp it, and unlike past disasters, we can only define its extent and meaning by way of metaphors and analogies, since no one will survive to testify its occurrence.10

In such a reality, in which doubt and fear are deeper than certainty, it is not surprising that civilization which rushed to announce the death of God, now repents, and the worldwide trends of religious awakening are a sign of an upcoming new era of remorse and faith.
The universe’s inclination to foresee its imminent end is reflected in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which warned their believers from the inevitable Day of Judgment. This apocalyptic prophecy existed ever since the beginning of history; from pagan civilizations to ancient mythologies of Mesopotamia, the Aztec Kingdom, Ancient Egypt and the Maya civilization, who believed that the world will come to an end approximately in 2012.
This prophecy did not define the world’s doom or its last day, but rather envisioned new orders that will rule it, via a new cosmic awareness that will lead it to spiritual change.

Today we once again face warnings, no less serious and critical than those of the past. Scientists and environmentalists warn us from the potential destruction of nature as a result of Man’s disrespect towards it. Economists caution against possible unprecedented eras of depression, even worse than those that brought forth the world wars. And above all hover a nuclear catastrophe, religious and ideological wars and mega-terrorist acts motivated by human ego considerations.
All those threaten us on all sides and open an abyss at the foot of humanity. It is a catastrophe sevenfold more dangerous than past prophecies. No more promises of Paradise and Providential salvation with the victory of Good on Evil, following the bitter end; this time it will be the total destruction of the world.

In a long note from "Minima Moralia", Adorno disputes the rhetoric of the paradigm that Agamben accords to the Holocaust. Instead of viewing the camps as the moment to which all political activity refers, Adorno contends that the camps only gain their meaning in light of the continuing history of terror.
The history of terror is thus one of discontinuity and eternal novelty – the surprise from the unexpected. From this perspective, no historical paradigm of the kind Agamben posits with the camps – as a beacon which illuminates the entire history of western politics in an instant – can remain a stable referent, as it is always superseded by the non-identical event that reshapes its meaning as part of the teleology of "ultimate calamity."11 That is, for Adorno, the Holocaust reflects its shadowy glow, like the moon, off the "terror" which follows it, and only by that reflection can it serve as a source of historical analogy.
The relation is reciprocal: The Holocaust explains the threat of nuclear destruction, and vice versa, but only in reference to a totality in which, as we have seen, nuclear war may hold a privileged place. Or, as Adorno writes in his well-known essay on Beckett, "The catastrophe that has befallen the whole is illuminated in the horrors of the last catastrophe; but only in those horrors, not when one looks at its origins."12
It is the absolute finality of nuclear war that consummates the history of "terror without end" by deriving meaning from, and giving meaning to, the horrors that precede it.

We are currently witnessing the world being carried away in a cycle of terror and violence, and are called upon to take personal responsibility. Not to immerse in the currents of division, differences and disagreement, but rather to aspire towards a common understanding and to join forces in making decisions from a point of view of human understanding and solidarity and a global perspective of the world’s good. The solution lies in our attempt to understand what awaits us in the future. And this can be achieved if we arouse in ourselves the memories and do not ignore past mistakes.

Raphie Etgar, Curator

  • 1Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Moral Ends, ed. Julia Annas (Cambridge: University Press, 2001), p. 60.
  • 2John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing company, 1996).
  • 3Gerhard Adler and R.F.C. Hull (eds.), Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Volume 9, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981).
  • 4Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1995).
  • 5Sigmund Freud, "Thoughts for the Time of War and Death," In: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14 (London: Hogarth Press, 1953), pp. 275-300.
  • 6Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), p. 1.
  • 7Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp. 264-281.
  • 8Theodor Adorno, "Cultural Criticism and Society," in: Prisms, trans. Samuel and Sherry Weber (Cambridge: M.l.T. Press, 1981), p. 34
  • 9Aristotle, Poetics, trans. S.H. Butcher (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1997).
  • 10Frances Ferguson, "The Nuclear Sublime," Diacritics, Vol. 14, no. 2 (1984), p. 5.
  • 11Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 1978), pp. 233-235.
  • 12Theodor Adorno, "Trying to Understand Endgame," in: Notes to Literature: Volume I, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 249.