Art and Trauma: Methods of Inquiry, Dialogue and Transformation
Frostig, Karen Frostig
Lesley University Lesley University Cambridge, United States
As a visual artist, researcher, writer, therapist and social activist, I use The Vienna Project to address a series of questions: How can art address traumatic memory, negotiate transnational identity and facilitate new dialogue? Reworking the relationship between artist, object, and audience, how can art activate change and deepen social engagement? Has art become the new locus for human interaction and communal transformation?
The Vienna Project begins in 2003, when I received a packet of sixty-eight letters, written by my grandparents to my father, between 1938-1941 before their deportation to Riga. I received the letters just four days before the deadline to file an application for post-war restitution from Austria's General Settlement Fund, and seven months before the death of the last Holocaust survivor in my family. Becoming the latest guardian of these letters and filing the claim for post-war restitution opened the door for me to begin the grueling process of reassembling my family's Holocaust history, while dealing with my emerging transnational identity as an Austrian citizen.
Traveling to the forsaken homeland, I used a Nikon digital SLR, to clinically document an emotionally charged encounter with Vienna, the city where my father grew up, and the outskirts of Riga, the city where my grandparents were murdered. The digital images were then developed into a series of memory panels that read as dark time corridors, mixing text with image and memory with a critical look at contemporary Viennese culture.
The Vienna Project discusses a sequenced process of engagement, moving from an initial phase of online research to an ethnographic model, evolving further into new media cultural production. The project has inspired numerous collaborations, as well as stimulated new dialogue between children of perpetrators and children of survivors. Functioning as artist, researcher, educator, and activist, the paper documents my effort to preserve my family's memory within the larger context of genocide awareness and prevention.