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Polish artist behind controversial Holocaust video art defends work on ETV

Artur Żmijewski, the artist whose two videos created an uproar after they were exhibited at the Tartu Art Museum, says he meant the videos to be life-affirming. Elo Ellermaa from ETV's evening news program spoke to Żmijewski, who said he was surprised over the furor over works from 1999 and 2004, by telephone.

A partial transcript:

What can you say, what is the purpose of these videos?

Both of them are about memory. How we commemorate events from the past. And it's not a passive commemoration but in active form, the purpose is not to provoke. There are always people who feel provoked, but that is not my goal.

Can you explain the content of a video where naked people play in a gas chamber and seem quite cheerful?

It's really serious situation, so I would say very simply that instead of dead bodies, we have live people, a living situation. Instead of tragedy, we have just life.

Your purpose is not to ridicule people but to show something humane.

Behind these opinions expressed in Estonia there is a misunderstanding.

Your purpose is not to ridicule people but to show something humane.

Definitely. Behind these opinions expressed in Estonia at the moment there is a misunderstanding. Both movies are serious, not about humor.

What about the video where an old Holocaust survivor renews his concentration camp tattoo?

It's a renovation of the number, a kind of the respect toward the guy, he is treated as a living monument of the past which needs to be preserved and kept in good condition. And the second meaning of it is re-creation or repetition of the act of violence toward this guy. In both movies, I wanted to open access to the past, really open it, not to commemorate it only, but only open access to it, really jump into the past. The very moment when the tattoo was done or the very moment when people were in the gas chamber [...] Deifnitely artists should maintain their position and support curators and institutions which presents this exhibition and fight censorship.




Editor: K. Rikken

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