Ori Gersht: This Storm is What we Call Progress at the Imperial War Museum London

By Ben Miller | 31 January 2012
A photo of a figure walking through the snow in a winter-battered forest
Ori Gersht, still from Evaders (2009). HD Film, Dual channel projection© Ori Gersht, courtesy Mummery + Schnelle Gallery
Exhibition: Ori Gersht: This Storm is What we Call Progress, Imperial War Museum London, London, until April 29 2012

The Israeli-born, London based artist Ori Gersht opened his first major solo show in the UK during the week of Holocaust Memorial Day.

A reflection of individual lives shaped (and, often, dramatically reshaped) by the Second World War, the IWM could barely have chosen a more personal and moving account of the horrors of the period than Will you Dance for Me?, a film in which Yehudit Arnon, an 85-year-old dancer, rocks back and forth in a chair while recounting her experiences as a young woman in Auschwitz.

She was forced to stand barefoot in the snow as punishment for refusing to dance at an SS officer's party, but promised herself that she would dedicate her life to dance if she survived her trauma.

And in a reminiscence bringing time, memory and movement together, she appears to repeat that determined defiance from her chair, dancing through pain.

The film is one of the commissions between Gersht and agency Photoworks – the planners of the Brighton Photo Biennial – in a three-branch show.

Evaders, a dual-screen film exploring the Lister Route many of the persecuted used to escape Nazi-occupied France, references the struggle poet Walter Benjamin faced within these visually dramatic surroundings.

Benjamin committed suicide after border officials challenged him as he tried to enter Spain, and extracts from his texts summon his ghost from the physical, cultural and psychological borders.

The third piece is the photographic Chasing Good Fortune, examining cherry blossoms from Gersht’s recent journey to Japan.

The blossoms hold Buddhist connotations of renewal and once stood for Kamikaze soldiers during the war, and Gersht finds them at memorials to the victims, as well as in Hiroshima, where trees rising from nuclear-contaminated soils have an eerie allure.

His aim, he says, is an attempt to "draw a careful line between historic heritage and the horrific nature of violence". Beauty envelopes brutality.

"Showing at the IWM felt like a unique opportunity to position my work in the context of this remarkable institution which reflects on wars," he adds.

"In my work I often explore the dialectics of destruction and creation, and the relationships between violence and aesthetics.

"Scars created by wars on our collective and personal memories are at the essence of my practice."

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