Our first response
to Sally Clark's work is beautiful, and, then, 'wham!' just
like that, it hits us. These images disturb our understanding of the catastrophic
experience, precisely because they are beautiful. Theodor Adorno, a German
cultural critic, proposed that to write poetry after Auschwitz
would be barbaric. And this has been integrated colloquially
as a flat injunction against approaching the Holocaust artistically.
There is an overriding demand to illustrate 'how it really
was.' Adorno did however sometime later reverse his position.
Despite this artistic approaches to the Holocaust have been
viewed with guarded suspicion. And indeed there is something
very unsettling about some soft-focus photos of children's shoes,
or hair, or spectacles. Clark's work is nothing like this; it is,
nonetheless, undoubtedly appealing.
There is nothing heavy handed about
Clark's work, it does not issue grand moralistic statements,
but speaks more to, using Hannah Arendt's phrase, the "banality
of evil." The images themselves are marked, if not by anything
else, the seemingly unencumbered continuance of life; the
banalities that fill our day, going to the corner shop, playing
a game of tennis. The shock, the horror, of these images are
not only that they are visually pleasing, but that they appear
to be reclaimed; that the horror of the events are all effaced
from the communities surrounding them. The image of a courtyard,
framed by a window sill - blue skies, with puffy white clouds,
also reflected in the glass - reminds us of Magritte. But
it also greatly displeases us: why is there no great dark looming
cloud hanging over this site of catastrophic violence? There is
nothing in this image that signifies the violence perpetrated
there; does Clark's camera, then, not only work as a mechanism
that records, but projects as well: projecting the human
condition on to these sites? At Adolf Eichmann's trial in
Jerusalem a man testifying to his encounter with Eichmann
collapsed in a spastic fit, not because Eichmann was a monster,
but because he was so ordinary.
Clark in that she captures the banality
of everyday life, the horror of the events that took place
in these sites, and in compositions of uncompromised beauty,
does something that no one could expect: perhaps more than
anyone else before her, she does show us artistically
... 'how it really was.'