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Sally Clark
Binh Danh
Ian Everard
James Fee
Shelby Graham
Hanna Hannah
Robin Kandel
Aaron Kerner
Elyse Koren-Camarra
Keith Muscutt
Katsushige Nakahashi
Rebecca Ramos
Hideki Shiozawa
Robynn Smith
Kenji Yanobe
 
Robin Kandel

I think a lot of it was carried over from the adults because as a kid you just feel what the atmosphere is around you.

- Fred Kandel

The various narratives that make up Collapsing Histories are fragmentary. No narrative is complete. By design, oversight or in an effort to 'spare us' the details, stories have been kept from us. Katsushige Nakahashi had no idea that his father worked in Zero maintenance crew at a Nagasaki Naval Base, James Fee returns to Peleliu to fill-in the gaps in his father's narrative and there is something analogous in Robin Kandel's installation work. In her installation Story 1: run, Kandel hoped to repatriate not only the details of her father's story, but to also approach the periphery of his experience.

In April 2002 Kandel learned that two audiotapes from a 1983 interview were made recounting her father's childhood experiences in Berezno, Ukraine. The artist's statement notes:

He [Kandel's father] was accompanied by his mother and younger brother, his grandfather and two uncles. Other members of his family, including his father, were killed either while in hiding or because they refused to leave their home and enter work camps. We didn't talk much about my father's childhood when I was growing up. As I got older he occasionally mentioned some detail, what the shelters in the woods looked like, for instance, or a raw potato is edible. I believe he thought I knew the actual story, not my vague and fragmented version. I thought I did too.

Story 1: run - as are all the works in Collapsing Histories - was an attempt to reconcile that 'vague and fragmented' memory, to piece together those scattered 'details.' (A new installation, which builds on the first piece, will be included in the exhibition at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery.)

Robin Kandel's father, Fred, hid in the forest for two years during the Second World War along with other Jews. She applies her training as a painter to the video installation exploring her father's experiences. In Story 1: run, seen here, the visitor walked into an environment that was uncanny; to a certain degree it was like walking into one of Kandel's abstract paintings. The rich colors that are characteristic of Kandel's palette were distinctly evident (ocher, black, various shades of gray, and browns), however, the environment that Kandel created stimulated more than vision. The texture that we might associate with her painting was displaced under-foot; the floor was covered with paper lined with text (her father's narrative), dirt, and human hair. The effect was reminiscent of a forest floor - there was a slight sponginess to the floor - just as one might find in the natural environment. Although the sensation underfoot was subtle, it was disturbing as well, by destabilizing the viewer's footing, threatening - in a figurative and literal sense - our foundation, of what we know, challenging the firm ground we stand on so to speak. The shadows that were cast by lights positioned behind tubular structures, suggestive of trees, accentuated the rich textures and added an element of haunting contrast.

Living in the forest provided some protection, but it never guaranteed survival. "Food was begged for, foraged and stolen," Kandel comments. "When members of the family were killed, they were buried in the woods." The words transcribed and underfoot, the remnants of human life (e.g., human hair), the dirt, disturb and destabilize the visitor precisely because of their abject connotations; their link to the dead buried in the forest. The abject sensation reconnects that tenuous grip on life in the forest and the constant threat of death.

Situated in this environment, Kandel's father can be heard - although only in a whisper - detailing his experiences; of which a significant part was spent literally running for his life. A video projection of running through the forest adds yet another layer to this 'frightful' environment. The blur of trees, the high contrast of the black and white footage, disorientating and chaotic in the sporadic flashes of dark and light, approaches something of Fred Kandel's experience. run approaches that frightful recognition of being discovered, of hearing gun-shots just off in the distance and that survival instinct setting in, that immediate compulsion to run.

For Collapsing Histories, Kandel expects to explore another dimension of this narrative, in her Story 2: postolas. This installation series, when contemplated further is inseparable from the notion of survival and mortality, not only Fred Kandel's, but also the artist's. Obviously her mortality is intimately connected to her father's, and strangely it is feet that metonymically signify survival and mortality.

Earlier I spoke of the texture underfoot and the abject connotations of the dead as suggested by the texture of the floor, but this is not the only significance to feet and their connection to survival and mortality. When recounting the process of making run, Kandel with camera in-hand ran through the forest. "I scared myself a little," she comments, "but mostly I realized that I might be one of those 'people who just couldn't keep up and remained behind.' Of course, remaining behind meant almost certain death." The artist here is not only confronting her father's mortality, but her own. And it is the ability to run, or not, which meant the difference between life and death - and it is here that history collapses.

The endurance to run, to drop everything in a single instant and run for your life was also closely related to one's ability to make shoes. Fred Kandel recites:

The shoes are called postolas. The peasants in the area had it to an art form. We just made crude versions. But when we were in an area that had birch trees we would cut one inch wide and very long strips from the bark. And whenever we had time we would weave shoes. They didn't last long.

After 60 years Fred Kandel remembers how to make postolas, and out of the artist's 'vague and fragmented' memories comes something so potent, a detail so vivid and emotionally charged. This act of creating postolas - this craft inscribed in Fred Kandel's mind - saved the artist's life; it made her life possible. In such lucid terms, do we ever witness our own mortality; do we ever witness that catastrophic experience that might have precluded our very existence?

 
 
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