1942 (Poznan): A Video by Uriel Orlow

November 9, 2008 - February 1, 2009

1942 (Poznan) memorializes a place, a people, and one of the darkest periods in European history. Orlow’s video is a provocative reflection on the uses of former synagogues in once-vibrant Jewish communities decimated by Nazism and forgotten under Communism.

1942 (Poznan) memorializes a place, a people, and one of the darkest periods in European history. Orlow conceived the work in 1995 on a visit to Central Europe to trace his family roots. While in Szeged, Hungary the artist met a former cantor and one of the few Holocaust survivors alive in the community. In the Szeged synagogue, Orlow recorded the cantor singing Av Harakhamim (Merciful Father), a memorial prayer written in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, after Crusaders destroyed Ashkenazi communities around the Rhine River. This mournful recording is the soundtrack for Orlow’s video, shot in Poland the following year.

The video begins with an abstract close-up of a tiled floor. The camera rises to reveal an indoor pool with a lone swimmer in slow motion, the building’s vaulted ceiling, and other architectural elements. The soulful chanting provides a clue that the space is a former synagogue that German army officials converted into a swimming pool during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Orlow positions his lens directly in front of what was once the synagogue pulpit facing east toward Jerusalem. The artist has stated, “I think there is something poignant about how… this place for sport, grooming, and the cult of the body replaced a religious edifice under the Nazi regime. The water itself can be seen as purifying, yet at the same time, it inhabits this space in a very uneasy way.”

Orlow’s video provocatively reflects on the use of former Jewish sites destroyed by Nazism and forgotten under Communism. When the artist first encountered the building in Poznan, he found a small outdoor plaque stating that the building had been a place of worship. While the pool is still currently in use, activists are seeking to convert the site into a forum to promote dialogue and tolerance, as well as to restore space for religious services.

Born in Switzerland in 1973, Uriel Orlow works in London and Zurich. Recent exhibitions and screenings include the Third Guangzhou Triennial (Guangdong Museum of Art, China), Tate Modern, Whitechapel Gallery (London), British Film Institute Southbank, Videonale (Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany), and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) London. In 2008 he won a prestigious Swiss Art Award at Art Basel. The Jewish Museum exhibition of 1942 (Poznan) represents the artist’s North American debut.

The Jewish Museum acknowledges assistance from the British Council and Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council.