Arnold Dreyblatt: The Re-Collection Mechanism

September 9, 2001 - February 10, 2002

This installation is a container of a vast and mysterious series of spoken and projected words that recall Central and Eastern European lives in 1933.

In 1985, after finding a copy of Who’s Who in Central and Eastern Europe 1933, Dreyblatt became obsessed with the text’s content and meaning. Dreyblatt has created a mechanical instrument that explores how we locate and sort historical information. The Re-Collection Mechanism‘s computers randomly pick a word from a list that Dreyblatt has prepared, then search through a database of the Who’s Who. Implicitly, it questions the purpose of building archives and collecting information. As a reconstruction of events and facts, memory itself becomes a random and faulty operation.

The darkened space of The Re-Collection Mechanism envelops the viewer in text and sound. In this dreamlike environment, location becomes vague. Time seems to stand still. The installation is a container of a vast and mysterious series of spoken and projected words that recall Central and Eastern European lives in 1933.

Who’s Who in Central and Eastern Europe 1933 contains over 10,000 biographies of important diplomats, artists, civil servants, scientists, educators, industrialists, and journalists from countries such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. It is a remnant of the intellectual and cultural wealth of Eastern and Central Europe before World War II. The Re-Collection Mechanism projects and recites text from 1933, the year in which the Nazis began their systematic drive to eradicate and alter histories.

Dreyblatt has created a mechanical instrument that explores how we locate and sort historical information. The Re-Collection Mechanism’s computers randomly pick a word from a list that Dreyblatt has prepared, then search through a database of the Who’s Who. As each word is found, it is highlighted, projected, and then spoken aloud. A storage system of historical data, The Re-Collection Mechanism re-presents documentation of a rich world lost to tragic events.

Who’s Who in Central and Eastern Europe 1933 contains biographies of significant individuals, many of whom are now forgotten. The Re-Collection Mechanism’s random selection of text converts our notion of “biography” from a unique story of an individual’s life to a fragmented presentation of a public record. Implicitly, it questions the purpose of building archives and collecting information. As a reconstruction of events and facts, memory itself becomes a random and faulty operation.

Born in New York City in 1953, Arnold Dreyblatt is an artist and composer. He moved to Berlin in 1984. During extensive travel and research in Eastern Europe in 1985, he found a copy of Who’s Who in Central and East Europe 1933. For the past fifteen years, he has been dissecting and reconstructing this text and others as the basis of many projects, including opera, interactive performances, and installations.

Arnold Dreyblatt: The Re-Collection Mechanism has been made possible through the continuing generosity of public and private donors to the Jewish Museum’s Fine Arts Endowment Fund. Additional support for Arnold Dreyblatt: The Re-Collection Mechanism has been provided by Melva Bucksbaum.