In this meditation on Holocaust remembrance and loss, an industrious woman locates objects belonging to absent family members and proceeds to inventory, catalog, and assign them numerical values.
Mother Economy, a film by Israeli artist Maya Zack, is a meditation on Holocaust remembrance and an homage to resourceful women during violent periods of political upheaval. Wearing glasses, a lace-collared blouse, and her hair neatly arranged in a bun, the protagonist maintains order and composure by performing domestic chores with scientific precision and efficiency. The homemaker locates and identifies objects belonging to absent family members while broadcasts from the radio suggest the destruction and chaos occurring outside her controlled space. She traces a tennis racquet, cigarette ash, pocket change, and other personal artifacts on paper covering the walls and floors. The paper is pink, a color associated with financial newspapers and femininity. Taking on the role of home economist, she proceeds to catalogue objects before her. Using an abacus and formulas from her notebook, she compiles data to bake a round kugel (noodle pudding) which is cut to resemble an economic pie chart.
Both the artist and her fictional character struggle to make sense of personal and collective trauma when information is scarce. Zack’s video was strongly influenced by a visit to her grandmother’s former house in Kosice, a city in present-day Slovakia. Unable to enter the house, Zack tried to imagine the interiors—both present and past. For the film’s mise-en-scène, Zack incorporates period clothing and furniture, but it remains an incomplete sketch of the past. Although the work is entitled Mother Economy, the artist intended her hero’s identity to remain ambiguous. The protagonist may be a dedicated non-Jewish housekeeper who remained in the house long after the family’s deportation and continued to perform rituals in their absence. If she is the Jewish mother, she survives because of calculated efforts to distance herself from traumatic memories.
Maya Zack (Israeli, b. 1976) lives and works in Tel Aviv. Her work has been exhibited at the Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art (Tel Aviv), Artneuland Gallery (Berlin), The Israel Museum, The Haifa Museum of Art, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the 4th Gwangju Biennale in Korea. In 2008 Zack was awarded Germany’s Celeste Art Prize for Mother Economy.