« DESERVE ONE’S FACE » ?
« Il n’y a de mémoire que dans le monde qui vient » (Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav)
« He speaks truly who speaks the shade » ( in Speak, you also, Poems of Paul Celan)
Return, this is where creation passes through.
Through dialogue and on the basis of an almost daily mail exchange, I had the privilege, as a friend, to follow the man and the artist Ofer Lellouche in the course of his stay in Meina. While conceiving the sculptural project that has been "ordered" from him, he found himself confronted, on one of the most beautiful sites in the world, to a terrible secret, a dreadful tragedy and a real psychic trial, part of the artistic and ethical challenge and thus, he felt seized by a stunning disquieting Uncanny, overwhelmed by deep sadness and inhabited by a crushing feeling of responsibility when facing the task he was expected to fulfill : replace the victims in History, inscribe their Names, give them a Face2, while building up their Sepulture as well as their past. Originating from the core, complying with Jewish tradition, just depositing a small pebble on the grave of the deceased we honor, a gesture which is a symbol of the psychic process of filiation and perpetuation of the link between those who are living and those who died.
"Deserve one's face" as Ofer Lellouche has written. And just not an idol nor a commemorating monument that will be a repetition of the Victims' extinction, the extinction of the extinction with the obliteration of the massacre, of this deadly chapter repressed within the collective unconscious and buried like a taboo and a shameful event, with the horror of the pictures of the corpses sinking in the Lac Majeur and floating back on blood red waters in order to be freed again and finally disappear : turn these "shadows on the lake" into ghosts, turn the vanished into dead, connecting between collective destiny and single life, combining trauma, history and creation and questioning ethical modalities and psychic conditions of memory building and transmission.
How to gather faded voices, haunted eyes that call for us ? Ofer was cautious, rejecting any access to the mortal joy of the reifying fetish or mimetical relic. While impelled by dizziness, sideration, invaded by sensations of confusion, derealization, inanity distress and void, while feeling so alien to environment and to himself, he could not perceive himself part of his world anymore. This same process of creation becomes a repetition of the trauma, the work being this non-place towards which, in our mind, the trains keep going on and on and corpses in blood or ashes keep disappearing. Rebuilding what has been destroyed, annihilated by ruinousness, forgetfulness and the eradication of a world, the fading of traces, gestures, voices, speech. This is why our body is shaken, our mind astonished, this is why we feel extreme loneliness, uselessness and powerlessness. When everything vanishes, there is still pain that ties us to life.
This is, indeed, my dear Ofer, the origin of The tear of the awaken dream3.
Ofer has written : "Do you remember ? In this tiny café near the Halles, I've mentioned to you my apprehensions. And then, facing the Lac, my back to the Forest (…), this is the moment when I "saw" the Head. It was there, in front of me, saying nothing, refusing to say anything. Absolutely. And I then suddenly understood that I had, I HAD to gather all my talents, my efforts to create it, to make it stand, to make it be." Furthermore : "I feel doubts getting closer like birds of prey from the horizon. May a farewell wind take them afar." The artist shows therefore how the process of creation requires extirpation from oneself, from fear, from conformism, rejecting anything that in gesture and style might embrace banalization and esthetical narcissist temptations. Just like the dream, the face touches the dead. Counting and narrating4 the deads. And Ofer Lellouche builds up a heavy, imposing presence as well as a "mise en abîme", this "turning motion of breath" mentioned by Paul Celan. Like a trembling face originating from far away, intimacy per excellence. His works touches those parts where words are missing or where we failed to use them, as Georges Steiner says.
The creating event pulls us away from the unbearable, as in Shoah, Claude Lanzmann's film who identified Memory with the absolute disappearance of Memory, when absence is this only content and the only way of survival5. Ofer Lellouche's work reveals a perfect capacity to recall the memorable. As a reflection in the horizon of a sculpture within the faces, its fundamentality consists, while trying to give up the imprinted, of this overtaking, extirpated of its last resemblance, from the image by the image, while unearthing a body modifying the ground itself and the event of which, between sedimentation and metamorphosis, launches a presence to its highest degree of intensity. This is, indeed, the Mask, the shapeless primitive product of this art of alteration and restitution that seizes, holds and reveals the part of the face in transfer that faded away and the most fragile living. Ofer, your work will regive substance and dignity to the Women, Men and Children and reattribute them, according to the prophet Isaiah, "an imperishable name" that will cause that this place, just like Auschwitz and Majdanek, not to be the origin of the World. These are your Works, among all, that are deeply engraved in us, embracing the Holocaust, without really representing it. Freud has written that there is indeed a way which enables the return of imagination to reality and this is Art. Would creation be a moment of truth of Civilization ? Close to Rilke and Benjamin, you insist on the novelty that shows out reverting things6. "We have a memory but we are the remembrance", according to Lou Andreas Salome words. Only names resist. When murder becomes insufficient, the "Final solution" implying that the deads are never cleared enough, indeed, it is the artist's role, just like the analyst, to imagine the traumatism, the dehumanization. Never resign to the unimaginable, to the unthinkable, to carelessness.
"I think I will slightly incline the Head forward so that it would not, remind, in any way, an idol", Ofer has written. “Would Art have the power, as Aron Appelfeld says, to take suffering out of the Abyss ?” Ofer is a man who might push limits beyond horizon. His face intensifies the eye6. Meanwhile in Meina, the edges of the world are moistened by mystery and sadness, the work draws out a great moral, emotional, ethical and artistic power that provides sense and force to an authentic masterpiece of figuration and introjections. Primo Levi writes, "not only we lack time to fear but we also lack place." The work hears the call of the deads and the pain of the living ones. Our memory is heavier than our remembrance7. Is our pain only the reflect of the one pertaining to our persecuted parents and exterminated brothers ? But their life and memory is one and indivisible. We might have been impeached to live but not to sing nor bear History. Ofer Lellouche's work, just like the Song of the Murdered Jewish People of Ytzkhok Katzenelson, a song of resistance, affection and admiration and not lamentation or just like W or the memory of childhood of Georges Perec, who said that artistical creation is "the memory of their death and the affirmation of our life". While refusing to adopt any style, any twinkling, the artist Lellouch is searching for the highest degree of intensity, a process of expurgation, a unique disposition deploying critical intelligence, proving that the practice of Art is firstly based on ethics. Indeed, would it be memory without a face and a face without a name, without a "sepulture work"? And is memory able to give up names, places, figures that solely show the symbol of the courage to detach from the mass8.
This is the core reason, the why of this site of Meina, this site of the figurable. So, sculpting the impossible?
Translation from French by Dorith Daliot
5 Ofer Lellouche/Michel Gad Wolkowicz, Dialogue/Correspondance, to be published : For no other artist, has the problematic created such a plurivocality being at once a site of contact, inscription and plastic metamorphosis, an outdated condensation site of sedimentations and transformations, mourning and re-creation modalities. Ofer is searching for the human semblance while restoring its echoing capacity originating from the violent experience of the extermination of human living, as his work bears this reanimation of this psychic unanimated living, the mourning of which is the setting into motion and the return of unheeded faces waiting for the constitution of the dream, as only the dream enlightened of the darkest night can sustain the shadows.
He features the "surviving image" of this anachronistic past within a reminiscent present. Therefore, would the work, part of the present emotion and of the memory introjection and amnesia, be void of metaphor and time of interval ? The mourning is thus called to get out of the void, encountering an alterity and recognizing the insisting filiation. The place of the body implies word and memory, putting an end to the slumber of oblivion. Destiny is shaped within this awakening and can be conceived beyond the state of an insomniac speech, when the dream re-dreams, in melancholy this time. The work embraces our alien and intimate voices implying the experience of a trial ready for the act of things or even reshaping a shadow of words, which is reflection and mask.
6 M.G.Wolkowicz, Entre survivance et réminiscences, Review of the Department of Psycho-analysis and clinical psycho-pathology of the Columbia University, t.2, vol.44, no.72, TAU.Press, March 2006 : For Ofer Lellouche, the event of sense becomes an effect of non signification, while the encounter calls internal alterity within the sensitive doubt of art being able to restore, to amplify the thought. Construction which is the memory of a non representable past and the perception of image, time of its metamorphosis, between figuration and abstraction, part, within the fundamentality of a work of melancholy of a poiesis upheaval and replanning. Indeed, the tear of the image has a ruining impact on the representation when it appears shaped as these ghostly creatures who upset the course of the story and disrupts the representable while producing traductibility and a huge emotional and spiritual load, the work, of massive fragmentation, while restoring the power of the indistinct shadows – and of their warlike shadow -, a capacity to let themselves becomes these powerful transferential reminiscences. Ghosts and passions are shaped in layers till the revelation of the image in time of its hallucination, which insist on the determination of the unique and powerful presence and stunning beauty.
6 M.G.Wolkowicz, Sham/Shem, Two sculptures at the Israël Museum, Jerusalem 2006, Site www.oferlellouche.