New York

Krzysztof Wodiczko

“Like you I have longed for a memory beyond consolation, for a memory of shadows and stones.” These words (by Marguerite Duras) are delivered deadpan and lumbering by the female protagonist in the opening dialogue of Alain Resnais’s 1959 film Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Seconds later, the film displays footage of a government building that stood at the epicenter of the Hiroshima nuclear catastrophe, the ravaged husk of which has been left standing, memorialized as the A-Bomb Dome. It was this structure that Krzysztof Wodiczko chose as the site for his Hiroshima Projection, 1999, a work commissioned by the Japanese city and documented in this exhibition.

The parameters of Wodiczko’s projection were, as always, simple and direct: Onto a river embankment directly below the dome, he projected the videotaped testimony of a series of Hiroshima survivors, showing only the gesticulating hands of each participant. Immediately one thought of the parallels to be drawn between this strategy and the contemporaneous video of Silvia Kolbowski, An Inadequate History of Conceptual Art, 1998-99, which similarly seized on the hands of its participants as the visual component of a testimonial devoted to the troubled intersection of history and individual memory. The image of the hand is particularly suited to the contradictions of such a task, playing as it does on two diametrically opposed registers of the phenomenon of identification: According to a long-standing convention of propagandistic art, the hand evokes collective participation as a synecdoche for the human; and yet it simultaneously exceeds any such assimilation, looming here as singular and as fascinating as a fingerprint. The ever-shifting hands in The Hiroshima Projection seemed newly attuned to such contradictions, replacing more anonymous, even cliched images from Wodiczko’s past projections—the French-cuffed paw of male corporate power, for example, that proffered candle and gun on the facade of the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC (1988) or reached ambiguously in a pledge of allegiance on the AT&T Building, New York (1984).

Shimmering like disembodied ghosts, the hands below the dome transformed the structure into something like a speaking being, an uncanny, damaged body now reverberating with life and voice. Whereas Wodiczko’s earlier public projections—especially those on military monuments, like the Memorial Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza (1984-85) or the Arco de la Victoria in Madrid (1991)—disrupted the public function of such memorials through images of what they necessarily exclude, The Hiroshima Projection opened up the dome to a series of disjunctive, individual voices. Participants spoke about a host of disparate concerns, from memories of the bomb’s literal aftermath, to the conditions of Korean forced laborers in Hiroshima who also survived the bomb, to the lingering stigma that younger generations from the area still carry in the eyes of many Japanese. In this, Wodiczko proposed a new use for the building: By rendering it (in his words) a “therapeutic vehicle” that would attempt to address historical trauma, he turned the monument into a prosthetic for the mutilated conditions of public speech. Moving from a model of stark opposition to one of subtle displacement, even collaboration, The Hiroshima Projection had more in common with Wodiczko’s longstanding series of sculptural vehicles and prosthetic devices than with any but his most recent projections.

The project ended with an image of the last participant pouring out the contents of a glass of water, an ambiguous gesture of flow and dispersal, like an offering signaling both relinquishment and privation. The monument itself, in Wodiczko’s hands, became something similar: It would be used, it would reject all pretensions to universality, concretizing a community of individuals united around nothing else but nothing less—than the singular limits of their loss.

George Baker