Tel Aviv

Guy Raz

N & N Aman Gallery

Guy Raz’s “Liga Terezín” project emerged from a trip to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 2006, during which the artist noticed the red uniforms of a local team hanging on a laundry line beside a soccer field outside the walls of the Terezín fortress. Raz, who played soccer during his childhood, documented these reminiscences in a straightforward style and did not return to the photos until 2008, when he undertook research at Beit Theresienstadt, an education center and archive dedicated to the memory of the nearly 150,000 prisoners who passed through the camp during its five-year existence. The revelation that a Jewish soccer league played matches every Sunday between 1942 and 1944 prompted a collaborative effort between artist and archive. Their aspiration was to reconstitute the history of the Terezín league, whose teams were often named after the players’ labor roles in the camp (i.e., the Electricians, the Gardeners, the Cooks) and whose formation changed according to the unpredictable transport schedule to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

It goes without saying that this historical excavation is ambitious and vital. But it was unclear whose viewpoint ultimately framed this exhibition or how aesthetics was specifically mobilized to mediate and construct the subject in the present tense. Displayed at the gallery’s entrance were Raz’s photographs from his first trip alongside an anonymous image of the Terezín fortress and a photo of the Dresden barracks, in whose courtyard the games were played, taken by the director of Beit Theresienstadt. In a possible nod to contemporary collective diversion, these images were supplemented by photographs of the gate to Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium and a looped sound piece using the team’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” In a short corridor hung a photographic grid of hazy images of the Ohre River, The Wall of Remembrance for the Terezín League Players, 2009, with the surname, team name, and jersey number of each player inscribed on it. The back room contained children’s drawings and posters of matches, records of each sportsman’s fate, and stills from “The Last Game,” a segment from Kurt Gerron’s Nazi-commissioned propaganda film Terezín: A Documentary Film of the Jewish Resettlement (1944–45). Amid this archive, two videos played side by side: In one, excerpts from “The Last Game” show the relatively well-nourished Wardrobe and Youth Welfare teams battling it out to the roars of the robust crowd (with no sign of a single SS guard); the other presents interviews with three survivors who affirm the games’ positive effects on the prisoners’ morale (in effect almost endorsing the Nazi propaganda claiming the camp as a “model Jewish settlement”). The use of these various framing devices suggests that the goal of “Liga Terezín” is to fulfill the moral imperative of historical documentation while giving equal status to the possibilities of aesthetic representation and the libidinal undercurrents of autobiography.

Significantly, this amalgam also points to the fact that our contemporary encounter with the Holocaust is mediated by multiple narrators and image makers who represent various perspectives. One might have hoped that such a powerful exhibition would take the extra step of rendering its own curatorial methodology more transparent, as a way of acknowledging that the very question of the Holocaust’s framing is a crucial object of analysis.

Nuit Banai