Victor Lind, Contemporary Memory—I’ll Bring You Home I, 1998/2012, C-print, 39 3/8 x 59".

Victor Lind, Contemporary Memory—I’ll Bring You Home I, 1998/2012, C-print, 39 3/8 x 59".

Victor Lind

Victor Lind, Contemporary Memory—I’ll Bring You Home I, 1998/2012, C-print, 39 3/8 x 59".

Not long ago, survivors of World War II were still writing, testifying, and giving interviews. But now that the last members of that generation are passing away, the responsibility for telling the stories of the war is being handed over from those who took part to those who came after. In Victor Lind’s “Contemporary Memory,” one of the most talked-about exhibitions in Oslo this winter—not only because the artist has been a significant figure in Norwegian art for forty years, but also owing to the show’s media-friendly subject matter, dramatic personal touch, and crystal-clear message—one such story is being told. Lind showed, for the first time in its entirety, a body of work created over the past twenty years in which he has pursued one single wartime event and its aftermath: the deportation of 532 Norwegian Jewish families to Auschwitz on November 26, 1942. Lind, born in 1940 and Jewish, escaped the deportation with his mother.

The key piece in this cycle so far has been a live installation, as simple as it is compelling: Contemporary Memory—I’ll Bring You Home, 1998. The work was carried out before dawn on November 26 that year, when Lind arranged for one hundred taxis to line up on a certain Oslo street. The sculptural axis of cars, their drivers waiting and smoking in the dark, replicated the fleet of taxis requisitioned by the Nazi-controlled police to assemble on the same street to collect Jews for immediate deportation in 1942. Among the paintings, sculptures, photos, videos, prints, and texts shown at Kunstnernes Hus, this performative work was evoked recurrently as various pieces documented and reworked it, among them Contemporary Memory—Who Is Afraid?, 2000. The title of this four-channel video and sound installation, pumping away in a room of its own at the heart of the space, paraphrases Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?, 1966–70. Lind often attempts to make use of the monochrome to speak of unspeakable traumas; here, the footage from the November morning is filtered in Newman’s red, yellow, and blue.

One historical figure frequently addressed in the “Contemporary Memory” cycle is Knut Rød—whose surname means “red”—the Norwegian police inspector in charge of the deportation, who, to Lind’s deep dismay, was never convicted for the deed. Another is Rolf Syversen, a gardener who smuggled Jews into neutral Sweden until he was arrested and executed. Both haunt a number of works, for example the much-debated Monument, 2005—actually an anti-monument—an openly mocking sculpture that portrays a miniaturized Rød in a Nazi uniform, which he never wore. Among other texts on its plinth is Lind’s written promise to let the monument stand until Rød’s acquittal is annulled.

There’s a fine line between asking thoughtful questions about collective responsibility and the writing of history, and putting a simplistic good/evil dichotomy into play. With Lind, the tendency toward a coward/hero polarity runs the risk of becoming obtrusive and making certain pieces, such as Monument, read as bitter polemics. On the other hand, there are works such as the paintings that make up the series “Die Niemandsrose” (The No-One’s-Rose), 1992–94, in which abstract, vaguely corporeal shapes hover over a pitch-black background. Though atypical of the show, these canvases represent its chronological beginning. The series stands out in the otherwise heavily narrative surroundings and offers some welcome stillness and an absence of readily available interpretations. Yet its title, taken from a poem by Paul Celan, a poet whose work was indelibly marked by his experience as a survivor of the camps, carefully links it back to the surroundings and to key works such as Monument, on whose plinth a passage from the same poem, “Psalm,” is engraved.

Johanne Nordby Wernø