August 1994: The Holocaust Room

I’ve been converting 1994 and came across my dream of the Holocaust Room in August

It was a piece of sculpture.  The entryway had two façades with statues of round-faced & insensitive men.  (Their heads looked like they were made out of stone.)  Then there was a narrow passage where I had to negotiate with viewers coming out.  In the inner room were shelves of clothing, against the wall on the floor was a pile of old black shoes.  (They were “old lady” shoes, with laces and short thick heels.)  The final wall was blank, bare concrete.  In the corner was the electrical utility box.  The whole thing was grey and dry and dusty.

The burned out house again, this time turned into a work of art.  If I were a sculptor, and did big installation pieces, that dream gave me enough information/inspiration to create a work.  The statues in front could be done in stoneware, the shoes should be real.  The clothing on the shelves could also be stoneware, it was featureless and grey.  I wonder if this is a response to my finally making and hanging the “scare-plane.”  Yes, turn pain into art.  Even enormous pain that seems too big for any container.  The round-faced men remind me of the pig-like men in my dream of the king.

I’ve been thinking more about the “Holocaust Room.”  I’ve been imagining Nika (the artist-part-of-me) actually bringing it into existence, and in the process have learned more about it.  I had seen it as basically grey concrete, had not realized that most of the grey dust is ashes.  I had thought of it as referring to Jews, but because the shoes inside are women’s, and the figures outside are male bourgeois collaborators, I now see that it also refers to the burning of the witches, and to the sacrifice of all those women, and potentials in women, that were not subservient.  I realized that the location was an urban street, the room opens onto a sidewalk, or perhaps it could be where the bank is in the Littleton Shopping Mall.  It needs the urban setting to contribute to the claustrophobia of the inner room, it needs to be built in a place of deadness.
I imagine Nika getting grants, finding an empty store front, building the room and the antechamber.  I wondered how to do the shelves where the clothing is stacked, and realized that they should resemble the shelves in a burial vault.  Perhaps there should be some bones too.  I also imagined covering the walls with tiny black & white photographs of women.  From a distance it would look grey and blotchy, from close up, many individuals could be seen.
Initially, I saw it as the death of hopes and inspirations, the death of joy and possibilities, the death of the ovaries and children yet to be born.  Now I’m thinking about all those shoes, black tie shoes, old lady shoes, petty bourgeois shoes.  They were all identical, no individuals here.  And I wonder if this place does not represent the death of the attempt to fit in, to be like other people, to wear the “right” clothes, to be non-threatening and conventional.  This woman has burned all that up and left it behind.
O gosh, I also thought that the room, with its blackened walls and stone shelves and ashes lying around resembles a kiln after the firing.  I think of VW’s line “All desire to preach, to protest, to pay a score … was fired out of him and consumed.”  And I think that Lammas is the festival of the firing of the clay, sacred to the God Lugh, god of artists and crafts people, god of human transformation of material.

That’s about how yesterday felt.  Blown apart early by the plane (see entry for Airplane Phobia), I was never able to get back on course, even though there were only a few planes after that and I was well defended with the walkman.  I felt so hopeless and helpless that I seriously considered making a cardboard model of the Holocaust Room, but wasn’t able to do it.  I didn’t paint either, but I did do yoga and walk the dog.  I guess there is still some level of being angry at myself that I’m still so affected by the planes.

Scared and depressed.  Writing to comfort and support myself.  I’ve gathered cardboard box, glue gun, board to work on, went to the hardware store for a mat knife.  So now I’m ready to start.  I wondered what music would support me, and dug out the album of Mauthauzen.  I don’t think I’ve listened to it since I married Dana.  Somewhere, there must be a page with words on it because I recognize some of them and know what they mean.  “KANIS THEN IXERA POS ENA TOS ORAIA” — “Nobody knew how beautiful she was.”  I want to build the Holocaust Room as a memorial to all those dead hopes, abortions, ideas strangled in the womb, art and people that might have flourished if it weren’t for someone’s pathological desire for power and control.

I told Sybil about the Holocaust Room, my dream, the vision of a chapel or shrine where people could go to mourn the unborn, the abortions, stillbirths, miscarriages, all those projects never brought to term, loves strangled by alcoholism, lives strangled by drugs.  As we talked about it, it began to take several forms: I see it as a collaborative art project that could be built by a collective of women, it could have a home in an art gallery or an empty store front, there could be a travelling version: six sheets of plywood covered with paint and collage that could be set up to make the entrance and room.  I think about the “descansos” Estes writes about, and the little shrines that Eugenia told me about.  I see it as a place where women/people could come, mourn their losses, especially of those things that never came to term, and leave something behind, a piece of clothing, a card tacked to the wall.  I imagine little shrines, like the one I saw at the travelling Vietnam memorial, in fact one wall could be made of large pigeon holes where people who came could build their own shrines.  I imagine a pot of black paint and a bucket of ashes to be always available for people to use as part of their ritual.  I also imagine some memorial tablets: so many jews died in the ovens, so many gypsies died in the gas chambers, so many women were burned at the stake.  It’s hard for me to imagine a group of women building such a thing in this area, a local landlord allowing us to use an empty store front.  But I thought there are probably people in the Hanover/Lebanon area who might find it an exciting project, Sybil said she thought her friend who was the Schlomo connection would be interested.  I can see it starting with Jews, but don’t want it restricted to Jews, I want it to be a place where a woman can go to mourn the fact that she had to have an abortion and find forgiveness.  I want it to be a place where women can mourn the loss of our traditions of witchcraft, healing herbalism, midwifery, the loss of our direct connection to women’s power.  I want it to be a place where people can mourn the loss of a childhood to abusive parents, the works of art that were never made because of lack of self-confidence, or support.  I want it to be a place where people can bring their pain, their depression, have it acknowledged and validated, bury it and walk out feeling more alive.  I imagine one woman emerging and being interviewed: “But wasn’t it depressing?”  “Depressing?  No.  I left my depression behind.”

Mauthauzen: Part of a 1975 concert in Alexandereion Sports Arena in Thessaloniki. Farantouri performs “Asma Asmaton” (Song of Songs). The first of four songs of the excellent “Ballad of Mauthauzen”, a set of songs inspired by the experiences in the Mauthauzen death camp. Music by Mikis Theodorakis. Lyrics by Iakovos Kambanellis. First performance in 1966 by Maria Farantouri.

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