Yael Bartana, still from Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), 2007. Full credit below.

In the Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations

January 31, 2014 - April 20, 2014
Ebsworth Gallery

The history of the 20th and early 21st centuries is one that is scarred by incomprehensibly violent events with far-reaching effects. It is an era of world wars, totalitarian mass terror, social and ethnic cleansing, revolutions, civil wars, radical uprootings, and terrorism. In the Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations presents the work of five video artists from around the world who employ their medium to explore individual and collective memories of such traumatic experiences.

The artists included in the exhibition employ the so-called semidocumentary video format, provocatively hovering between fact and fiction, history and memory, while using cinematic projection spaces. Engaging with trauma as a belated response, they probe ways of comprehension that go beyond the dichotomy of head-on confrontation versus denial or repression to suggest a more nuanced and complex relationship between the original event and its present recollection.

Israeli artist Yael Bartana’s activist and performative film Mary Koszmary (Nightmares) (2007) focuses on the semifictive Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland, which calls home 3.3 million Jews, approximately the same number that died during the Holocaust. British artist Phil Collins’s marxism today (prologue) (2010) engages with contemporary perspectives on Marxism through personal accounts of life in communist East Germany and after its demise following reunification. Chilean-born artist Alfredo Jaar’s May 1, 2011 (2011) estranges the role of political media images to remember historical events: employing an image that suggests the killing of the militant al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US military forces, the work triggers memories while withholding a visualization of the actual event. Indian artist Amar Kanwar’s complex multichannel installation The Lightning Testimonies (2007) investigates the experience of sexual violence, using disparate narratives that tell the story of thousands of women who were abducted and abused since the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into Islamic Pakistan and Hindu India. In Bomb Ponds (2009), Cambodian artist Vandy Rattana focuses on the stories and memories of contemporary witnesses of the bombing of neutral Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

The themes and aesthetic forms of these videos are deeply invested in the human subject and its status in today’s world. The time of memory and the time of history in these videos confound a direct relationship between subjectivity and history, memory and the real.

The exhibition is curated by Sabine Eckmann, William T. Kemper Director and Chief Curator.

Exhibition support

Support for In the Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations is provided by James M. Kemper, Jr.; the David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation; the William T. Kemper Foundation; Anabeth and John Weil; Elissa and Paul Cahn; Nancy and Ken Kranzberg; the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

Educator resources

The Museum's Education department connects special exhibitions with students of all levels through specialized tours, curriculum plans, hands-on activities, and more. Download the Educator's Guide for the exhibition for more details.

Exhibition catalog

A fully illustrated color catalog published by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum accompanies the exhibition. Featuring an essay by Sabine Eckmann with contributions by Rakhee Balaram, Svea Bräunert, and Ila Sheren, the publication provides an examination of the contemporary aesthetics of the semidocumentary video and an in-depth consideration of each artist's work within the context of their artistic practices overall. Available January 2014 through the University of Chicago Press and on site at the Kemper Art Museum shop.

Image Credit

Yael Bartana, still from Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), 2007. 16mm film transferred to video, 10:50 min. Courtesy of Petzel Gallery, New York; Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam; Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv; and Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw.