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Professor curates exhibit on catastrophic history

October 27, 2003

Image of "Two Men" by James FeeAs the debate continues over what to do with Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and other places where catastrophic events have occurred -- such as Auschwitz and Nagasaki -- an SFSU assistant cinema professor explores these themes in a new exhibit now on display at University of California, Santa Cruz.

As Auschwitz continues to disintegrate, some argue it should be left to decay, while others argue it should be preserved, repaired or rebuilt. How do conditions of these sites affect historical narratives and perspectives?

Aaron Kerner's "Collapsing Histories: Time, Space and Memory," is featured at the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz. Nine artists explore catastrophic history through photographs, paintings, multimedia, textiles and more. The artists have not directly experienced any of the catastrophes. Instead, their work is based on the experiences of people who were there.

Kerner theorizes that catastrophic sites are problematic because their histories are distorted through time.

"Sites charged with the catastrophic are like human memory: they fade, are altered, change according to perspectives, and some are lost forever," he writes in his curator's statement.

Photo of "Dachau" by Sally ClarkFor example, Sally Clark's modern-day photos of World War II concentration camps illustrate such banality that they could be "European postcards," Kerner says.

Katsushige Nakahashi's video installation of his "Walking Zeros" project illustrates the burning of a model Zero plane, the Japanese World War II vintage fighter planes, created from thousands of photo prints. The model plane is then burned ceremoniously, symbolizing the destruction caused by Pearl Harbor and the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Photo of Aaron KernerKerner hopes that people will "question their own history" after viewing the exhibit.

"The biggest question that came out of Sept. 11 was, 'Why do they hate us so much?'," says the 31-year-old San Francisco resident.

The idea for the exhibit spawned several years ago by a few of the artists and Kerner, who at the time was working on his dissertation on the catastrophic experience at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. After Sept. 11, the exhibit's themes became only more relevant.

After the exhibit closes at UC Santa Cruz, Kerner plans to display it in Tokyo. "Collapsing Histories" is on display through Dec. 5. Admission is free.

For details, visit the Sesnon Art Gallery Web site or call (831) 459-3606.

-- Matt Itelson

More: Read the Santa Cruz Sentinel article about the exhibit.


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Last modified October 27, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs