The second solo exhibition at CRG of London based, Israeli born artist Ori Gersht offers eleven new photographic works that were created over the course of a series of journeys into the remote regions of Galicia in southwest Ukraine. As with his previous work, the impetus for this project was Gersht’s interest in exploring landscapes imbued with both personal and historic resonance. In addition to the still photographs Gersht produced a 16mm film, shot in the surrounding forest, a place that was once witness to appalling atrocities during WWII. Gersht’s photographic process uniquely incorporates specific environmental conditions with an awareness of memory, experience, and imbedded history. There is a defined relationship of this in how the photographic medium is engaged. With an understanding of the chemical and physical limitations of film, of which Gersht is never shy to push the boundaries of, that often turns out to be a more dimensional and resonant vehicle for portraying a mechanism of meaning through the imprint of time, light, and phenomena that perhaps expose the capacity and limitations of human memory as well. Where Gersht’s work has often been an exploration of his personal origins, it is always through his departures into new and sometimes revisited landscapes where, along the way, are found the means and conditions of making his images. At times the passing motion of a train window’s vantage or the evaporating dew on the camera lens, there is always a specific notion of how these places were encountered and how the resulting pictures of them come to be, not in the mere passivity of the camera’s frame, but with a physical engagement with the place and its conditions. There is a very personal interest in these locations, often one of familial and historical proportions, though this usually remains implicit and can seem even contrary at times; what can often be the most tranquil versions of places with the most horrific past. Such is the case with these images that come from Gersht’s visit to Kolomia and Kosov in the Ukraine, what was for many generations a home to prosperous Jewish communities and where once Gersht’s relatives found a brief but harsh refuge from Nazi persecution. The forest here is a place once idealized during the Enlightenment and by such German Romantic painters as Caspar David Friedrich whose mythical landscapes share some ghostly qualities with Gersht’s images at times. Still, amid the idyllic antediluvian power that these places seem to conjure, there remains a notion of the atrocities that have occurred in them.
“When I was looking at the landscape in the Ukraine I was seeing all these houses and trees that were there 60 years before and are living there now with total indifference to the human horrors that took place but somehow bear within them the memory of those events. Our sense of time as human beings is limited to 70 or 80 years but all these landscapes spread over a cosmic or geological perception of time. Some of the trees are hundreds and hundreds of years old, they bear with them the memory of all previous events and at the same time keep a certain silence and are impenetrable.”
– An excerpt from an interview with Ori Gersht by Camilla Jackson, Senior Curator at the The Photographers Gallery in London where his new film “The Forest” will be shown in December.