The 4 Questions follows my 2009 work, A Story of Rose’s, which was a biographical narrative about my mother, Rosette Volk, a holocaust survivor. The 4 Questions was developed around a rare audiocassette recording in which my mother recalled what happened to her during the Holocaust. In the video work, my mother’s experiences are explored using the Passover Seder as a framework. During the Seder, the ritual meal of Passover, the youngest child reads “The Four Questions” aloud. They reference the symbolic gestures of the Seder (such as eating bitter herbs and reclining in one’s chair) that recall the history of the ancient enslavement of the Jews and their escape to freedom. The Seder is an act of remembrance and calls upon the participants to recall and celebrate the history of the Jewish people.
This work is about and an apparent contradiction: that in spite of the tradition of recollection and remembrance in Jewish life, we rarely recalled or recognized the most significant and pivotal event in my family’s history. As a boy, the four questions I wished to ask at the Seder were about a different narrative that was shrouded in mystery: not the ancient Jews’ exodus from Egypt, but the great miracle of my mother’s survival.
For many years, as a result of mother’s reluctance to talk about her experiences and the lack of information available about Vittel, it was hard for me to understand how an arbitrary distinction of nationality allowed my mother be spared when so many others perished. Through the production of this work and the prior work, A Story of Rose’s, I have come to better understand my mother’s experiences during the Holocaust as well the circumstances that enabled her survival.
My impetus to make a work that addresses a “biographical narrative” is rooted in an interest in unraveling and understanding the historical legacy of my family. As an artist, the challenge of bringing this history into visual form is that the work must do more than serve as a personal narrative. My intent, through the use of particular materials and forms, is to produce an analogous experience of this history. By creating this, I hope to make the narrative accessible in such a way that the viewer will experience it through the lens of his or her own perspective and as a result consider what might otherwise be unknown and unimaginable to them.