Austin Bragdon’s 11/19 Introduction for The Holocaust at 75: “Remembrance as Public Practice”

This evening we are here to experience the work of Jason Francisco. Jason is an associate professor in the department of film and media studies at Emory University, and is the founder of FestivALT, a program of radical and experimental Jewish art based in Krakow, Poland. Francisco works in a wide array of discourses and mediums, including photography, poetry, essay, curation, and translation, seeking to explore the impact of trauma across cultures, landscapes, and history. His ongoing long project A ChinaTown Document engages with the faces, buildings, and moments of San Francisco’s Chinatown, a place still struggling to define its place in the American landscape in the wake of a history of discrimination toward Chinese immigrants, and a multitude of imagined images of the place distributed by photographs. Working in a different medium, and covering a different people and timeframe, Francisco’s essay “Diasporic Investigations” asks “what would it be to make a work that responds sedulously to the discontinuities and fractures that yield ‘the jewish’ in the passing jewish century?”

Despite the disparity between these two examples we can see common threads — one, the desire to explore the way trauma is inherited between people and generations, and two, the understanding that history is not a fixed object upon which art and opinions can be enacted, that despite the enormity of facts we know about events like the Holocaust, we lack the language and meaning to express their true weight. As the poet Paul Celan wrote, “reality is not simply there, it does not simply exist: it must be sought out and won.” Simply knowing the existence of an event like the Holocaust is not enough to define its impact upon the communities and cultures it effected — though its meaning, weight, and horror may be ineffable, its impact upon the Jewish culture is inescapable.

His photographs often utilize a space of “fracture” — aware that suffering and complicated cultural memories are too complex to reduce to a handful of photographs, he instead uses his work to demonstrate the complications in cultural memory, the array of perspectives that can be generated. They engage with what Roland Barthes called the punctum — “that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me.)” We see faces, some chanting slogans of revolution in Ukraine, many more expressionless, or with heavy frowns. These details, at once quotidian and enigmatic, are carried with us. These documentaries of other lives connect us to their subject — as Francisco says they “release social meaning, [relay it] from site to site, observation to observation, predicament to predicament.” They begin to help us learn, and remember.

The talk we are here to listen to tonight is called “The Holocaust at 75: Remembrance as Public Practice,” In the wake of tragedy like the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting of October 27, the deadliest ever attack on the Jewish community in the United States, remembrance may be more important than ever.

With that in mind, please join me in welcoming Jason Francisco.