The concept behind genizot is simple. These spaces, usually housed in synagogues, would store disused documents that contained the written name of God — and thus couldn’t be discarded.
But genizot also symbolize remembering. And that’s what Canadian artist Bernice Eisenstein so brilliantly explores in “Genizot: Repositories of Memory,” her new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
For Eisenstein, now artist-in-residence at Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Center, genizot become a launch pad to plumb the prismatic complexity of memory, whether personal, historical, literary, religious, or some combination thereof.
At first glance, “Genizot” seems like a loose assemblage of work. Eisenstein pairs her black-and-white portraits of figures like Antoine de St.-Exupery and Marcel Proust with elliptical text treatments; a glass display case houses casually arranged found objects. But as with all of Eisenstein’s work, there’s a compelling internal logic that unites the project into a powerful statement about memory, its weight, and its fluidity.
Memory is a favorite subject of Eisenstein, who created last year’s acclaimed “Correspondences” with Anne Michaels, and is the author of the award-winning graphic novel “I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors.”
“Genizot” was created for Holocaust Education Week in October, but the project will run through February 8, 2015 (Eisenstein is also one of the artists in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” which I co-curated and The Forward sponsored.)
“I’m not didactic,” Eisenstein told the Forward from Toronto. “I want whoever sees “Genizot” to engage in it however their own memory works.”