Home / News / LocalRSS Feed
Dystopia Project explores work of Terezin artists, composers
October 6th, 2006
Before their horrific death in Auschwitz, there were artists in the Nazi ghetto and concentration camp of Terezin in Czechoslovakia. And together, under force, they created art and music.
Now, more than 50 years later, a group of experimental artists in Milwaukee will gather this month to create a multi-media art event, primarily as a response to the horrors that took place in Terezin.
The majority of Terezins occupants perished but their works were left behind as testimony to their means of survival and their psychological and spiritual tenacity, said Terisa Folaron, producer and co-director of the collaboration, titled The Dystopia Project.
The project will stage one performance on the second night of Sukkot, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 9 p.m., at The Hide House, 2625 S. Greeley St. in Milwaukee. A $6 donation is suggested, and proceeds from the evening will benefit the Shoah Foundation, dedicated to documenting Holocaust testimonies in an attempt to prevent future acts of genocide.
Folaron, who was a Holocaust Studies student in college, is a writer and teacher who spent the last 18 months teaching special education in China and Thailand. During that time, Folaron took several trips to Cambodia and its genocide sites, where she began to more fully understand and internalize what it meant to have a large percentage of the population disappear, she said.
Upon returning to Milwaukee for a teaching position at St. Anthonys School on the citys south side, Folaron discussed her experiences overseas with Jim Schoenecker, an experimental musician who is also an enthusiast of composer and Terezin resident Pavel Haas. This soon led to a discussion of the conditions in which the artists and composers of Terezin lived.
We found the idea of Terezins model ghetto to be a paradoxical place filled with irony, cruelty, creativity and hope, Folaron said. Many of Terezins occupants created artistic works sometimes secretly, sometimes under force, but always under the threat of death. Jim and I wanted to develop a project as a tribute to those artists who were not given a voice.
She and Schoenecker approached filmmaker Scott Foley to create a work in response to Terezins occupants. Cellist Janet Schiff came on board soon after, and as the project developed, other artists, both classically trained and experimental, were asked to contribute in a variety of mediums.
The resultant effort is a mix of collaborative and independent work. Being able to collaborate was part of the attraction for the entire group, Folaron said. The artists worked closely with one another to gain perspective and advice, and some pieces changed as collaboration with other artists evolved. We would tread upon each others pieces, and they would morph into something new.
She compared this dynamic method of collaboration to the somewhat warped collaborative efforts in Terezin. In Terezin, artists would be working together towards a final production, when suddenly a violinist would go missing.
The group knew that this person had been transported to Auschwitz, or had perished in the camp, but they had to find a replacement for their work. So theyd find a new violinist, but that immediately changed the final product.
We dont suffer these tragedies in our work, but we do have to creatively negotiate in our collaboration, Folaron said. If Ive learned one thing in this process, its the power of collaboration.
Musical works of composers Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas have been deconstructed for The Dystopia Project Ullmanns String Quartet No. 3 and Haas From the Monkey Mountains.
Celebrated composers prior to their deportation, Ullmann and Haas used their artistic talents to sustain their spirits while in Terezin. Ullmann composed an astounding 23 works during the 24 months he was interred, and one of Haas pieces was used in the Nazi propaganda movie made for the Red Cross.
Both men were transported to Auschwitz in 1944, where they perished in the gas chambers.
Folaron finds working on this project a way to connect past and present.
There are acts of genocide that continue around the world today, she said. We want to remind people that atrocities like this still occur.
The Dystopia Project has also been cathartic for Folaron. Her only brother died in 2004, and she is using her art as a way to creatively express the deep sadness his death has caused me.
As for how the project derived its name, Folaron said that the word dystopia, meaning the antithesis of utopia, was a natural name. If a truly dystopian place did exist, it was in the concentration camps, where undreamed acts of cruelty took place on a daily basis.