Susan Hiller

The J. Street Project

2002–5

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Not on display

Artist
Susan Hiller 1940–2019
Medium
Video, projection, colour and sound
Dimensions
Duration: 67min
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist 2011, accessioned 2016
Reference
T14660

Summary

The J. Street Project 2002–5 is a sixty-seven minute film that consists of a sequence of static camera shots of street signs in Germany that incorporate the word ‘Jude’ (German for ‘Jew’). Hiller found a total of 303 signs in streets, lanes, roads, avenues and alleys scattered throughout the country. The work focuses on the dissonance between these mundane, everyday signs and the memories they trigger of a genocidal history. The soundtrack records traffic noise, church bells and other incidental sounds. For this factual, indexical project Hiller maintained a neutral seriality in her approach. Cumulatively, however, it becomes clear that the signs are loaded with the memory of Jewish presence in the locations, not just from modern times but from thousands of years of history. The tension between past and present in the film highlights the sense of absence and traumatic loss. The place names operate as memorials of erasure. Curator Renée Baert has written:

The spectrum of dissonances in this work produces a constant oscillation – in the gaps and contradictions between the banal signs and terrible history they evoke; between their simple references and the complex associations they engender; between charming alleyways, leafy avenues, shady glens and the absence of Jewish communities amongst these Juden-pathways. Through discovering these street names distributed throughout the German landscape, Hiller has constituted at once a powerful commemoration and an unyielding interrogation.
(Saidye Brofman Centre for the Arts 2006, unpaginated.)

The project began in Berlin in 2002 with the artist’s startled encounter with one of the signs, which precipitated three years of travel and research throughout Germany. Another version of the project comprises, in addition to the film, 303 photographs presented in a monumental grid, a large-scale map of Germany on which each of these sites are pinpointed, and a book which presents and identifies each of the signs.

Hiller has written of the work:

These street names are ghosts of the past, haunting the present. The street signs in my images explicitly name what’s missing from all of the places. I hope the work will provide an opportunity or meditation not only on this incurable, traumatic absence, but also on the causes of more recent attempts to destroy minority cultures and erase their presence.
(Quoted in Saidye Brofman Centre for the Arts 2006, unpaginated.)

Further reading
The J. Street Project, exhibition leaflet, Liane and Danny Taran Gallery, Saidye Brofman Centre for the Arts, Montreal 2006, unpaginated.
Susan Hiller, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2011, reproduced pp.132–3.

Helen Delaney
May 2011

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