Archiving Memory: A Public Artwork and Memorial
Archiving Memory was a temporary, site-specific artwork and memorial based on a rare collection of Holocaust-era photos and oral histories at the University of Minnesota's Elmer L. Andersen Library.
Internationally distinguished in part because of its Kann Collection of Austrian History and Culture, the library was underused due to its location and institutional architecture. To strengthen its sense of place, to show that archives can be interactive and engaging, and to attract more visitors, Archiving Memory transformed its special collection of photographs and oral histories from Austrian, Jewish, and Christian survivors of Nazi persecution into a 35-ft. commemorative environment and three-dimensional photo album.
Larger-than-life, transparent black-and-white photos of the survivors were installed, chronologically, in twelve 3.5- by-5.5-ft. windows throughout the three-floor archive atrium. Each represented one year between 1936 and 1947. Sunlight streaming in through the photos projected their images into the building's corridors during the day, while at night, backlighting projected them outward onto the campus' West Bank. Six-ft.-high interpretive panels accompanying the photos narrated how each survivor saved their family photograph throughout Nazi persecution and what the photos meant to them. The installation increased visitorship, garnered the university national publicity, and brought an important archive and crucial memories to life.
"This project in its simplicity evokes a strong emotional response in the viewer. The building is a public photo album. The faces look out at us, and we can look through them like ghosts or see them projected against interior walls and floors. We want to know their stories. Besides the successful integration of the exhibit into the building fabric, it helps visitors understand the role of the library in interpreting the past and understanding the present."
Nancy Ann Coyne (principal in charge); William F. Conway, Marcy Schulte (architects); Capsule (graphic design)
Museum Services (installation); Dr. Helga Embacher, professor of history, University of Salzburg, Austria (historical consultant); Shelly Willis, Public Arts on Campus (coordinator)
Albinson Reprographics/ProColor (photographs); Serigraphics Sign Systems (signage)