Readings Between the Graves

Der Standard (12/23/04)

Franz Niegelhell

After a long, silent past, an interesting project at the Jewish Cemetery in Krems is causing a stir.

The two artists, Clegg and Guttmann, have built a public library.

Krems - The Jewish Cemetery in Krems founded in 1882 lies like a small forgotten island squeezed between two busy traffic routes. Almost immediately one comes across a sculpture by Hans Kuppelwieser. A fifty meter-long metal band is suspended like a threshold just above the ground upon which can be read the names and dates of the one hundred twenty-nine murdered Jews from Krems.

There is now a new piece of art by Clegg and Guttmann, who have built a public library, together with Kuppelwieser’s work, reconstructing memories that are exemplary for Austria. There are three bookcases, the size and form of which reminds one of a grave.

For Clegg and Guttmann, this is a piece of sculpture whose foundations represent institutions and social factors. It is different from the public library, which Clegg and Guttmann built in 1991 as an art project in Graz, and from any other library in all of Austria.

Animated Memorial
In Judaism a cemetery has a direct connection to life. A person who is dead and buried is, for example, still a person subject to public law. And, thus, this library is also like a symbolic link between the dead buried in the cemetery and the living. Likewise the work of Clegg and Guttmann is a memorial for the once flourishing Jewish community in Krems. The historian, Robert Streibel, expresses it in direct words: "Krems on the Donau has a long tradition in matters concerning National Socialism and anti-Semitism." This tradition should now be publicly brought to an end. The project goes back to a competition announced in Lower Austria for a public piece of art to serve as a memorial consisting of a Jewish gravestone to be walled into the exterior façade of the Piaristen Church. And it was Clegg and Guttmann that won the competition. The two artists work with an art concept that can be understood as a "social communicative process." They place their installations at fractured sites with the intention of achieving a socio-political happening with an artistic work of art. Finally, the library stands also for something like an alternative form of information.

On the occasion of the seven hundred-year celebration of the city in 2005, an initiative by the Association of Friends of the Jewish Cemetery Krems, will convert the cemetery’s deteriorated ‘house of words’ into an information center.

The construction by the architects, Walter Kirpicsenko and Alexander Klose, are planning for a twelve meter-long and six meter-wide concrete slab that will be supported by four glass panels. These panels also serve as supports for the Documentation of Jewish History in Krems by Robert Streibel. The Jewish gravestone from the Piaristen Church will also be worked into it. One component will be an audio installation by Konrad Rennert, reporting on the tragedies of the Jews in Krems.