Marginalia: Funeral Selfies and our Inability to Memorialize

| May 6, 2014


Artist Statement:

2007 – 2011

An inquiry into history, remembrance, and desire, Stelen (Columns) is a photo installation comprised of appropriated images found on the Internet. Connecting the images is the presence of Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin – the Holocaust Memorial – comprised of 2,711 concrete columns of various heights.

By employing seriality via the presence of the memorial, the images examine a space where desire is least expected to surface. If, as Eva Hesse famously suggested, that “series, serial, serial art is another way of repeating absurdity,” the collection of images draws connections between longing, death, and eroticism while calling into question the in/ability to memorialize.

See also: Hyperallergic

Privacy, Sexuality and Museum Politics at the Jewish Museum

Looking at the work itself, “Stelen (Columns)” relates queer sexuality and desire to history and the ideas of haunted memory and loss. Dating-site profile pictures taken at a Holocaust memorial are at first shocking, but when they are all displayed together, they make a powerful statement about the connection between of Jewish and queer history and sexuality.

The Jewish Museum also saw the strength of the work, featuring it in the exhibition’s promotion. The museum’s press release describes Adelman’s installation as exploring “the provocative transformation of a site of reverence into a social space where public remembrance collides with private desires.”

Perhaps the museum did not anticipate the accusations of invasion of privacy that would come from Adelman using dating-site photos without permission. Internet privacy is a difficult topic, particularly when it comes to free, public dating sites. While is technically public domain, a username and password is necessary in order to access the site, giving the impression and expectation of some sort of privacy.

Marc Adelman’s “Stelen (Columns)” At Jewish Museum

Oftentimes an artist makes a story unfold, but sometimes an artist captures a story evolving all on its own. For his installation “Stelen (Columns)”, Marc Adelman collected 50 profile pictures from an internet dating site catering to gay men in Berlin. The catch: all of the photos were curiously taken in front of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, aka the Holocaust Memorial.

The collection confronts what we aim to keep separate: the public and private, sexual and religious, historical and digital. The seemingly innocent snapshots leave an unsettling aftertaste when we see that the flirtatious, seemingly nonchalant poses are taken beside a sacred site of mourning. This begs the question: What remains sacred and what can be reappropriated?

The illustrious profile picture is familiar to many of us thanks to internet sites where our private desires are broadcast for all to see. The camera quickly erases the history of its subjects and turns everything into an aesthetically pleasing backdrop. In this case, most of us would be fairly ignorant of the significance of the architecture from many of the photos until we read the artist’s statement. We find that at the Holocaust Memorial, desire flourishes, rather than being erased.

Instead of making snap judgments, Adelman suggests that we should pause and consider the tension between immediacy and history, image and presence. Are our identities defined more by history or by a virtual profile? How do we honor what is sacred to us?

This collection of photos will provoke different questions for each viewer, and privileges neither the ‘traditional’ nor ‘modern’ response. Through his work, Adelman suggests that we take the time to think about identity, politics and sex, and the radical strangeness of our current age.

And of course, there’s…

Selfies at Funerals