Susan Hiller

The J Street Project 2002-5

video stills
A video installation takes us on an arduous expedition into the heartland of loss... The 67-minute journey begins with a street lamp blazing against the backdrop of a large, dark and impersonal postwar building. A sign attached to the lamp tells us that we are in "Judenstrasse", yet its ancient ethnic identity has been eradicated...we notice a sign announcing "Polizei", juxtaposed with the street name "Judengasse". We are left to contemplate the word "gasse". It means "alley", but is inescapably redolent of the death chamber. Slowly and gingerly, a car moves across a snowbound landscape. A panoramic stretch of sublime winter countryside opens out in front of us, punctuated by the sign "Judenhof". Places remain impossible to discern. "Judenberg" appears, but all we can see is dismal corrugated sheds. "Judennam" is promised against bare branches and a grim expanse of nothingness. A covered market appears, surrounded by picturesque old buildings that have been carefully restored. ...Road drilling destroys the silence in "Judenweinerstrasse.. . Buses, lorries and other heavy vehicles barge past Hiller's lens. They blot out a succession of deftly edited signs: "Juden" this and "Juden" that. The repeated obliteration becomes disturbing, as does our growing puzzlement. Why are there so many "Juden" streets? ...But the J-Street Project is not a history lesson. It is a work of art, and the ear-battering sequence culminates in darkness so deep that, for a while, nothing can be discerned on the screen at all... That nothing much has happened at any stage in the piece does not reassure us. Quite the reverse. Hiller haunts us with a wholly authentic sense of desolation.
Richard Cork, New Statesman, 2005