'Liquidation' light installation tells story of Lodz Ghetto through art

"Our goal was to communicate the magnitude of the horrors and also, to some extent, to memorialize the individuals who were murdered."

United States Holocaust Museum in Washington DC (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
United States Holocaust Museum in Washington DC
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
"Liquidation," an art installation made by two graduates of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), aims to pay tribute and recognize the history of Lodz, a large Jewish community in Poland that was forced into a ghetto by the Nazis and then forced to work factory labor before being deported to concentration camps, the Baltimore Jewish Times reported.
While studying for a Master of Professional Studies in Information Visualization, Sarah Maravetz and Gillian McCallion were invited by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to propose an exhibit based on data sets about Lodz ghetto workers and students.
"A key part of information visualization is storytelling; humanizing data so that it’s understood by a broader audience," explained Maravetz. "In the process of exploring the data that the US Holocaust Memorial Museum made available and researching the history of Lodz, it became apparent that part of the story we were trying to tell was about the absence of data.
"We can learn what happened to many of the people on the list of workers and students, but many more peoples’ stories were unknown, and we wanted to memorialize them," she continued. "The absence of data became part of the story."
She said that the data set the pair received from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was the most challenging she had ever worked with, not because of what it included, but because of what was missing.
"I really struggled with how to visualize a data set with so many gaps in it,” said McCallion, who expressed similar sentiments. “But eventually, I realized that the gaps, in many ways, were the data.
"We just simply don’t know what happened to most of the people who passed through the Lodz ghetto," she said. "That changed the way I thought about presenting the data.”
The two researched light installations and Holocaust memorials in order to develop their design. At first they created separate designs, but slowly were drawn together to one narrative, according to McCallion.
“We wanted to explore ways of communicating not just the data, but our own personal reactions to the data,” she explained. “Our collaboration allowed us to create a piece that we believe is more powerful than either of us would have produced individually.”
“And then the idea of using lights, we had both come up with these designs that memorialized people who were no longer there,” Maravetz added. “And light has been a traditional medium for memorials for many years, and was something that resonated with us.”
The "Liquidation" installation uses acrylic tubing lit with LED lights.
"[There is] a map of Lodz at the top," McCallion said. "Each level of the strips of lights represents a month, so the levels go out as the months tick by and the population declines. By the end, only the tips of a few of the strips are lit. The sequence lasts 2.5 minutes and then starts over. There’s a projection on the floor that shows the years and months that moves also and there are ripples on the floor like splashes in a pond each month to represent people passing."
She added that their goal was to communicate the magnitude of the horrors and also, to some extent, to memorialize the individuals who were murdered.
“It can sound a bit trite to say that data tells a story, but in this case, this was clearly much more than numbers on a spreadsheet. Each mark on that spreadsheet indicated a life. Each empty cell represented a parent, sibling, child,” said McCallion told the Baltimore Jewish Times. “It is incredibly humbling to consider data in such terms and the responsibility of visualizing it is daunting. The horrors of what happened in the Lodz ghetto will stay with me, as they should, but the resilience and character of the residents is inspiring and that’s what remains.”
“You want to handle that information and the tragedy of this with respect and gravity, Maravetz said. "But at the same time, we were trying to look for maybe a different way of representing information. And we’re hoping that our piece is a little space in the museum to pause and reflect and to watch. There’s a sequence to the lights that kind of cycles through. We’re hoping that in the course of the museum that people are able to take some time out and sit with it for a little while and reflect.”
"Liquidation" runs through July 31 at the Wexner Center in the USHMM, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington, DC.