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Sue Saxon's instillation "Ultima", was created to honour the fiftieth anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. Yet it is not simply an historical commemoration, rather it charts Saxon's personal exploration of her Holocaust heritage as well as a more general investigation of hatred and its rudiments. Operating outside stereotypical norms of expression which are marked by unutterable angst, or voracious screams of injustice, Saxon presents a subtle amalgam of signs that evoke the incomprehensible horror of the Holocaust, the personal estrangement felt by inheriting such a potent cultural history and the mechanics of anti-Semitic propaganda. A difficult show, the viewer is led to a potentially volatile series of images and is left to fidget and shuffle-facing his or her own inability to fully comprehend the atrocities of the Holocaust and the ever present, but silent wounds which mould Saxon's family life and underline and define her relationship to Hungarian and Australian culture.
Suspended above a semi-circular bed of Paprika are six sheets of tracing paper, etched with photocopied images. The scale of these works subtlety commands the viewer to face the emotionally abrasive and obscure content it offers. Saxon has juxtaposed idiosyncratic references, each containing
multiple layers of social, political, personal and historical dialogue. The images comprise three maps; The Jews of Austria-Hungary 1917-1914, European Anti-Semitism 1917-1933, (which charts the movement of the Jewish populations), and The Jewish Death- Toll 1939-45 ; the facade of a family home in Nyregyhaza, a section from the family synagogue in Tokaj and a card from the Hungarian game "Ultima". Physical intimacy with these images is made impossible by the paprika boundaries formed on the floor. The viewer is left to meander, physically and ideologically removed, through the cacophony of narratives.
Geographical, psychological, physical and ideological movements are traced in Saxon's work. Represented and realigned in the gallery space, the images invoke a specific personal quest through a transfigured history. Cold statistics are provided to depict the Jewish population, their movements and necrology. In a changed cultural and historical space the once objective maps suddenly evoke emotion and a multiplicity of unanswerable questions. How does one measure displacement?, How does one measure pain? How correct are the figures? How do you represent
and perceive over 5,950,000 deaths? Can a cultural experience be reduced to generic charts of movement and death-tolls whilst still accurately portraying a specific history? Saxon offers no concrete answers to the questions she raises, instead, she presents metaphors extracted from
family history. Saxon's father plays the card game "Ultima" every week, a practice begun long before his emigration to Australia. This game links past and present, leaps geographical and cultural location, exemplifying a symbolic resistance, thwarting the dissolution of a Hungarian heritage
removed from its origins. The image of the cards also pays homage to the role that chance, fate and risk played in Saxon's family life-in sparing of her parents from the death camps and relocating them to Australia. Its inclusion also honours Saxon's history. The stories her parents told, removed from their home and origins, became real for her only after she had journeyed to north-eastern Hungary. She brought back numerous images which illustrated childhood stories and family history. This journey effectively legitimised and created a perceivable location for her parents' past experiences, which distance had previously rendered fictitious. The image of her mother's family house in Nyregyhaza suggests a irremovable family presence behind the curtained windows, just as in Australia, for Saxon the Holocaust is always present through absence. Shrouded in
silence it underlies her existence in Australia, as a member of the family and subject to its complexities of relationship.
Saxon's show both suggests and restricts physical and ideological movement. Light streams in from windows behind the images, filtering through the data, casting shadows across the pungent paprika. These shadows create landscapes of red earth, which not only evoke metaphors of a clichéd Australian outback, but are more sinister analogies of landscapes soaked with blood. As the sun shifts, so does the metaphoric landscape of paprika, continually changing whilst positioning the viewer as stationary, at the edge, forbidden to come to close to the images. Having carefully distanced the viewer, Saxon's juxtaposition of divergent images proceeds to invoke ambiguous paths through this landscape, however one is never fully privy to all the personal strains which lead to each sign post on the trail. This is Saxon's history, she clings strongly to its ownership, whilst inviting the viewer to play from a distance with potent cards. Perhaps all the viewer can do is to accept the challenge, take the risk, welcome 'the uncomfortable' to conscious consideration, just as, through her practice, Saxon seeks to represent the conflicting and elusive cultural and social practices which underlie her personal experience. This continuing exploration of self is not born of pity but rather the imperative to play amongst life's difficulties, to garner a trail through the irresolvable, all the while gathering shards of meaning to be added into the deck already held. Saxon's work asks us to examine the deck we hold, contemplate how we gathered the cards and prompts us to cull the collection. Begging the question through its difficult subject matter-is it your turn to deal?