Maya Zack: Bringing the Past to Life in 3D

A 3D artwork? When I first read Maya Zack’s proposal for Living Room, I was skeptical. Would it seem too trendy? But the moment I put the glasses on and the images came to life, I was deeply moved by what I saw.

In Living Room, Zack uses the memories of a man, born Manfred Nomburg, who changed his name to Yair Noam. Now in his late 80s and living in Israel, he grew up in a Berlin apartment in the 1930s. He has amazing recall for the details of the apartment, and his narrative moves back and forth with the greatest ease between major world events, family anecdotes and the minutiae of quotidian objects.

Art Handler installing Maya Zack's Living Room Nomburg describes his former home and its contents in loving detail, and he takes pleasure in remembering these elements of his childhood. Far from being a cold inventory of objects, his narrative brings intimacy and resonance to the act of remembering the details of everyday domestic life. When Nomburg expresses uncertainty about a detail, such as the height of a book cabinet, his gaps in memory are visually represented through ghost-like images or outlines. Zack created depictions of the same rooms from different angles, some times placing the viewer behind certain pieces of furniture.

The images themselves are extremely engaging. They are full of surprises—like a handbag suspended in midair, and period-appropriate details, like a record by Joseph Schmidt—a Jewish actor and singer who was popular at that time. An overturned teacup on the table and a newspaper lying open on the floor suggest a hasty departure.

Because we had quite a large space available to install this work, we asked the artist to create oversize prints (4 feet high by 10 feet wide) specifically for The Jewish Museum’s show. The computer-generated images were printed in Israel and shipped to us for mounting. Inside the gallery, we created a “room within a room” with 4 fresh walls on which to mount the prints.

To create a dramatic effect, we decided to paint the walls black. The prints themselves had to be mounted onto a thin layer of PVC, which was then affixed to the gallery walls.

When you walk into the space, you become absorbed in the sound and images. The images appear in beautiful clarity so long as you are wearing the 3D glasses. The moment you take them off, the images recede into vague and fuzzy pictures, a nice metaphor for memories of the past which often fade with time. Once you remove the glasses, you feel like you’ve been in a lovely dreamscape that has disappeared.

As Zack has pointed out, German Jews in particular are inclined to reminisce about their pre-war lives. Despite the cataclysm that followed, they often speak with great nostalgia for their daily lives and things like art, music, food and the overall cultural milieu.

To me, an important element of learning about the Holocaust is honoring and appreciating what exactly was lost. Remembering the treasured moments of daily life—a particular set of dishes, a couch on which an uncle used to doze off during family gatherings, a radio that inspired a love of music—has its own importance, and leads us to a richer understanding of pre-war Jewish culture. One of the reasons Zack’s work is so strong is her emphasis on domestic environments, creating an intimacy for the viewer, with emotional resonances.

~ Aviva Weintraub, Associate Curator & Director NY Jewish Film Festival

Related Links:
Maya Zack: Living Room

Maya Zack’s Gallery Talk at The Jewish Museum