Wednesday, October 22, 2014
“Aaah, all the paintings are gone! That’s not a problem, I can describe them for you.” During World War II, the museum’s treasures were removed from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg as a precaution against possible war damage. The empty halls are ghostly, filled with vacant frames that allude to the works they once contained and now serve as a kind of “shadow collection”. In 1943, Pavel Gubchevsky, a museum guide, shows a group of soldiers – most of them on their very first visit to a museum of art – through these empty halls. In an attempt to trigger his visitors’ fantasies, Gubchevsky delivers vivid descriptions of the paintings previously on display and so familiar to him. However, never having seen the works themselves, the soldiers cannot perform an act of recollection. They can only create their own images through an exclusive act of imagination, activated by their guide’s vocalization of the artworks. It is the unseen which they are required to render visible.