The Past in the Present

Post by Alessandra Ferrini

Holy Precursor (2011), is a video that documents a house that was built out of the ruins of an Armenian monastery. Destroyed by Turks in an attempt of exterminating Armenian population and culture during the early twentieth entry, this very ancient site of faith was subsequently turned into a mundane space, a shelter. The images are mixed with text extracts from the theory of atoms and the transformation of matter as well as images of crops, crows, and of a local man singing a song about loss and pain that references a tragic event.

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Holy Precursor is reminiscent of 1942 (Poznan) (1996-2002), one of Orlow’s early works. Shot in Poland, 1942 (Poznan) is a video portraying a synagogue that was turned into a swimming pool by the Nazis in 1942.  This work consists of a single, 6 minute-long camera pan juxtaposed with the sound recording of a Hungarian Rabbi singing a mourning prayer. Both the video and the sound recordings originated from autobiographical research, which was carried out in the native villages of Orlow’s grandmothers.


Holy Precursor and 1942 (Poznan) adopt a similar format: the documentation of a site of faith that has changed its function and configuration while retaining some of its physical characteristics. The places’ history and links with tragic events are embedded into their fabric, resonating with a dissonance between their structures and their current mundane or commonplace use. In addition to this, they both deal with ideas of collective memory and, in particular, with the legacy of past events such as religious and ethnic persecution. These works bring to attention the way the past is manifested in the present.

Uriel Orlow is known for his modular, multi-media installations that take specific locations and events as starting points and combine archival research with evocative visuals and sound. Orlow explores the spatial and pictorial conditions of history and memory, focusing on blind spots of representation and forms of haunting. Working across video, photography, drawing and sound Orlow brings different image-regimes and narrative modes into correspondence.

Visit the artist’s website and find out more about Holy Precursor and  1942 (Poznan).

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