The Blue Skies Project
(In progress, 2012- )
“Consciousness has internalized and submerged the sensation of the bold summer colours of that immense space; of the cerulean skies, the aeroplanes – and of the boy gazing at them and forgetting everything around him. There is almost no return to that Metropolis, with its sombre colours, with the sense of the immutable law that encloses all its beings within confines of allotted time and of death; that is, there is almost no sense of a return to that world without a sense of return to those wonderful colours, to that tranquil, magical and beckoning experience of those blue skies of the summer of 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau.”
- Otto Dov Kulka, Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death;
Published by Allen Lane, 2013, ISBN 978-1-84614-683-1; p76.
Seventy-five years ago, human beings succeeded in creating an institutionalised industrial system to use up, deplete, and ultimately obliterate other human beings. Over the course of 13 years this materialised in many shapes and forms, with the concentration camp system at its core and the extermination camps as its ultimate, extreme, incomprehensible act.
Today, one thousand and seventy-eight silent blue skies, photographed exactly above every single coordinate where the WWII Nazi concentration camp system materialised, collectively bear witness to the systematic trauma that was happening below. The photographs, blind-stamped with identification numbers and GPS coordinates, represent the paradox of the sky as a witness, inextricably linked to every victim, both those that perished as those that survived.
What started out as an act of trying to understand a history beyond the realm of representation, has become a work that touches upon the difficulties of representing trauma.
The photographs are an exploration of an already fading memory, and between the fractures of evidential specificity and the abstracted trace, a space is opened for reflection, confronting us with how we see, and how we choose to remember.
The Blue Skies Project is a project across multiple media and platforms. At its core is an installation consisting of 1078 mounted polaroids of blue skies, joined by a 13-year audio piece created by Ruben Samama. The installation is accompanied by an open source mobile mapping app, a traveling mixed media exhibition, an online evolving artwork redistributing the original images, and a book published by Lars Müller Publishers.
The documentation process behind Blue Skies relies on location coordinates, incorporates numeric data, and closely follows good weather reports showing the days where there will be a blue sky above one of the 1078 identified locations, then the journey begins in order to arrive at the place to capture the sky. Only 3 original polaroids are photographed in each location.
Until 2009, when the Encyclopedia of the Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945 was published, there had never been a comprehensive listing of the camps and ghettos, or reference work focused on the entirety of the system. Blue Skies is the visual realisation of such extensive data recompilation.
Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, published by Indiana University Press & United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – USHMM.org
Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, Wolfgang Benz/Barbara Distel, published by C.H.Beck (9 volumes)
Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz, Sechste Verordnung zur Durchführung des Bundesentschädigungsgesetzes (6. DV-BEG); Anlage zu § 1 Verzeichnis der Konzentrationslager und ihrer Außenkommandos gemäß § 42 Abs. 2 B
Ulrich Baer, Spectral Evidence - the photography of Trauma, The MIT Press (2012)
Otto Dov Kulka, Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death, Allen Lane (2013)
Eva Hoffman, After Such Knowledge, Vintage (2005)
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, Penguin (2003)
Mark Godfrey, Abstraction and the Holocaust, Yale University Press (2007)
"Sometimes, as in Kusters’ Blue Skies, the equation becomes more complex, fraught by a tangle of historical, aesthetic, moral and personal questions. The event that he set out to explore and capture is already a fading memory. The places, even if they can be accurately located, refuse to be contained, and cannot be encompassed by a single point of view. The artist has chosen to witness at the spot the event’s vanishing and most intangible residue in the form of reflected light."
- Martin Barnes, Senior Curator, Photographs, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
First journey: March 6, 2012
Final journey: September 13, 2017
Total visited locations: 1078 of 1078
Total distance driven: approx 177.828km
The Blue Skies Project is being produced by Monica Allende and Screen (screenprojects.org).
Important preliminary research for The Blue Skies Project was supported by STROOM Limburg (Belgium).