FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Livermore Valley Arts
Contact: Ruth Egherman (925) 583-2306
Blending Beauty and Terror in New Gallery Exhibit at Livermore Valley Arts
Livermore, CA – (December 1, 2022) –
A gripping, powerful exhibit, “Beauty and Terror,” will be on display for a brief time at the UNCLE Credit Union Art Gallery from January 12 to January 29, 2023, after appearances of select pieces in Emeryville, Novato, and Oakland over the past couple of years. This gallery exhibition from Bay Area artist Robin Bernstein features intricate string “paintings,” vivid compositions that seem to be paintings from a distance, but going deeper within each work, each piece symbolically represents lesser-known atrocities and massacres that occurred during the Holocaust. Creating Beauty out of the Terror, these works are difficult to place into a clear context, and at first glance defy a clear medium. Viewers of Bernstein’s pieces can expect to be provoked, awakened, moved, and propelled. The public is invited to experience this powerful exhibit at the UNCLE Credit Union Art Gallery at the Bankhead Theater in Downtown Livermore at the beginning of the new year.
Currently residing in Canyon, CA, Robin Bernstein grew up in St. Louis, where she received a Jewish education, but it glossed over the Holocaust. In 2009 when her son got involved with The Next Chapter (a program offered by the San Francisco-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center, that matches students with a Holocaust survivor to interview and document their story), she sought more information online, and was horrified at the top search results on Google: they were websites promoting Holocaust denial theories. An artist who has worked for over 40 years in various mediums, Bernstein decided to respond to the online disinformation through fiber art. One piece turned into two, two into four, and so on, each piece evoking the Holocaust and its painful history. Despite the ugliness of this subject matter, Bernstein said she tried to create the most beautiful works of art she could, both honoring the memory of those who suffered and died in atrocity and reminding us to pay attention and stand up against tyranny.
Each piece took Bernstein 3 to 6 months to complete. Much of the string used is vintage and originated in Europe; the colorful works are constructed from thousands of tiny strings Bernstein has meticulously cut and pressed into a mixture bed of wax, Vaseline, and powdered pine resin, which acts as an adhesive. (This process of pressing string into wax came to Bernstein as she prepared a group of schoolchildren for an international trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, learning about the Huichol Indians and their spiritual practices.) The wax is holding the string, there is no glue. Beyond the impressive technique, from a distance, they can appear to be embroidery, mosaic, weaving, or painting, with rich colors and eye-catching shapes; they are “beautiful.” Upon closer inspection however, the subject matter then becomes viscerally apparent, retelling the horrific act of violence and terror that each piece memorializes. The collection on display at The Bankhead is the complete series of 18 individual works (even that number is intentionally significant in itself: 18 represents “chai,” symbolizing ‘life’ in Jewish numerology), that together make known events and aspects of the Holocaust, with some redemptive stories and heroic acts of resistance incorporated as well.
Some of these events are lesser known but the entirety serves us as historical, as educational, as memorial, as art. The works are also warnings, and Bernstein takes her artist role in society as truth teller very seriously. As she states herself in her Artist Statement: “Each cut [of the string] may represent the act of violence that was put to each victim of the Nazi Regime (be it by bullet, by gas, by fire, by starvation, by disease, and by other methods). Each cut may also be a reminder of the possibilities that were lost had over 11,000,000 Jews, people with disabilities, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, a-socials, German political activists, and LGBTQ not been targeted and murdered. The ‘final solution’ of the Jewish question is at the heart of this effort. Systems of violence produce perpetrators, and I believe it is my responsibility as an artist to do what I can to produce a world that discourages the worst of human nature.” Bernstein has a note that accompanies her website: Dwell on the past, lose an eye, Forget the past, lose both, which concisely informs and sets up viewers with the intentions of the artist and her moving pieces. Combining such a subject matter with her artistic technique is Bernstein’s way of shouting from the rooftops: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction to be able to bring the history of the Holocaust to audiences who might not know about it otherwise,” she said. “People truly have no idea how brutal and how horrible [it was], and how will you ever know? […] The pieces are educational, but they’re also standalone aesthetic visual experiences. They’re memorials. They’re honorific. They serve a lot.” Reviewer DeWitt Cheng perfectly summed up the several levels for why one should witness this exhibition in person: “as a pure aesthetic experience; as an intellectual and emotional catharsis; and as a demand that such horrors never recur. Bernstein’s deep dive into history informs her resplendent commemorative plaques, replete with putti, banner inscriptions, and simulated Baroque frames. They rescue history from oblivion.”
The UNCLE Credit Union Art Gallery is located in the lobby of the beautiful Bankhead Theater at 2400 First Street, Livermore. “Beauty and Terror” is free and open to enjoy by ticketed patrons during performances and by the general public Thursdays through Sundays 1pm-5pm, beginning Thursday, January 12. Robin will be giving an artist talk on Saturday, January 14th from 1pm-3:30pm where she will explain the stories behind the horrific events portrayed in her artwork and her motivation in the creation of the works. She will also demonstrate the string and wax on wood process with a small hands-on area for participants to try the process. The public is invited to share in this moving exhibit at The Bankhead, with this opportunity to address the past, acknowledge what we are capable of as humans, and forge a future where we move forward aware and conscious of the possibilities, so we may work together to prevent these horrors, understanding each other so that we may live in safe community with one another.
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