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Curatorial Statement

Ydessa Hendeles’s practice has always sought to give artistic expression to the multigenerational effects of traumatic displacement and the ensuing psychological and physical barriers to rebuilding community and a sense of belonging. Her history as the only child of Auschwitz survivors who crossed frontiers and an ocean to rebuild their lives inevitably informs her work. Though born in Germany, she is a Polish-Canadian dual national with deep family roots in Poland as the descendant of a line of rabbis and Talmudic scholars. The Nazi’s program to eradicate Jews made hers the generation that wasn’t supposed to exist.

Hendeles’s work is a post-Holocaust document that seeks to forge creative links between past and present. Grand Hotel stages collectibles, machine-made and hand-made items, vernacular objects and found film footage in a narrative assembled to trigger responses from the viewer’s own life experience.

Grand Hotel is set in a country emerging from the wreckage of war. The scenario envisages a family or group of close friends who are on the road like tourists. But what are the circumstances of their journey? Does the carefree transience of leisure travel mask a fraught odyssey to safety and emotional security? And where is the journey’s end? Is it built on dreams of new beginnings or nightmares of past traumas?

Viewers start from a seemingly benign past: a postwar photo from Hendeles’s family album, an archival film clip from Eastern Europe, a painting of Jewish merchants in a village in Ukraine, portraits of bejewelled Russian royalty and a car designed to empower “everyman” Germans. These interconnected objects are starting points for a story of rejection, displacement and aspiration. Tomb-like travel trunks, relics of the dawn of modern-day luxury travel, take on a darker significance in the context of the installation’s ambiguous opening.

The objects in Grand Hotel, despite the opulent origins of some, are almost all repurposed salvage—poignant relics of a bygone era positioned to limn a contem- porary story about identity, loss and a yearning for a safe space where one can truly feel “at home.” The metaphor of “journey” is central to Hendeles’s work. She invites viewers to respond to the disparate parts in a sequence—culminating in a cul-de-sac—but then to retrace their steps. The full art experience comes from review, re-examination and reflection on the return passage.