University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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CHGS

Gabrielle Rossmer

Gabrielle Rossmer came as a child to the United States from Bamberg, Germany. "In Search of the Lost Object" is a family history. Her grandparents tried to leave but eventually perished at a German death camp in Poland. The installation tells the story. As a conceptual space, the installation has many components. An audio tape explains the document wall, copies of original documents attesting to her family's service in the German army in World War I and her grandparents work as owners of a shirt factory. As the Nazis came into power, all Jews in Germany, and later Austria, were required to have a "J" inscribed on their passports, and the name "Israel" inserted as a middle name for men, "Sara" for women. The documents record this transition from equal Germans to "subhumans." The Rossheimer family (shortened to Rossmer after emigration) thought of themselves as German, lived a middle class life and life many Jews, did not see their motherland as a country capable of committing genocide.

The standing figures represent ghosts or revenants, those who are around in thought but not in body.. The figures hung from the ceiling evoke images of the artist's grandparents, who perished. The family was in the shirt business, hence the images conceived by the artist.

Bamberg has one of the great Gothic Cathedrals in Germany. Note the artist depicts representations of "Ecclesia" and Synagoga" from the Bamberg Cathedral. The former is a beautiful woman, symbol of the church triumphant. The latter shows a blindfolded woman, with the ten commandments upside down. These images appear in many medieval structures. What does it say about the roots of anti-Semitism from a Christian perspective?

Rossmer has also taken family photographs, blown up through Xerox-based processes, painted them, and has them hung as a conceptual space.

On a final wall of plaster plaques, the artist has printed images from her past--Bamberg and Germany, where she grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, and the same location now which has a new generation of immigrants from Latin America. Rossmer's identification with this area speaks of the energy which America has gained from immigrants, especially those pushed out of their home countries by religious and racial prejudice.

Artist Statement

Currently I am engaged in phase three of an installation work begun in January 1991. In Search of the Lost Object originally was shown at the Municipal Museum of Bamberg, Germany, a building that had been the Judenhaus where my grandparents were held until sent to their death in 1942 in Poland. Shown in Germany, the show was a memorial and an exploration of the layered nature of memory.

The initial challenge was the struggle to reconcile documentation with imagination. Specific references to members of my family in documents and images remain a central element in the pieces called Document Wall and Family Portaits. Images of my birthplace, Bamberg, appear like family members as well. Those pieces are shown in conjunction with cloth sculpturesLes Revenantswhich are enigmatic shroudlike figures. The specific is the fuel that ignites the universal elements.

The recently completed Garments, hanging cloth sculptures that are twice life-size, are evocations of human form and style that are open to the interpretation of the viewer. An as-yet untitled piece consists of ninety-six plaster tablets with a variety of images connected by my life. Finally, there is a small autobiographical book that is the most "factual" element in the installation.

Artwork: Witness and Legacy

In Search of the Lost Object

In Search of the Lost Object, 1991 Installation. Dimensions vary

As a conceptual space, the installation has many components. An audio tape explains the document wall, copies of original documents attesting to her family's service in the German army in World War I and her grandparents work as owners of a shirt factory. As the Nazis came into power, all Jews in Germany, and later Austria, were required to have a "J" inscribed on their passports, and the name "Israel" inserted as a middle name for men, "Sara" for women. The documents record this transition from equal Germans to "subhumans."

In Search of the Lost Object

In Search of the Lost Object: Document Wall, 1991 (detail) Installation
Dimensions vary

The document wall is arranged according to the historical chronology of the documents' dates. They show that Rossmer's family served Germany as Germans, in wars and in public service. However, as the Nazi regime closed down legal rights for the Jews, documents reveal that her parents' and grandparents'passports were marked with a "J," that all women were given the middle name "Sara" and males the name "Israel." Finally, all of their property was confiscated and her grandparents were deported.

In Search of the Lost Object

Gabrielle Rossmer
In Search of the Lost Object, 1991 (detail), InstallationDimensions vary

On the left is a wall of plaster plates with reverse printed images from the family history in Bramnbergm Germany, Washington Heights, New York, where they were resettled, and other images of absence. The standing figures, made of burlap and glue are "revenants," ghost-like images of those departed.

In Search of the Lost Object

In Search of the Lost Object: Sleeping on the past, 1991 (detail) Installation
Dimensions vary

"Sleeping on the past," is a bag full of photo- copied documents. Viewers to the exhibit are encouraged to pick up and read the documents. The titles suggest how we all have to deal with the past of our lives, and artistically, to create art from autobiography.

In Search of the Lost Object

In Search of the Lost Object, 1991 (detail) Installation
Dimensions vary

The Bamberg Cathedral contains, like most other medieval cathedrals, an image of "Synagoga," a woman holding the 10 commandments or torah upside down, or piercing her eye with a knife, and "Ecclesia," a beautiful woman holding the cross, symbol of the Church triumphant.

In Search of the Lost Object

In Search of the Lost Object, 1991 (detail) Installation
Dimensions vary

Rossmer has photo-copied family pictures, colored them and integrated them into the exhibition space. Her intent is to show that her family thought of themselves more as Germans than Jews. The Nuremberg laws of 1935 set them apart from other Germans, not on basis of belief, but upon the Nazi system of "race."

Page Updated 2013.