The eerie stillness of the walls and grounds of mostly abandoned Jewish cemeteries in the Czech Republic are the basis of “Still . . . Life,” an exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum running through this summer. The collaborative project includes work by Maryland-based photographer Lynn Silverman, U of M horticultural science professor Neil Anderson, and his late husband, poet, and mathematician Mark Gilquist. The result is a haunting meditation on the memory of brutal history amid symbolism of endurance and rebirth.
Anderson and Silverman met as Fulbright Scholars in the Czech Republic in 2010. “They came from two different paths, then met and were interested in working together,” says Weisman senior curator Diane Mullin of the accidental meeting that resulted in “Still . . . Life.” Anderson’s interest drew him to document samples such as this flowering ivy.
This wall circles a Jewish cemetery in Bohemia in the Czech Republic. It’s a region that is home to rich remnants of pre-World War II Jewish culture for a reason Mullin calls “tragically ironic.” The Nazis planned to establish an institution in Prague called the “Museum of the Extinct Race,” and during the war sent looted artifacts of Jewish religious and secular culture to the city for cataloguing.
Anderson documented what the exhibit calls “sympathy plants,” which were left by mourners at cemeteries decades ago—some native to the region, some not—and which have since thrived. “Still . . . Life” features real ivy and bulbs that he shipped back home and which he’s growing at the U of M’s St. Paul Campus.
Gilquist, who was restricted to a wheelchair because of complications from Parkinson’s and Lyme Disease, took photos from his seated vantage point, including this self-portrait of his shoes beside a cemetery wall.
Silverman’s photos focus on the periphery of these historic cemeteries, in haunting images that capture a sense of desolation and the ghosts of history—as well as a beauty and serenity and sense of eternity.
PHOTOS BY LYNN SILVERMAN, NEIL ANDERSON, MARK GILQUIST