My dear friend Linda Jean Fisher is a visual artist working in Peekskill, New York, where I also lived before I moved to NM. Linda Jean (or LJO--Linda Jean Oppenheimer) works on volume projects of late; for a period, I had the delight of receiving an image of her Daily Bread in my e-mail almost every day. There are other volume projects, but one in particular that makes me proud to be LJO's friend and witness.
Not too long ago, LJO began a new volume project, one that I have waited until Easter Sunday to talk about, one that I think is a testament to the effect that an individual can have--a positive effect. LJO is, in her very special, very labor-intensive way, commemorating the lives lost in the Holocaust. Here is the story of how she first thought of the project, in her words:
“On Saturday, 25 June 2005 I was working at my job as a custom picture framer. After I eat a meal, I must thoroughly clean my teeth because of conditions that exist in my mouth that are conducive to accelerated tooth decay. During this nine-minute forty-second process, I may think about various art projects I’m working on or come up with ideas for new ones. On this particular afternoon, I asked myself the following three questions: “What is enough? Will I ever feel like I’ve done enough work? What is too much? Within seconds this inquiry brought back a brief conversation from the year 2001. I was on my way to see a performance by the singer/songwriter Dan Bern with my friends Beverly and Fred. We were all discussing the prophetic content of Dan Bern’s lyrics. Beverly added, “He’s even referenced the number six million in several songs” and cited this verse from “Ballerina”:
Every day I seem to fire
Three more people
And every time I do
Eleven more show up
I can't fire 'em fast enough
If right now I fired every one I knew
I'd have 6 million employees by Christmas
I asked "Why does Dan Bern single out the number six million?” When she told me what story in history was behind this figure, I felt ashamed that I was thirty-six years old and didn’t know how many Jews were killed during The Holocaust. The recollection of this experience answered my third question. The six million Jews killed during The Holocaust define too much.
With that, a work of art began moving from the back of my mind to the front. If I could represent each person with “a something,” what would that be? I thought for a moment and recalled the time I spent in Hull, Massachusetts visiting my Uncle Joe in 1997. He had been a reconnaissance photographer during World War II and was one of the soldiers who liberated Dachau concentration camp near Munich. It was an experience that he had never talked about, so I was hearing his account for the first time. He said that after the troops penetrated the gates, he frantically moved from building to building, taking pictures, and collecting documents. Then he showed me a palm-sized identification card for an Italian seamstress. He gently put it into my hand and I carefully examined it. It included her photo, personal information, and a single fingerprint. At that instant I got the answer I was looking for: I would represent the six million Jews killed during The Holocaust with six million fingerprints.”
Stop. Reread that if you need to. Let the chill pass through you. There are so many things in this world that need a witness, and I'm proud to be one for Linda Jean Fisher, along with a group of selected friends, people LJO trusts to look, each time we get our e-mail from her with the record, to pray, too. My prayer is for the souls of those sacrificed to an idea. I also pray for LJO's right index finger, Superhero, that she may survive without too much damage.
LJO wants the viewer to remember the value of numbers over one. Simple enough, but when you think of the number of Jews killed during World War II, the number of humans killed in Vietnam, the number of people killed in our War on Terror, does the number register? Sometimes for me, those numbers do not. Thank God for artists, thank God for Linda Jean Fisher, for Dan Bern, for Jackson Pollack, for Charles Dickens. Thank God for every person who has decided that the very least he or she can do is to be a witness. To struggle to find a way to communicate what is being
witnessed, to make sure that there is a record, an effort to change things, even if it by heightening awareness. Sometimes that is all that can be done. Or maybe sometimes that is what an individual is able to do best.
Here is the most recent statistic of the number of fingerprints LJO has imprinted onto the grids that she designed for the project:
16 April 2006
360 + 1440 + 1800 = 3600
53040 + 3600 = 56640 Fingerprints
"father, son, holy spirit, re-ink