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'Shalechet (fallen leaves)'

Ulrich Schneider


The installation Shalechet (Fallen Leaves) which has been in progress since 1997 and will probably not be
completed for a long time yet, must be experienced: to a considerable extent, it simply defies verbal or
visual publication. Something in the order of ten thousand individual sculptures Y but the number is
always growing — present themselves in front of and obligatorily under the feet of the observer. The
round and oval head shapes, half as large as life, are flame—cut out of two to eight centimeter sheet steel;
the molten metal hardens on the outer surrounds and inner edges — mouth, nose and eyes. Dross and
rust enliven the shape and change it all the time.
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The mimic of these intentionally summary shapes, even of the individual head, is striking to the observer. Mouths gaping wide open pour forth silent screams, the eyes are narrow. The front and rear sides of these flat heads have different expressions: on one side marks like trickles of blood, on the other incrustations that look like the after-effects of maltreatment.
These head sculptures, which are cut by hand in small metalwork shops on a noble scale, leave you with a profound impression when seen and experienced as individual pieces. Although they are heavy, sharp-edged and jagged, they look vulnerable and tender. Closer observation reveals wrinkles in the skin and marks that look like knife wounds. Even if you just scrape a fingernail over the surface, the wound will cause a metallic groan.
After initial attempts to place the many individual sculptures, the artist transferred his attention to
casting the installation. Thousands of kilograms of steel group together with alarming random. An end-
less ocean of screams stares back at the observer. Of course, the way that Shalechet is installed involves
the observer as an active culprit who is obliged to walk over the heads. Unlike the soft rustle of autumn
leaves — which their name and their reddish brown coloring bring to mind — the Shalechet heads groan
harshly, scream in treble voices. And every observer falters in his slow struggle forwards, leaning down
to grope for this screaming. And every observer, even those who know nothing about history, feel
how the grayness of the portraits recalls deep—rooted memories of the death camps of the Shoa: the
unimaginable throng, the incalculable procession of human beings.
In the panorama of recent art history, this work Shalechet stands alone: only the great archives of Christian
Boltanski are at all comparable. Figures of heads had already made their appearance alongside
the negatively and positively depicted sheep's bodies in the Valley of Sadness installation that Kadishman
had shown in Breda and Arnheim in 1986. Yet for the sheer, inconceivable mass of heads, Shalechet stands
alone. For Kadishman it is important that he does not see this Shalechet as a Holocaust memorial, but as a reminder of all victims. The meaning of Shalechet is intended to be to put the message of hope across. When autumn and winter have passed, a fresh new green will follow in spring.