||Talia Tokatly in her studio with
bruised porcelain artwork in the background. |
(Photo: Photos by Lior Mizra)
||Reproduction of "Boy and Rabbit,"
by Henry Raeburn: From Vienna to Ramat Gan. |
On September 6, 1951, on the day
that his second daughter was born, Eli Zeiler was asked to come down
to the port to pick up a shipment sent to him from Ireland. And so
that week, the Zeiler family of Ramat Chen brought home a tiny baby
girl and a large wooden lift packed with the contents of the
Zeiler's home in Vienna in 1939. The lift was placed on bricks in a
far corner of the yard, and most of the contents disappeared into
From this Noah's Ark, preserving the remnants of
a world now extinct, came the furnishings of the home where the
father had grown up: a large grand piano, the bedroom set of his
parents, end tables, sofas and many objets d'art.
here, amid the little porcelain figurines, the oil paintings and the
tablecloths and napkins embroidered by the grandmother she never
knew, that the older daughter, Talia, grew up. The reproductions
that once decorated the walls of her father's home in Vienna now
hung in her room in Ramat Gan.
Today, Talia Tokatly, born in
1949, is participating in an art exhibit in Kiryat Tivon entitled
"Lying Within the Skin: Images of Silence and Absence in the Art of
Second-Generation Holocaust Survivors," curated by Anat Gatenio. "A
few years ago, I began to think about how I was a second-generation
Holocaust survivor, without being aware of it on a day-to-day
basis," says Gatenio. "I was attracted to artists who dealt with the
Holocaust in a roundabout, almost imperceptible way. So I assembled
a group of them who are really using the Holocaust as a central
motif, but subconsciously, without actually analyzing it."
The unifying factor between Gatenio and most of these
artists is their age. "We are in our forties," she says. "We are
looking ahead, at our children's future, but we are also looking
back at our parents, and remembering a world that is gone."
For Tokatly, whose mother was born in Israel and whose
father immigrated to Israel in 1939, concrete memories of the
Holocaust are missing. Her father did not experience the horrors of
the war, and she never knew the relatives who perished. In other
ways, her confrontation with the world from which her father was
torn at the age of 16 is chillingly real: At the age of two, the
belongings of her grandmother and grandfather suddenly appeared in
her house, some of them purchased, others made with their own hands.
Tangible, physical reminders.
Talia's father was born in
Vienna in 1923, an only son. His parents named him Hans. In 1938, a
month after the Anchluss, the German annexation of Austria, his
teacher walked into the classroom and informed the Jewish students
that they could not come to school anymore. Hans' parents planned to
emigrate to Ireland, where his father's brother was living, but Hans
decided to settle in Palestine. "Somehow, my father managed to get a
certificate," says Tokatly. "He joined the last Youth Aliyah group
that left for Palestine at the beginning of 1939." The boat, which
sailed from Venice, was called the S.S. Palastina.
leaving his parents' house, Hans Zeiler helped pack up a large
container of household furnishings that was shipped to his uncle in
Ireland. Everything was packed with care, and the German customs
official approved the shipment, issuing a special bill of lading.
When the S.S. Palastina reached the shores of Palestine,
Hans was taken to Kibbutz Degania, where he was given the name Eli,
"out of a list of Hebrew names prepared for the new immigrants," he
says. Joining the British army, Eli Zeiler fought in Italy and North
Zeiler's parents never made it to Ireland. They were
arrested in their apartment in Vienna and deported to a
concentration camp in Germany. To the best of the family's
knowledge, they were murdered in Dachau in 1944. While serving with
the British, Zeiler was given a special month-long furlough at the
end of the war to search for his parents. He found no trace of them,
and eventually returned to Palestine. After a few years, Zeiler and
his wife left Kibbutz Degania for Ramat Chen.
World War II
did not stop the ship that carried the Zeilers' household effects
from Austria to Ireland. The lift reached the uncle's house, and
Tokatly believes the contents were unpacked and used to furnish an
apartment for her grandparents. When the war ended, the uncle
repacked the belongings of his brother who had never reached
Ireland, and shipped them to his nephew in Israel.
objects that surrounded Talia Tokatly as she was growing up have
been incorporated in her artwork for many years, quietly and without
much fanfare. "I was a silent child," says Tokatly, "and my father
was the silent type, too. In my childhood, I did more looking than
talking. I lived with all these objects that spoke to me. In that
respect, I differ from other second-generation Holocaust survivors.
I didn't hear horror stories about my father losing his home, but I
had the physical experience of that home. Eventually, he began to
tell stories, full of warmth and love, about the house he grew up
Not all the objects packed up by the uncle reached
Israel. The marble panels that surrounded the fireplace and the
elaborately carved front door were in the lift, but the kitchen
utensils and furnishings from the children's room never arrived.
Hans Zeiler's childhood was stolen en route.
mother was very respectful of the shipment "from over there." While
Tokatly says she does not share her awe, being surrounded by these
effects has broken down the hierarchy with which household objects
are normally approached. "For me, a kitchen towel can be just as
valuable as a porcelain figurine because they come `from there,'"
she explains. "I can hold in my hand a figurine that my father
bought his mother as a gift for some holiday, or touch a souvenir my
grandparents brought back after visiting a spa. In my house, a
hunter's hat decorated with deer's hair might sit next to a set of
dishes my mother purchased in Israel."
Tokatly's use of the
objects scattered around her parents' house is indeed irreverent.
She copies patterns from her grandmother's embroidery, and porcelain
figurines are sometimes incorporated in her work as ready-mades.
"These materials are interesting because they teach us something
about culture. You learn about table manners, about the way people
conducted themselves. It's like excavating your family's
For Tokatly, these objects are important
testimony, but also a heavy burden. She insists that she is not
attached to them - or to her artwork. "I like the idea of my artwork
eroding over time. Like a fresco, for instance, that fades. I use
the towels from Vienna, and when one of them gets shabby, I shred it
and mix it with my other materials so that it continues to exist in
a new form."
But Tokatly's attachment to these physical
objects appears more complex than that. "These objects chose us,"
she explains. "Vienna came and sat in my living room. My
grandmother's beautiful embroidered tablecloths were brought to this
house without any choice on our part. I admit that my relationship
with these things is complicated. I have no problem breaking them or
using them, but if they were stolen, I would be very upset. I have a
little inventory of objects that I've been working with for years."
Tokatly recently created a deck of cards illustrated with
the motifs central to her work. The whole deck is imprinted on one
side with a copy of "Boy and Rabbit," a painting from 1786 by the
famous Scottish painter Sir Henry Raeburn. Tokatly, who grew up with
a reproduction of this work in her house, discovered only lately
that the original hangs in the Royal Academy of Art in London.
On the cards are pictures of porcelain vases, some of them
marked by dark, bloody-looking "bruises," and clothes made from
paper, embroidered with various images, among them dogs - which she
calls her "friends," because they were her only conversation
partners as a child.
Another fascinating piece is her
"porcelain rug," composed of squares of porcelain fired only once,
before being painted with organic substances that have seeped into
them. Bruises, bloodstains on clothing and stains on paper underwear
are frequent motifs in Tokatly's work. One of her past works was a
blanket made of lint collected from the drier and a porcelain pillow
with an indentation made by the sleeper's head.
Kiryat Tivon exhibit, Tokatly is showing fragile porcelain ware, all
imperfect in some way: broken, blemished. In one corner is a paper
shirt with one shrunken sleeve. "Dust-filled Panties" illustrates
her sense of discomfort with phoniness. "I can't stand fancy
labels," she says. "Children's underwear that costs NIS 100. A
coffee cup rimmed with gold that could just as well be filled with
Tokatly's work mocks outward symbols of
quality. Some of her flawed works are stamped with a prestigious
Other paper garments on display incorporate patterns
from her grandmother's embroidery, as in her "Paintix" series, where
the outline looks like x-shaped embroidery stitches. "When you think
about it today, my interests are not that far from my grandmother's.
In her own way, she was also an artist," observes Tokatly.
The lift from Vienna emptied out over the years, becoming
just an ordinary storage shed. But it was always there, in the far
corner of the yard. "Dark and mysterious," recalls Talia Tokatly.
She was always afraid to go inside it.
with Tokatly at the Kiryat Tivon show are Izaak Golombek, Rivka
Potchebutzki, Dorit Reinart, Sharon Yaari, Dvora Morag, Meir Natif,
Gary Goldstein, Yeshayahu Gabbai and Gilad Ophir, as well as Shosh
Kormosh, who died before the show opened.
While Anat Gatenio
and the gallery manager, Esti Reshef, have wisely provided all the
artists with their own autonomous space, there is clearly an
unspoken dialogue going on between them. Like Tokatly, Rivka
Potchebutzki's "Dress for the Month of May" explores issues of
visual memory and a complex attitude toward materialism. On a dress
that has been taken apart in such a way that it cannot cloth the
body entirely, Potchebutzki has painted the flowers her mother used
to talk about: the first flowers that bloomed in spring. In