About the Artist
A photographer and multidisciplinary artist, Edward Hillel's art practice engages history, memory, place and community to produce works that are at once personal and reflect upon society and the human condition.
Delving into the communities and stories that surround him and working collaboratively with others, Edward assumes varied roles as researcher, writer, photographer, producer, filmmaker, community organizer, studio manager, pitch man and janitor on projects that can take several weeks or years to complete.
He has received the German Critics Visual Arts Prize (Berlin), The Golden Sheaf Film Award (Canada), the Prix Alain de Rothschild (France) and the Spiro Institute Arts Award (UK). His works have circulated widely through exhibitions, print, broadcast and social media.
“For over two decades, the concept of memory and how it shapes identity, politics, topography and human existence has been central to the work of Edward Hillel. Over that time, Hillel’s artistic production has evolved from black and white photographic portraits and narrative videos to creating hybrid “sites”, images and installations employing photographs, videos and film, archives and found materials, projected sounds and reflective surfaces…Whether subversive, conceptual or postmodernist, the artist focuses on the individual’s role in history and in time.”— Shirley Madill, Co-Curator
Edward Hillel, True stories: Photographs & Installations
National Galley in Prague, 2002
“At once observer, witness and participant Edward Hillel superposes the real and the imaginary in his work; he stages mis-en scènes, invents situations, constructs histories that, to quote Robert Frank ‘look outside to better see inside’”— Jacques Henric
Introduction catalogue Contes Mnemoniques: Edward Hillel
Galerie Filles du Calvaire, Paris 1997
“Edward Hillel, born in Iraq, arrives ten years later in Canada, where he eventually presents his photographs, videos and installations. But it is in Paris in 1990 where he would discover the theme central to his work: the art of memory, and in particular, the memory of the holocaust. He develops three concepts which would become the pillars of his practice: the mnemonic mirror, where direct and immediate memory is set in collision with another, uncertain and fluctuating, arising from a past obscured by forgetting and doubt; post-memory, which is based on witnesses, archives, a historical chronology; and nomadic memorials, fragments, objects and images installed in a spatial structure, allowing the spectator a reflection on personal and collective experiences. With his Contes Mnemoniques, (1998), he confronts archival images from the camps with those of daily life, conjugating in this way specific events from the past and the present into one timeless photographic work. Images of memory do not possess a hierarchy, the unbearable horrors are linked to pastoral insipidity, referring mutually to a long gone past that they are powerless to resuscitate. Photographic memory is at best an imperfect tool, and if it indeed helps us combat amnesia, it must be constantly worked, like a farmer periodically tilling the land to keep it fertile.”— Marc Scheps
“The Presence of Absence: Iconography of Holocaust memory in Contemporary Art”
In ARTEINMEMORIA, Incontri Internazionali d'Arte, 2004
“In Edward Hillel's works - as in the autobiographical writings of Ruth Klüger - we discover a guideline that we could call a principle of dialogue. The artist attempts to engage the observer in a continuous conversation, to free the observer's thoughts and perceptions without steering them onto any fixed path. It is an open, multi-layered course, which relies upon the curiosity and imagination of the opposite number. It is a process that triggers unconscious and subconscious thoughts and feelings; it renews forgotten memories and perceptions; without reconstructing them, it reunites them with temporal demands and expectations, with suggestive moments, fearless of stirring emotions, but far from manipulating them. Hasty identifications are consciously broken through moments of calculated distance. The associative grasp contains nothing capricious; it corresponds with the systematic assessment, which can be expanded and fine-tuned in the mind of the observer.”— Stefanie Endlich
From catalogue text:
Edward Hillel: Fragments—Berlin/Weimar, 2000
“Videos, installations, photographs- whatever the medium, Edward Hillel's message is always memory; the duty not to forget. His work conjures up the lost worlds of Berlin, its cafés, Jewish districts and Nazi zones, mixing past and present in a unique atmosphere. This is art as archive, as a fiction devoted to exploring the dark side of humanity.”—Christine Buci-Glucksmann
“Edward Hillel, Memories of Berlin”
Artpress, December 1999
“Edward Hillel’s environments can be seen as "ephemeral monuments" that elicit an active engagement with our personal and collective memories.”—Sabine Weißler
Curator, Schwartsche Villa, Berlin, 1999
“Edward Hillel's productions bridge over and transcend many territories. Far more than documentary, his work is to be understood primarily as a visual reading or rereading of History. If he confronts images of the Holocaust, it is because he has understood their mutational power. In them, neither Good nor Evil can be read as before. Beyond their testimonial value, such documents take on a paradoxical religious character, on a threshold between mysticism and secularism. Such a metaphysical void, rarely perceived in Man, is the one at work in both extremes. Though he is conscious of not being able to imprint them with a signature, the artist invites us to the revelation of their symbolic treatment as filters. Reframed, blown up, bathed in the light of colored gels, sometimes burnt, sometimes printed as negatives, these images are in effect never manipulated. This is fundamental, for at any moment the meaning Hillel gives them never strays from their historical context. Such a technical process seems to push back these images into a kind of “primeval screen”.
On a razor’s edge, crossing from archive to media, from media to photographic tableaux, Edward Hillel's work becomes dialectic. Even so, we need to employ our own vision if we want to detect any clues from these all-too- familiar images. In their tragic self-obliteration, these “Tableaux” do embed many clues. Archives now rendered mimetic in the work, formally reactivated by the use of diptychs calling for correlations, couplings sometimes unwanted, sometimes appeasing. Unwanted when they refer to our society's apathy and to our inability to grasp History. Appeasing when they suggest, through such dramatic tales of the World, the consciousness we need to rise up in arms. If through such processes Edward Hillel makes visible correlations ignored by official historical accounts, elsewhere he manages to create a sense of harmony, outrageous yet somehow edifying, as he calls for a rereading of these images. Such work is no doubt unrewarding, for it foresees a possible turning away on the part of the onlooker, who may be scandalized by the cruelty at work in such photographs. As if there should remain something “flat” in this “photographed” History; something inoperative, beyond its own trace or meaning.”—Michèle Cohen-Hadria
“Edward Hillel: Passage to Myth: The Double Gaze”, essay in “Denkbilder/Images Pensées”, Galerie Carousel, Paris 1999
I am an artist because it allows me to live the kind of life I want to live. My roles include inciting dialogue, creating a sense of belonging and engaging the human spirit. Memory and its impact on identity, politics, topography and experience is at the nexus of art and community and central to my work.
I began photographing, writing, sketching, filming, and making art because I wanted to tell stories that gave me an identity, to share stories that revealed alternative identities as a way of finding my identity within a new world. This need for equilibrium is counterweight to my own personal journey as an outsider, refugee, Art gives me an opportunity to give back to society and that nourishes me.
My working method is in fact my way of living and learning. My past as a community organizer naturally draws me into public space and discourse, to bring people together around a concept or a dream. I like to watch the process unfold, listen, read, conduct site-specific research, collect individual stories, note historic events, make sketches and write proposals. I stage situations using various direct and indirect, formal and informal processes – documentary photography, audio and video recording, collaging and manipulating archives, staging performative actions and situations – that are translated into my exhibitions, installations, publications, films and other projects.
Since the mid-80's my primary medium has been photography and photo-media. Over time, my production has evolved from black and white photographic portraits and narrative videos to creating hybrid "sites", images and installations employing photographs, videos and film, archives and found materials, projected sounds and reflective surfaces, works focusing on the individual's role in history and in time. Today I consider my art practice a form of Gesamtkunstwerk, a total engagement with the world I inhabit.
Curriculum Vitae here.