Deborah Cicurel hears about an ambitious new exhibition by a London artist who hopes to raise enough investment to get his Holocaust installation of six million dominoes up… and down.
If you are in Berlin this summer, you may plan to visit one of its myriad Holocaust memorial sites. But if you are there this winter, you could be lucky enough to witness the one-off FALL, an ambitious exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
London-based artist Julian Hanford will create an epic art installation – six million domino tiles, which will stand still for six days, commemorating the six years of the war.
On the last day – a date to be confirmed in November – in front of an audience of politicians, survivors and members of the public, the first tile will be toppled by a Holocaust survivor, setting off the chain, which will take 12 hours in total to fall.
“FALL in its purest sense is an art installation project to make some kind of sense of the magnitude of the Holocaust,” Hanford tells me.
“I always wanted to do something to bring home to people the importance of the Holocaust and its scale. “Six million is almost an abstract figure that is hard to come to terms with. After a while, you become quite numb to it, so I thought to illustrate it in a three dimensional way by setting up six million little black dominoes in 7,500 square metres of space, basically the size of a professional football pitch.
“The idea when people see it is to inspire awe and to grasp a little bit of the scale of what we’re on.” Hanford is not Jewish, but he lives with the horrors of the war every day. He has been interested in the Holocaust for a long time, saying: “I had an experience which shocked me and it’s been in my mind every day since.”
I press him and he elaborates: “When I was 13, I was in the Army cadets and we were taken over to Germany for a couple of weeks. We went to Belsen. I knew very little about the Holocaust – you know what 13-year-old boys are like – but walking into the area where the camp was, what struck me was the feeling I got when I was in it, which I still can’t explain. Utter desolation… nothing grew there, there was a feeling of terrible hopelessness about it. That feeling stays with me to this day. “That made me interested in what it was that went on there that created that feeling,” Hanford continues.
“My interest in it evolved – I want to get across to humanity that we need to keep this in our mind to stop it happening again.” But how on earth do you stand up six million dominoes without them toppling over? I tell him I have trouble getting 10 to obey my orders.
“The guy I’m getting to help me to do this is a professional domino toppler called Robin Weijers, who is known as Mr Domino,” Hanford explains.
“He currently holds the world record for toppling 4.5 million dominoes, so this will be a new world record, which will help it stay in the public consciousness.” But a project such as this isn’t only about creativity, guts and determination – it costs money, and a lot of it.
“We need to pay Robin, his team and security, as well as sponsoring the ongoing element of education,” Hanford explains. This ongoing education involves distributing dominoes to everyone who invests in the project, as well as sending dominoes to schools as part of an education pack. Hanford is clearly passionate about changing the way the Holocaust is viewed, with the pedagogical aspect comprising a huge part of the project.
The exhibition is being crowdfunded, and Hanford hopes to raise £1.5m – and not just from Jewish donors. He says: “My intention is that everybody should donate because we’re all human beings and we’re all subject to the same things.
“In the past, the Holocaust has been seen as a Jewish thing, but that does the memory of the people who died a disservice,” he continues. “It will be a very awe-inspiring thing. It will hopefully refresh the understanding of the Holocaust and help people feel emotionally connected to it. It will show it as a symbol of all genocide and all misunderstanding.”
It is certainly true, I tell him, that despite visiting several concentration camps, I often found it hard to imagine the scale and the reality of the events that took place there. The domino toppling would certainly be a harrowing symbol, and one that is visible and easier to come to terms with than standing in a desolate camp trying to imagine what happened decades ago.
“The whole point is to raise awareness,” Hanford agrees. “We’re trying to reframe the Holocaust for a new generation.
“It’s like the poppies around the Tower of London. What that successfully did was reframe the symbol of the poppy. We’ve been wearing poppies for years, but not really remembering what it was about. This is what we’re trying to do – we’re showing the scale and rebuilding the emotion we should be feeling about the Holocaust. Every so often we have to reframe these things.”
Unlike many Holocaust memorials, this is something everyone, from students to politicians, can get involved in, whether with a fiver or a larger donation.
An emotional music video telling the story of the Holocaust created by the project, starring a 13-year-old-girl with a beautiful voice, as well as television appearances and a lot of press, will ensure the attention and interest of every generation.
Crowdfunding ensures the involvement and passion of global communities – and it isn’t hard to imagine this extraordinary project taking off in the public’s imagination. “It’s one of these things we all need to get involved with,” Hanford says. “This is not a one-off thing. This is a movement.”