The “OT” memorial project places a permanent light symbol at the locations of the synagogues in Vienna that were destroyed in 1938. The five-meter-high “star stele” by the artist Lukas Kaufmann features an intertwining, illuminated Star of David. The project of the Jewish Museum Vienna in cooperation with the University of Applied Arts officially began on November 8, 2018 to commemorate the November Pogrom.
“Ot” means “symbol” or “sign” in the Hebrew language. In Judaism, this not only describes a sign, but also a visible religious characteristic of the relationship between God and the people. In the anniversary year of 2018, light symbols were set up in 16 Viennese districts to commemorate these places and their history at the sites of 25 former synagogues deliberately destroyed during the November Pogrom in 1938.
The Austrian artist Lukas Maria Kaufmann (born in 1993) designed these symbols and a jury selected his project. He created sculptures in the form of a five-meter-high metal mast that holds an intertwined, shining Star of David. For the artist it is simply a matter of making the beholders or passers-by into participants within a choreography of perception. As viewers approach the light sculpture, the tangled, curved lines gradually transform into the structure of the Star of David. An inscription engraved in the mast refers to the name of the respective synagogue and its violent destruction by the National Socialists. The Jewish Museum Vienna under the direction of Danielle Spera implemented this project with the support of the “Advisory Council for the Commemorative Year 2018” (chaired by former Austrian President Heinz Fischer), the National Fund, KÖR – Art in Public Space and Wien Energie.
Serving as an inspiration was the exhibition “Viennese Synagogues. A Memory” (held from May to November 2016 at the Museum Judenplatz), which was made possible by a long-standing research project at the Vienna University of Technology, in which Prof. Bob Martens, together with the architect Herbert Peter and numerous graduate students, virtually reconstructed the destroyed Viennese synagogues. This work and an initiative by Maria Graff, in turn, inspired the artist Brigitte Kowanz and her Transmedia Art class at the University of Applied Arts to launch the OT project in collaboration with the Jewish Museum Vienna.
Not only do the sculptures illuminate the urban space, they also shed light on a hidden, brutal chapter of Vienna, which was home to Europe’s third largest Jewish community until 1938. Prior to that year nearly one hundred synagogues and prayer houses were located in Vienna. A large synagogue stood in almost every district of Vienna – in Leopoldstadt there were even five – as well as several prayer houses; any recognizable trace of them has been obliterated. With this light sculpture, which disentangles through the movement of passers-by, remembrance becomes an active action.