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Belongings

Narrative Virtual Reality Experience

A work in progress

 

It happens every day across the world, survivors are left with the possessions of a loved one who has passed away. And then what? Give everything away? Sell what you can? Donate? Recycle? Landfill? Keep it forever? How to deal with a lifetime of objects? What if sorting through those things revealed a person different from the one you knew? You can never ask them why they kept these secrets. Maybe there is no one left who can tell the story of what happened. All at once, you have learned something you didn’t know and can never now understand. I made “Belongings” as a way to work through the posthumous mystery of my mother, who was deported by the Nazis as a Jew but owned a book called “Keep A True Lent” from 1953. Among her things, I found a silver filigree six pointed star necklace and a tiny statuette of a praying Mary she had kept by her bed. She was my closest relationship in life. I thought I knew her.

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About This Experience

Belongings is an immersive memory box that uses the medium of virtual reality to bring anembodied immediacy to one woman’s life story. The viewer interacts with her personalphotographs, documents, artwork, and possessions in an intimate space where time presentand time past coexist in an interactive biography.

A young girl, torn from her home at twelve and sent to an internment camp, fortunately rescued by her uncle and brought to safety. A mother of two who never spoke of her own childhood. A prolific artist working across mediums who produced ceramic and textile art, works on paper,and paintings, from the quirky and charming to the serious and sophisticated over twenty-five years of practice. A woman who disappeared slowly into dementia in her sixties. Ellen Rauh was all of these women. She had kept her traumatic childhood in 1930s Germany a secret so well that her own children only learned of it when they found a hidden box of photos and documents after her death. It revealed the barest outline of her fourteen month journey to New York from the Baden region of Germany after all the Jews there were expelled over four days in October of 1940. The bombshell discovery left them with more questions than answers, a mystery no one could help them solve now that the woman who had lived it was gone. All they had were their memories of the mother they loved and thought they knew and the things she left behind. Her belongings became their road map to filling in the blanks of her life.