Erna Rosenstein “At the Same Time”, 1968, oil on canvas, 83 x 116 cm
Erna Rosenstein (1913–2004), was a painter and poet who was born in Lviv, educated in Krakow and Vienna, and lived in Warsaw. In 1968, the paintings of Rosenstein, who survived the Holocaust, depicted motifs related to a climate of oppression. However, the painting we find in our collection is far from unambiguous. We see a mysterious series of mini-paintings which could be her own earlier works—if she had painted them. But they are just fantasies, variations on the subject of her work. A scene in the upper right-hand corner resembles a painting by Nikifor, a famous outsider artist. Is this a museum in miniature? A life story locked in a suitcase? In the middle of the composition the artist has placed a laboratory-organism, half body, half machine, that encrypts the access code to this memory box.
This painting has also an alternative title: Silence which can be found in the old inventories of Teatr Studio.
1968 was a turning point in the biography of the artist, like many Polish citizens of Jewish background her family was confronted with the dilemma of emigration, eventually they decided to stay. This moment left a deep mark on her life and her art, she distanced herself from direct political involvement, started publishing poetry, and motives and symbols connected to the memory of the Shoah started to resurface in her art.
This enigmatic composition can be understood as a sort of a recapitulation of her career, a sort of mid-life reckoning, indicating a specific paradox inherent to an artistic life: it is unpredictable, deprived of logic, and moreover the future constantly reworks and remodels one’s past. I therefore read the central image as a biological computer—or an artificial brain—which works simultaneously (at the same time) in both temporal directions.