It’s safe to say that Dan Elborne is a man of his word. November 21st, 2018 marked 1,242 days (three-and-a-half years) after the Toowoomba-based ceramic artist started his epic Deathgate project. This same timeframe saw atrocities carried out against victims of the Auschwitz concentration camps during World War II. A total of 1,242 days encompass the time from the first mass gassing of prisoners, to the liberation of the camps.
For his Deathgate project, Dan committed to laboriously making 1.3 million ceramic ‘stones’ – one stone to commemorate each detainee of the Auschwitz camps. Now, Dan is showing this work for the first time installed at a newly renovated heritage venue, The Goods Shed, in Toowoomba, where the artist lives and works.
To research his project, Dan visited the preserved Auschwitz II (Birkenau) camp site in 2016, during a residency in France. With an interest in exploring ideas of time and labour, and representing traumatic human experience, the visit helped to crystallise intriguing concept behind this work.
For the exhibition, the 1.3 million ‘stones’ imitate the actual stones that cover the railway leading through the gates of Auschwitz II (Birkenau) camp. Two separate lengths of ‘stones’ are on display, with one containing 1.1 million pieces for each person killed there, and the other containing 200,000 for each person that survived. It’s a 1:1 ratio to provide a direct visual reference to the 1.3 million statistics.
‘The process involved pinching small, individual pieces of clay, which left fingerprints on each one: evidence of individualised attention and human interaction,’ says Dan. ‘I just do whatever is necessary to get the piece done. At times this project has been mentally and physically difficult… but I started it, so putting it really simply, I had to finish it.’
Dan became interested in ceramics’ societal, cultural and historical connotations while studying visual arts: ‘Ceramics’ association to fragility and preciousness, its roots in basic necessity and survival, and its permanence providing a ‘historical record’ are all things that fascinate me,’ the artist says. ‘My practice broadly focuses on the way these things give the material a special ability to speak of lived human experience.’
While the subject matter is historically laden, the epic scale (both in size and timeframe) and tactility of the project is also uniquely beautiful and presents a potent visual reminder of the misguided nature of political power in recent global history. Sadly, all too relevant today!
‘Deathgate’ by Dan Elborne.
Until June 8th
The Goods Shed
Victoria Street, Toowoomba
Dan Elborne is currently studying a Doctorate of Philosophy in the University of Southern Queensland’s Visual Arts department, where he also works as an Associate Technical Officer. Keep up to date with his creative journey @danelborne.