James T. Hong’s video has a simple premise: recordings of modern leaders apologising for crimes and misdeeds committed or sanctioned by the state. But as you watch, various questions arise in your mind. See for yourself at the Jewish Museum.
- View the video in a seated auditorium
- Featured speeches use many languages but have English subtitles
- The experience wears down any complacency over human progress
- Runs Oct 13, 2022 – Feb 12, 2023
- See also:
Sorry / not sorry
(Press photo © David Bohmann)
Taken in isolation, the video makes grim viewing: a never-ending series of apologies for injustices from global, national, and religious leaders. From presidents and popes. From soldiers and spokespersons.
A 90+ minute loop apologising for organised inhumanity…for atrocities, killings, mistreatment and oppression: actions by the state or its representatives committed with intent or (less often) by accident.
All of which gains added resonance when you realise this is still a work in progress; the video begins with West German chancellor Willy Brandt in the 1970s and ends in 2016. Hence the formal title Apologies v2016.2, 2021.
(New editions will include numerous apologies collected since.)
And yet hope remains.
For what is an apology offered in good faith, if not a prerequisite to understanding on the part of the perpetrator: the start of a journey toward full acknowledgement of the culpability and the suffering caused. A journey that might end in reconciliation…perhaps even forgiveness.
As James T. Hong himself notes in this context, the nature of the apology plays a clear role here:
…one’s sincerity is paramount, especially when reading from a script
As such, the Apologies video makes intriguing viewing. You find yourself assessing the seriousness of each apology viewed. Is it offered sincerely or as a matter of political expediency? Is it a full apology or laced with excuses? Does it suggest change or ring hollow?
Some people certainly seem convincing. Others less so. Yet who are we to know what truly lies behind a stony visage or a contrite expression?
Wider thoughts then intrude…
Even if you believe all such apologies to be earnest, why do they continue to be necessary? What drives states to such acts that require an apology? And who are the people approving and carrying out these actions?
(Press photo courtesy of the Jewish Museum)
The recipients of the apologies cover a variety of peoples, nationalities, and faiths. Yet hosting the piece in the Jewish Museum makes perfect sense.
Some of the prevailing themes covered in the museum, like the long shadow of the Holocaust and ongoing anti-semitism in society, give an added edge to proceedings. And invite some wry cynicism.
After all, we often hear the words “never again” in the context of the Nazi massacres. The phrase rings hollow when you look at post-WWII history and ongoing state-sponsored atrocities today. A point made by scholar and Auschwitz survivor Ruth Klüger in a quote on one wall of the auditorium:
One says ‘Never again’ and then you look at all the massacres that have happened in the meantime.
The dark walls of the room add a suitably sombre atmosphere to the video, while gold seating and a red carpet evoke the sense that you are seated in the audience of a formal state announcement.
Tickets, dates, and tips
View Hong’s video from October 13th, 2022 to February 12th, 2023. A ticket to the Jewish Museum includes entry to the temporary exhibition rooms.
In the early days of Apologies, drop into the Love me Kosher exhibition on the same museum floor for a complete change of vibe: exploring sexuality and love in Judaism.
How to get there
Follow the travel tips on the main Jewish museum page. You want the prime Dorotheergasse site. The installation is up one floor and to the right of the main exhibition rooms in its own self-contained area.
Address: Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna