Interactive Media Installation Opens at Getty

"The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Currents of the River", on view August 17 through September 29, 2002, at the Getty Research Institute, presents visitors with a unique interactive media experience that immerses them in the sights and sounds of Jewish and German refugees fleeing in opposite directions along the same path to avoid the onslaught of World War II. This exhibition is a collaboration between Hungarian artist Peter Forgacs, the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communication Labyrinth Project, and the Getty's design team.

Visitors to "The Danube Exodus" installation use a touchscreen interface to navigate through three different, yet intersecting tales. Set in 1939, one story tells of Eastern European Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, trying to reach a ship on the Black Sea that will transport them to a new home in Palestine. A parallel or counter story, set one year later in 1940, following the Soviet re-annexation of Bessarabia, tells of emigre Germans abandoning their adopted Bessarabian homeland to return to Germany. Both groups were transported along the Danube River by Captain Nandor Andrasovits-an adventurer and amateur filmmaker who documented not only these historic journeys but also his own explorations of Central Europe. The third story is that of the captain and the river.

The exhibition also includes early 18th-century maps of the Danube River and drawings of the region from the special collections of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute. The project was launched during Forgacs' residency at the Getty Research Institute in 2000-2001 in response to the theme "Reproductions and Originals" and will kick off the 2002-2003 theme–"Biography."

"The innovative and interdisciplinary approach of this exhibition is a powerful demonstration of the Getty Research Institute's commitment to extending the boundaries of art and its historical meaning," said Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute and member of USC's art history faculty. "The Danube Exodus is a one-of-a-kind experience that we are thrilled to be able to present to Los Angeles."

"The Danube Exodus creatively blends images and sounds of the past using technology from the present," said Elizabeth Daley, executive director of the Annenberg Center and dean of the USC School of Cinema-Television. "And through this melding of old and new, installation visitors from this century can glean a fascinating perspective on one of the most turbulent moments in the last century."

Three Perspectives Flow Together

"The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Currents of the River" springs from film footage shot over a half century ago by Andrasovits, captain of the Danube river steamer Erzsebet Kiralyne (Queen Elizabeth). Having originally crafted this "found footage" into an award-winning one-hour film for Dutch television, Forgacs teamed up with the Labyrinth Project to transform the material into an immersive experience that compels viewers to compare what Forgacs calls the "incomparable duet of the German-Jewish exodus."

"Art is not what can be physically seen in the installation," said Forgacs. "Rather, art is that certain intangible thing that each visitor will see. Art is happening in the visitor's mind," he added.

Through its use of touch-screen technology, the installation allows visitors to experience history as a stream of moments and memories that can always be understood in new ways, with each new intersection and reverberation made possible by shifting combinations of design, choice, and chance.

"What our interface designers found most challenging and exciting was the ongoing process of re-orchestrating the captain's original footage-as it moved from one medium or historic moment to another, with its meanings constantly changing and its narrative field constantly expanding," said Marsha Kinder, the noted USC cinema professor who started the Labyrinth Project, which has been producing interactive documentaries and electronic fictions in collaboration with independent artists since 1997. "Visitors are drawn into this process," she added, "not only by choosing what they see and hear, but also by bringing their own personal memories and associations to this haunting material."

From the 18th to 21st century

After viewing the early 18th-century maps and drawings of the Danube region compiled by Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsili that are on display in the exhibition gallery, visitors can proceed to the installation space to navigate through three adjacent arenas. On their left, they encounter the story of the Jewish exodus through a large projection of silent footage of that particular story. They also have access to background material and interviews with passengers on two large monitors with touchscreen interfaces and headphones. On the visitors' far right, a parallel story unfolds with a similar format devoted to the Bessarabian Germans. In the central space, the implicit comparisons between the Germans and Jews play out powerfully and poetically on five large adjacent screens, as do the multi-layered readings of the captain and the river. The resulting effect is that of being immersed in a dramatic clash between giant images vying for control over the narrative space. Visitors will be able to use a touchscreen interface to select orchestrations that interweave the three narratives in new ways.

The mesmerizing power and impact of the experience in the central space is further augmented by an audio mix that includes ambient sounds of the river and harbor, the mechanical rhythms of ships' engines, regional music from the period, songs and prayers of the refugees, voice-overs of the captain and his passengers, and the haunting minimalist music of composer Tibor Szemzo, who has collaborated with Forgacs on all of his previous films.

Related events

U.S. Premiere Screening: "A Bibo Reader"
The Getty screens Peter Forgacs' latest film, "A Bibo Reader", in which the artist uses found footage and original music by Tibor Szemzo to pay homage to the great Hungarian political thinker Istvan Bibo (1911-1979), who served as minister of state in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution. A Bibo Reader screened earlier this year at the Cannes film festival.

September 5, 7:30 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium, Getty Center

Discussion Panel: "Biography on Film"
Panel discussion with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Mark Jonathan Harris and artist Peter Forgacs on their approach to biography in the highly charged context of the Holocaust. Special guests include Michael Roth, president of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland; Michael Renov, professor of critical studies in the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California; Robert Rosenstone, professor of history at the California Institute of Technology; Janos Varga, head researcher, historian, and archivist at the Hungarian National Film Archive; and panel moderator Marsha Kinder, director of the Labyrinth Research Initiative on Interactive Narrative at the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communication.

September 12, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Museum Lecture Hall, Getty Center

Performance: "Free Fall Oratorio"
This multimedia project, based on the award-winning video "Free Fall" (1996-97) by artist Peter Forgacs and composer Tibor Szemzo, presents a moving and intimate picture of the Hungarian Holocaust. Performing live against a backdrop of moving images, vocalists from the Gordian Knot Company of Hungary chronicle the family memories of amateur filmmaker and Holocaust survivor, Gyorgy Peto, whose home movies form the basis of Free Fall.

September 14, 8:00 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium, Getty Center

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Grant Program. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs are based at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

The Getty Research Institute serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and art history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publications programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world, containing 800,000 volumes, including general collections of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library's special collections include rare books, artists' journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.

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The Annenberg Center for Communication was established in 1993 through a $120 million endowment given to the University of Southern California by Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg. Through the numerous projects and initiatives it sponsors, the center supports active research that addresses practical problems in the convergence of technology, and communications. It is directed by a team of respected leaders from arts and entertainment, as well as science, technology and business, who all embrace the cross-disciplinary approach sought in the center's projects. For more information, please visit the ACC Web site

The Labyrinth Project is a research initiative at the center, funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation. Under the direction of Marsha Kinder, chair of the Critical Studies Division at the USC School of Cinema-Television, the Labyrinth Project explores ways to combine the compelling visual language of narrative cinema with the interactive potential and database structures of new media. For additional information about the Labyrinth Project and its activities, please email the group at or visit their Web site