Holographic exhibit of Jewish survivors, and more, comes to Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Holographic exhibit of Jewish survivors, and more, comes to Aspen

The Second Gentleman of the United States Douglas Emhoff listens to a virtual version of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter as he visits the Shoah Foundation on the campus of USC in Los Angeles on June 8, 2022.
David Sprague/Courtesy of USC Shoah Foundation

The USC Shoah Foundation is partnering with the Chabad Jewish Community Center and Aspen Film to host two free, family-oriented events in Aspen this week. 

On Monday from 2 to 4 p.m., there will be an opportunity to interact with a holographic exhibit called “Dimensions in Testimony” at the Jewish Community Center. Using the technology, users can ask Holocaust survivors questions and hear their spoken responses.

“It was at a time when we were, as a sector, really trying to think about what was going to happen once survivors were no longer able to be available for a conversation,” Dr. Kori Street, interim executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, said. “They couldn’t go to a classroom, couldn’t go to a community event and (we were) thinking … ‘What do we do?’”

The program is the result of an extensive amount of research and development by the USC Institute for Creative Technologies to hone the natural language processing technology that is incorporated. After the technology was developed, members of the Shoah Foundation conducted countless hours of in-depth interviews with Holocaust survivors where each survivor was asked over 700 questions.

“It’s that use of the technology with a testimony to engage someone in that conversational element, to build curiosity,” Street said. “That’s the power of a survivor in a classroom — having the students be curious and asking questions. We can simulate that, we can get a facsimile of that even when survivors are not available to be in a classroom.”

A version of the technology can be accessed online, but the full holographic exhibit can usually only be seen at large museums with integrated installations.

Aspen local Melinda Goldrich, who is a member of USC Shoah Foundation’s Board of Councilors’ Executive Committee, is the force behind the exhibit’s visit to Aspen.

An audience watches the holographic exhibit, ‘Dimensions in Testimony.’
Courtesy of USC Shoah Foundation

“Melinda is a real powerhouse with us,” Street said. “She’s just shown such leadership in supporting our work and bringing it to Aspen. It’s very beautiful for (“Dimensions in Testimony”) to be in a community center, not to have to be in a large museum and (have it) easy to access.”

The other event, Tuesday at 3 p.m. in partnership with Aspen Film, is a screening and discussion of two animated short films: “The Tattooed Torah” and “Ruth: A Little Girl’s Big Journey.”

The screenings will be followed by a discussion moderated by Susan Wrubel, executive and artistic director of Aspen Film. It will feature director and writer Marc Bennett, writer Rabbi Brett Kopin, producer Jodi Harris, and Street.

“(The films) give parents and the young people in their lives a way to talk about things like hope and resilience,” Street said. “That’s why we focused on those this year. As we’re all coming from the pandemic and educational landscapes and community landscapes are still so challenged, we thought these would resonate really well.”

The Shoah Foundation hosts near-annual events in Aspen organized by Goldrich. Street said that feedback from the foundation’s programming in Aspen shapes future programming. After “Dimensions in Testimony” came to Aspen in a previous year, questions from Aspenites regarding the availability of the program for education accelerated the development of the technology.

“There’s such an energy in the community there that it makes for a wonderful experience for us, and we learn a lot and we bring a lot back that informs our programming,” Street said.

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