Elsi Vassdal Ellis: What if it happened here?

  • ©,



    What if it happened here?


Creation Year:



    Ink jet prints of Photoshop images combined with text in lnDesign


    31.25 inches X 22.25 inches


Artist Statement:

    There are two types of witnesses: one who has direct experience, and another who chooses to stand and witness, to remember and remind others. Although I do not always feel comfortable with the concept of “bearing witness” because of its religious overtones and the response it evokes in others, as a book artist I see my current books as intimate witnesses, testimonies of history and human behavior. I have focused on issues of war and genocide since 1999 and have attempted to explore different methods of presenting information to the reader to initiate a personal examination of what has happened, what may happen, and the responsibility to confront injustice, no matter where it occurs. Although we have many examples of how history has taught us nothing, it is my hope to present history in such a way so it does teach something. In What if it happened here? I have manipulated personal and family photographs to remind the reader that not too long ago, the West virtually ignored the plight of Yugoslavians as their country became embroiled in nationalistic conflicts. The United Nations, Europe, and the United States failed to confront the problems of ethnic cleansing, the g-word (genocide), the conflict of a foreign policy of self-interest vs. a major humanitarian crisis. How many must die before action is taken? Why is timing everything? Who should we believe? I rarely create work to be framed, and so I have translated what could be a book into a series of framed two-page spreads housed in hinged double picture frames, just like the ones we put on our desks and mantles. Although these are “massaged” images, some of the originals have been presented in such frames. Some of the images would never be presented in such an intimate manner, but perhaps they should be, to keep us sensitized to the problem. To maintain a connection between my work and the book format, these picture frames can be left open or closed to remove the uncomfortable material from one’s sight. This nine-spread series is a sampling of what is a larger text.

Technical Information:

    Image editing software and scanners have destroyed the veracity of photographs as historical evidence. History can be altered, exaggerated, fictionalized. With the digital tools of Adobe Photoshop, lnDesign, a Mac G3 and G4, a UMAX scanner, a Mavica digital camera, and an Epson C82 printer, I have created the “Balkanization” of the United States, complete with evidence of war crimes. Digital photographs from my own house fire in March 2003 have been combined with scans of black-and-white and color photographs, NATO photos, and artwork in Photoshop that is merged with text in lnDesign. In this series, I am Croatian, Bosnian Muslim, Serb, ethnic Albanian. I am the victim and the perpetrator. I want to make you believe I have lived in a war zone.