VAM 35 Artist Profile | Jessica Thalmann

Meet the artists in VAM 35! Visual Arts Mississauga 35th Annual Juried Show of Fine Arts, in the Art Gallery of Mississauga from January 17 – March 2, received 248 entries from across Ontario. Jurors selected 48 artists to be in the show.

Until the end of February, the AGM blog will feature VAM 35 artists every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Learn about the thinking behind the works in the exhibit, and see the works in person at the AGM!

Name: Jessica Thalmann
Title of work: arbeit macht frei
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1.      Tell us about your work in VAM 35. Give us an idea of the conceptual framework you used in creating this piece. What inspired it? Why did you choose to use that particular medium? Why that particular perspective, set of colours, subject matter, etc.

Departing from Marianne Hirsch’s concept of “postmemory” as a means to understand the complexities of the memories of the children (and grandchildren) of Holocaust survivors, my photographic practice aims to explore this notion of postmemory in a very personal way. As a grandchild of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, I experience the lingering effects of traumatic historical events that preceded my birth as a third generational witness.

My practice attempts to examine the instability of photography and its inability to depict people and places once known (now lost). This work entitled arbeit macht frei is a view into the often-ambivalent experiences of visiting sites of trauma (concentration camps) and memorials. The gated entrances accompanied by the famed slogan (translated as Work shall set you free) become a symbolic illusionary promise to second-generation artists like myself. As Hirsch describes “if one could only do the work of memory and mourning that would open the gate, allow one to enter back into the past and then through work, emerge out again into a new freedom.”

2.      How would you describe your creative process? How has your style changed since you started, and what do you think is the reason behind the change?

The photograph was taken at Sachsenhausen, a camp just outside of Berlin using an analog camera and 120mm film.  My work has visually explored heavy shadows and bright sharp lights overlapping objects, peoples and places. My creative process requires a lot of contemplative planning and searching. I visit places or people and record feelings while doing small compositional drawings.

In my photographic practice, I am drawn to some in-camera techniques like light leaks, and double exposures. Though drawing and comics have played a larger role in my work now, I think my style has been influence by great comic artists like Art Spiegelman, Seth and Joe Sacco. With this work, I can see that it have become softer and more colorful over the years.

3.      If time and money were no object, what artistic project would you like to undertake? What about this project fascinates you, and how do you think it will engage the viewer?

I would travel to Poland and Germany to retrace my grandparent’s steps as they tried to rebuild their lives after the war. I would go back to their hometowns in Poland to seek out the ruins of places that I can’t remember but seem to have a connection with. I would use both photos and drawings to create a hybrid graphic novel to depict my journey trying to recover a past that is slowly being forgotten.


Visit the Visual Arts Mississauga 35th Annual Juried Show of Fine Arts at the Art Gallery of Mississauga (AGM) from January 17 – March 2!

For more information, visit the AGM website:

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