On a September evening at the Museum of Human Rights and Memory in Chile, NYU Abu Dhabi junior Nikolai Kozak opened ROSTRO, an installation honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1973 coup d'etat that marked the beginning of the country's three-decade-long military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Kozak's first officially commissioned project, ROSTRO — which means "face" in Spanish — was also the largest art installation to be featured in the 40 years of the event's commemoration, covering the museum's facade with faces of the victims of the dictatorship.
Derived from his father's experiences during the Chilean dictatorship, ROSTRO reflected Kozak's attempt to grasp these experiences and offer a new interpretation and contextualization of the tragedies for the post-dictatorship generation.
As an artist and a member of this generation, it is my prerogative to reinterpret the post-memory that runs through the collective subconscious of my implicit collective — a sort of mnemonic bloodline shared amongst the youth and their sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers
The product of Kozak's interest in both projection art and archival materials concerning the Chilean dictatorship, ROSTRO projected independently moving faces of victims who suffered under the dictatorship onto a semi-translucent punctured copper wall measuring 120 meters by 40 meters using three 20,000-lumen projectors. Kozak created the image of each face by projecting the face of each victim onto his own and then taking footage of various head movements. He then assembled the footage into one long video.
"The ensuing effect was that of a very subtle play between light and shadow — at times you see the image of the victim being projected onto my face, and at times you only see the face itself," described Kozak.
Hundreds of spectators congregated before the museum on the night of the opening. The moment the installation lit up, silence swept away the sounds of fervent celebration, anger, and grief. Throughout the duration of the installation, Kozak spoke with many members of the audience. "Some of them recognized the photographs of family members, or those who had been detained with them. It was an extremely strong outpouring of emotion — I like to think it was cathartic, but who knows," he said.
Kozak hopes that ROSTRO will inspire younger generations to wrestle with the idea of post-memory, the concept that memories of traumatic events are carried on to the next generation. "It's up to our generation to create reconciliation, to build the bridges that bring together disjointed subconscious collectives. My bet is that the way to do this is through art; by creating and enacting thought in a way that's truly meaningful to not only the artist, but the society in which the artist transits and creates," said Kozak.