Public Window: Nina Levitt, Dear/Yours, 27 March 1946

Public Studio is pleased present Nina Levitt’s Dear/Yours, 27 March 1946. Mounted in the window of the live/work space of artists Elle Flanders & Tamira Sawatzky, Public Window exhibits the work of contemporary artists.

Levitt’s installation reproduces a carbon copy of a two-page letter dated March 27, 1946 (70 years ago), by an unnamed Major in the British War Office. The letter was sent to the parents of Special Operations Executive agent, Violette Szabo, née Bushell (1921-1945) who was killed at Ravensbrück, Hitler’s concentration camp for women. An official account of Violette Szabo’s movements, the letter details her arrest and subsequent death. Declared as “missing in action” in June 1944, her death was only confirmed a year after the war and was thanks to the single-handed efforts of one woman — Squadron Officer Vera Atkins. Atkins doggedly established the circumstances of the death of 14 British women under her command who did not return after Liberation.

By printing the letter on transparent vinyl, the materiality of the original onion skin paper with its folds and wrinkles is revealed and the back and front of the letter can be seen through one another. Curiously, whoever typed the original letter used the front and back of one sheet of paper for the carbon copy. The (invisible) hand of the archivist is implied in the production of these scanned files that are somewhat different shapes because the back page was probably smoothed out to make it more legible.

This piece is part of an ongoing body of work about women spies. In 2008, Levitt produced an installation memorializing Vera Atkins and another agent, for the Koffler Gallery in Toronto.

Nina Levitt is a Toronto artist and educator.


Review by RM Vaughan on CBC Arts, April 6, 2016