Sophie Calle: The Eruv of Jerusalem will open at The Jewish
Museum on June 20 and remain on view through October 17, 1999.
This installation by French artist Sophie Calle, featuring photographs
and texts, has been inspired by the concept of an eruv, a rabbinic
prohibition against carrymg objects outside one's home on the
Sabbath. Observant Jews erect an eruv, a boundary made of walls,
wires, or neutral barriers that establishes a collective property
transforming public to private space through which one can move
as through within a home. For this work composed of 14 sites
or "stations", Calle asked 14 inhabitants of
Jerusalem - Israelis and Palestinians - each to take her to a
public place they considered private. She then photographed the
sites and transcribed interviews with the subjects, who revealed
intimate stories about ordinary public places in Jerusalem that
became special private spots for them, becoming conceptually
transformed from natural sites to symbolic or sacred space.
Born in 1953, Sophie Calle lives in Paris and is now one of France's best-known Conceptual artists. Her work has been exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions at prestigious galleries and museums throughout the world including France, the United States, Austria, Israel, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, Italy, Spain, England, Germany, Slovenia, and Denmark. Recently she had large exhibitions at the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris and the Camden Arts Center in London, and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as part of the show The Museum as Muse, had an installation recalling the famous art theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990.
Shari Rothfarb: Water Rites, an installation by the young New York artist, Will be on view at The Jewish Museum from June 20 to October 17, 1999. In this work, a multimedia installation at The Jewish Museum with a Quick-Time video component on the Museum's Web site (http://www.thejewishmuseum.org), artist Shari Rothfarb focuses on the Jewish tradition of mikvah (ritual bath). Part of The Jewish Museum's Contemporary Artist Project series, the installation shows how water is used in mikvah as a unique vehicle of symbolic and spiritual transformation. In Shari Rothfarb: Water Rites, the artist combines fact, personal testimony, storytelling, and visual metaphors which relate to this sanctified tradition which has survived oppression throughout the ages. The exhibition is comprised of three components. Ms. Rothfarb's short film, Ocean Avenue, will be screened repeatedly. In an adjoining gallery, the experimental documentary video Water Rites will be projected onto a shallow pool of water at the room's center. Images of flowing water, bodies of water, and rain will be projected onto the surrounding walls.
Both Ocean Avenue and Water Rites focus on the Jewish purification ritual of mikvah although each takes a different methodological approach. The issues and concerns addressed are universal: hope, legacy, and procreation. Water Rites is an experimental digital video documentary in which women are interviewed about the role of the mikvah in their lives, chronicling their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Ocean Avenue is a black and white narrative short film centered on a childless woman's final trip to the mikvah and the spiritual crisis that ensues.
Mikvah is a tradition based on the literal Hebrew definition of the word mikvah -- hope. A mikvah is a pool of precisely measured rain water. Immersion in a mikvah renders ritually clean a person who has become ritually unclean through contact with the dead or any other defiling object or through an unclean flux from the body. Currently, the most pervasive use of the mikvah is for menstruating women. Jewish law forbids marital relations during niddah (a time of ritual impurity which starts with the first day of menstruation and then continues for seven clean days after menstruation ends). Jewish women, at times risking everything, have maintained this sacred link to Judaism for thousands of years. Jewish law emphasizes that the purpose of immersion is not physical, but rather spiritual cleanliness.
Water, with its purifying abilities as well as its life sustaining role, plays a central and reoccurring theme throughout Ocean Avenue. Luna, the protagonist of Ocean Avenue, is an Orthodox woman in her early fifties. In an attempt to find her daughter and thus herself, she traverses the streets of Brooklyn, video camera m hand. She questions the diverse population of the borough, asking all of those she meets which they would choose if given a choice between long life and having children. Luna creates a film within a film thereby aligning herself with Shari Rothfarb. Like Rothfarb, Luna must decide whom to ask her provocative question.
While Luna could be the age of Rothfarb's mother, each woman
reckons with the same issue - the combined impact of societal
pressure and personal desire regarding having a family. When
Luna asks her question of her husband, Jack, he answers, I choose
you. Isn't that enough?"
The women interviewed by Rothfarb in her experimental documentary video Water Rites explain that the inherent principles of life and death are present in the mikvah. For them, visits to the mikvah allow a washing away of tears, sorrow, and loss and a reinvigoration of hope, faith, and marital excitement. In addition to real life accounts, Water Rites includes footage of ancient and modern mikvahs; images of water in nature including the Jordan River, waterfalls, and the Mediterranean, and women preparing themselves for immersion by brushing their teeth and combing their hair. The soundscape of the film includes voice overs of the interviews, Israeli folk music, and the chanting during immersion.
For those who believe and participate in the mikvah ritual, immersion offers a woman elevation to a higher spiritual level and prepares her for a spiritual reconnection with her husband. For others who have no knowledge of or experience with the ritual, Rothfarb's films address real life issues. She explores common contemporary fears surrounding having children, maintaining the excitement and intrigue of a marriage, how long one might live, and how that time should be filled. These films pose difficult questions while maintaining that spirituality (such as the mikvah ritual) offers the possibility of renewed hope and even enlightened peace.
Shari Rothfarb is a recent M.F.A. graduate in Film at Columbia
University. Her award-winning 1997 film, Fur, was included in
an exhibition at the Weatherspoon Art Gallery at The University
of North Carolina, and in several international film festivals.
Shari Rothfarb: Water Rites is supported, in part, with public
funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Challenge
Program. Additional generous support has been provided by Philippa
and Dietrich Weismann, and Sara and Axel Schupf.