This Token Partnership
Israel: Gated Community
This Token Partnership
The materiality of a Jewish Spatial Practice
ISM Gallery of sacred arts
October 10 - december 14
Wed - Fri 12 - 6 PM
Sat - Sun 12 - 4 PM
Note: exhibition will be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday recess, Nov. 17 through 25, reopening Monday, Nov. 26.
This Token Partnership focuses on the materiality and
the language of the eruv: the play between the eruv’s visibility
and invisibility, its intricate semiotics and its status
as symbolic architecture. Artists focus on the material
eruv-fittings, the measurements of eruv territory, and the
mixtures of food that symbolize the partnership.
Margaret Olin’s photo-textual documentation, installed in
the hallway gallery of the ISM, consists of photographs of
and quotations about eruvin in New Haven and elsewhere.
Close up pictures show eruv fittings, and more distant
views show these fittings as they disappear into the urban
environment and the ways in which communities interact,
do not interact, and fail to notice the signs of the eruv.
As the photographs dramatize the intervention of religious
boundaries in the mundane world, so Mel Alexenberg’s
painting The Miami Beach Eruv (1998) suggests the interweaving
of the spiritual into the “gross material” world.The eruv is an appropriate vehicle for Alexenberg, whose
series “Angels in Brooklyn,” placing digitalized variations
on Rembrandt’s angels in the streets of Brooklyn, located
the divine in locations known for their ugliness. Indeed,
a cyberangel like those in his Brooklyn works appears in
Miami as well, hovering by the eruv wire.
Ben Schachter’s paintings of eruv maps are emulations of
emulations. Just as the eruv emulates architecture through
a summary drawing in space by means of fishing lines and
wires, so he emulates that drawing through his own fiber
art, delicate taut threads sewn into canvas that represent
eruv lines stiffly wending their way through space
from pole to pole, represented by stitches and adapting
themselves to manmade or geographical oddities in the cityscape. They speak to the eruv drawing’s sensitivity to
the urban landscape that it traverses and unifies, forming
an urban collage.
Using architectural details of the ISM Gallery of Sacred
Arts itself, Ellen Rothenberg’s installation engages the intellectual
problems confronted by the rabbis and the consequences
of their solutions for the community shaped by the
eruv. One looks through words from Maimonides’ Mishnah
Torah on the window to a courtyard of the Yale Divinity
School, suggesting both the permeability of the eruv border
and the painstaking care taken by Talmudic Rabbis to
explore all eventualities which face or may someday face the
eruv builders and the Jewish communities they represent.
Many of these prescriptions necessitate a deep involvement
with the very definitions of words that seem to need no
definition, such as “wall” or “door.” Others stipulate, in a
rich vocabulary of measurement, the exact quantities of
food, dimensions of eruv parts, and spatial measurements
that determine the capacity of the eruv. The measurements
inscribe the room from the hearth, considered the foundation
of domestic space, to the container for bread, to the
table where the meal that designates and seals the “token
partnership” of the eruv is consumed.
Suzanne Silver’s Kafka in Space (Parsing the Eruv) emerges
from an interest in the eruv as a semiotic code, but it also
brings out the dystopic notion of the eruv suggested in
Kafka’s aphorism on which the piece is based: “The true
path leads across a rope that is not suspended on high, but
close to the ground. It seems more intended to make people
stumble than to be walked upon.” When read with Kafka’s
comment on the Warsaw eruv quoted in our introduction,
it suggests a society made up of unwieldy rules that are,
for lack of a better word, Kafkaesque. A later spoof on the
eruv by Michael Chabon escalates the sniffles of the reputed
eruv user into an out-and-out cold, by imagining an entire
office filled with odds and ends of string, wire and other
eruv components and a full-time “wire maven” so that inhabitants
could carry a “couple of Alka-Seltzers.” Silver’s eruv materials, parsed on the floor, suggest these legalistic thought processes, while a circular lit sign above that says, simply and directly, “Eruv,” in English and Hebrew, is not
kosher because it uses electricity.
New media artist Elliott Malkin’s installation Modern Orthodox proposes a future eruv that dispenses with string.
A laser beam focuses on a video camera that transmits an
image to a video monitor. If the distinctive pattern is visible
on the monitor, the eruv is up. The checker could use
it to monitor the eruv without walking the route, a journey
that can take hours. Since lasers demand the use of electricity,
the rabbinical authorities would probably not approve
his eruv, but it signals the use of modern technology now
permeating eruv practices, where the most common way
to determine whether an eruv will be “up” on Shabbat is to
consult the eruv’s website. The “Shabbat Fund,” in Israel
has proposed to use unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to
check the official eruvin in Israel. A video description of the project can be found here.