Lipstick on Torah Scroll Part 4

7 Feb

By David Sperber |

53 Arik Weiss, Ye Shall Cleave, 2008,  photograph, detail

Adherence and yearning

Photographs showing what looks like a mummy or golem wrapped all around in white masking tape (fig. 55), and a photograph of a hand similarly wrapped with the same white tape, reminiscent of phylactery thongs (fig. p. 53), are typical of Arik Weiss’ illustrative gaze. The tape is imprinted with the biblical phrase (Deut.10:20) “thou shalt adhere to Him”, as it appears in standard Hebrew printed Bible, that is, marked with diacritics and the symbols indicating the tune for reading the weekly Biblical portion in the synagogue. Another work by Weiss pursues the same idea: a Torah case, from the collection of the Museum of Art, Ein Harod, bound all around with masking tape and bearing the biblical quote “thou shalt adhere to Him.”

55 Arik Weiss, Ye Shall Cleave, 2010, installation

The roll of tape – a prosaic article in daily life – has been attached to the sacred text, binding the Torah scroll and creating a metaphor for adherence and yearning, which can also lead to shrinking away, withdrawal and even strangulation.

Weiss’ works are discussed at length in an article by art scholar Gal Ventura and archaeologist and art historian Roni Amir, in the online journal History&Theory: The Protocols , published by Bezalel’s department of history and theory. The two scholars compare Weiss’ work first to the making of mummies in ancient Egypt and, later, to Christian art; they go on to situate his work in relation to feminist theories and their respective iconographies. They noted the underlying conceptual differences between the ancient practice of mummification and the one inspiring Weiss’ work: “While the Egyptians sanctified compulsive repetition as protection against annihilation, many contemporary artists try somewhat dizzyingly to gain their `fifteen minutes of glory` by unceasing innovation.” According to them, the “life-in-death” theme in Weiss’ work, despite his attempt to demonstrate the repair inherent in Jewish religious adherence, in fact undermines the result of adherence “which binds the believer to the altar, as a sacrifice, by sheer strength of belief, and seems to kill off the believer instead of giving life.”

Zimmun is exhibited alongside the Museum’s permanent Judaica collection. Although the pieces in Zimmun are essentially conceptual, they nevertheless relate directly to the Jewish visual world preoccupied for many generations, as mentioned, with product design in the form of ceremonial objects and culture-adapted utensils. These works enter into dialogue with the aesthetics and poetics of the halakha and the thought of contemporary Judaism. Alongside their humor and flirting with the boundaries of the law, the exhibits often reveal a deeply engaged interest in halakhic concepts and requirements, as well as insights into the essence of Jewish custom, practice and law. The trend exemplified in the exhibition is often affiliated with neo-traditional discourse, and nearly always with post-secular discourse. The result succeeds in capturing complex hybrids of religion and secularism, without seeking to replace one by another. The nexus of the exhibition, then, is a world of imagery subjecting Judaism to critical scrutiny yet with profound attachment to it: “A love which does not get out of hand”.

– Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Friedman

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