Distorting (a messiah project, 13C)

4 Apr

By Elke Reva Sudin

Distorting (a messiah project, 13C) by Justin Stewart is an installation depicting the concept of messiah as existed in the 13th century. Fleece is stretched to look like a hard form and is positioned through an intricate web of rope and plastic as a way of using architecture to represent an idea. The installation is curated by Risa Shoup and is on view at The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn through May5, 2012.

The product of a two year intensive research period, Distorting (13C) is only one of a series of works that cover the messiah in a specific century. Each web of fleece in the installation is marked with a QR code. By scanning these codes with a mobile device visitors can access a bit of data each pod represents and can begin to draw connections between the sculptural elements and the history of the messianic concept. Stewart became interested in Judaism’s long history of ideas evolving over time as sourced in the Torah, Talmud, and derivative texts. In his research Stewart discovered the messiah tradition, something he never grew up knowing about in the context of Judaism. Stewart then started exploring the evolution of the messiah idea from the 10th century BCE to its consideration today.

Distorting is set up as a three dimensional flow chart or outline representing concepts with stretched pieces of fleece and connected to a hierarchical web. The design starts with subjects, connected from above, and spreads out into categories, then specific topics and ideas. Stewart imagines that the ropes reaching from the ceilings in the installation are connected to the installations representing previous centuries on the same topic, as a way to picture the flow of information over time.

The subjects are derived from the 13thcentury sources and include Nahmanides, R. Moses de Leon, Zohar, Abraham Abulafia , Franciscans, Yedo’yah of Beziers, and R. Yitzhaq of Acre. One example of a flow of concept is:

  1. Zohar: Creates a New Understanding
    1. There are two worlds: The one ruled by the Tree of Life, or atzilut…
      1. …and in the redeemed future the Torah will be revealed in the pure spirituality of the Tree of Life, without the “clothing” it put on after Adam sinned.

Stewart takes the subject, starts a topic whose sentence is unfinished, then finishes the sentence with a specific thought. This broken sentence allows the flow chart to have a smooth read. Each screen capture from the QR reader gives a citation of where the concept comes from so the user understands the source of the text.

Curator Risa Shoup was drawn to Stewart’s ambitious installation forms that transform the space that it is in, his knowledge of subject matter, and the mechanics of his process, making for a very cohesive presentation. She notes how the public has the opportunity to transform the work with their experiences, and the work transforms the person interacting with it. Shoup has her roots in public art, and besides the Invisible Dog, has worked with Bric Arts Gallery and Chashama both in New York. Risa is interested in curating artwork that is not bound by financial or age constraints for viewership, or where the viewer does not feel like they can not experience the art because they don’t know enough.

“Everyone comes in at the same place, not knowing how to interact [with the work] – it is approachable. It doesn’t look like the Jewish concept of messiah in the 16th Century, though who knows what that would look like then?”

Each person can enter the work and make it their own, it doesn’t rely on artistic intention, but the intention fuels the experience. The QR codes make the installation more and yet less accessible. What the artist and curator have found, is that the more the artwork has a cohesive concept with depth, the more the viewer will be able to find their own depth in it.

distorting (a messiah project, 13C) from R Justin Stewart on Vimeo.

The Invisible Dog is planning a special Shabbat Dinner in the space to reference the traditional Moshiach Seudah (special meal to welcome the messiah customarily the last day of Passover), to be held Friday April 13th inside the installation. A discussion of art and spirituality will be lead by Mamie Kanfer Stewart. Food is provided by  The Gefilteria  (Ingredients will be kosher for passover, but not prepared in a heckshered kitchen, and wine will not be heckshered.) Reservations are limited. For more information contact risa [at] theinvisibledog [dot]org.

For more work by Justin Stewart visit www.rjustin.com

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