Bi-bli-o-logia: The Book as Body
Curators: Drorit Gur Arie, Raphael Sigal
“Bi-bli-o-logia: The Book as Body” stages the connections, associations and nteractions that bind together the book and the human body. It presents a simple idea: unlike other objects that are purely functional (an umbrella, a box, a chair), books initiate complex exchanges; they enrich our world, affect our perceptions, stimulate our sensations, and trigger our emotions. Knowledge perpetuates itself in books. They are the crossroads where one’s consciousness pursues the consciousness of the other, the dwellings where communities are founded or dismantled and faiths are united and untied.
The exhibition brings together methodologies from the disciplines of material culture, ethnography, and fine art in order to question both the use value and the exhibition value of books. Eschewing any form of hierarchy, it scrutinizes the boundaries that distinguish a book from a work of art, a library from a museum, and a site of exhibition from a site of remembrance. “Bi-bli-o-logia: The Book as Body” challenges the position of the reader, the artist, the archivist, the thinker, the writer, the designer, and the curator alike.
This is an exhibition about traces. It presents the people engaged in producing, collecting, looting, rescuing, digitizing, curating, and reading the works on view—their hands, their touch.
The issues with which Avital Geva engages have always exceeded the relatively narrow bounds of Art. In setting up the Ecological Greenhouse on his Kibbutz, Ein-Shemer, he has also expanded the designation of the space in which art is created, defining it as an experiment. For the current
exhibition Geva produced the installation Books, Deep River,God. On view outside the museum, it extends into the public park adjacent to it. The installation comprises a temporary library that covers the museum’s walls like a parasite as well as heaps of books scattered both around the the museum’s entrance square and behind it. In this work Geva once again
engages with books as raw material whose role is to ferment and propel local social processes. The premise is that once books are placed in a public area, a temporary micro-society forms around them, which is characterized by consumption and exchange of information. This may be likened to the
organization of ant colonies around a new source of food; here, however, material alimentation is replaced by spiritual sustenance. The disorderly way by which the books are scattered is a raw manifestation of potentiality and openended questioning. The environment arranged by Geva does not direct the visitors but leaves up to every one of us the choice whether to approach, touch, leaf, borrow items, or add new ones to the pile. The library in the museum’s yard is reflected (or sinks into) the water of the pools surrounding it, like a sequel to Geva’s 2014 Books in Deep River outside the National Library of Israel building in Jerusalem. The flowing river stretches outside the defined boundaries of both the revered institute
of culture and the hall of muses. The exterior “outside the fence” invites one, as in Geva’s former works, to explore the environment as an event determined by passersby.
Geva’s current work was made in collaboration with playwright and author Joshua Sobol, who turns his critical gaze on historical events. The books float upon the river like rafts made of words, demanding that we contemplate the new image of Israel—divided, conflicted, and bleeding— as well as refugeedom and spaces of freedom. The title, Books, Deep River, God, is from an Afro-American soul song, likening the crossing of the deep river (the Jordan; the Mississippi) to longing for freedom, like a symbolic step toward the Promised Land. What is our Jordan River nowadays, in 2015 Israel, and what does the hope for the Promised Land look like when reflected in the tempestuous water of current events?
Inspirations (loosely edited field notes)
Wandering in the art of memory and forgetfulness
A castle surrounded by water
Anne-Laure memorizes Mishima (The Sailor Who Fell
from Grace with the Sea)
The murmuring of words
Eve writes herself out of the scenario to follow the story
with her camera
From The Art of Memory by Frances Yates:
“in the Middle Ages … the practitioner of the Ars notoria gazed
at figures or diagrams curiously marked and called ‘notae’
whilst reciting magical prayers … The Ars notoria is perhaps
a bastard descendant of the classical art of memory, or
of that difficult branch of it which used the shorthand
notae. It was regarded as a particularly black kind of magic
and was severely condemned by Thomas Aquinas.”
From Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting by Harald
“… it is not only a question of what we can—with or
without art—remember and what we may perhaps,
or perhaps not, forget. This leads immediately to the
question whether and to what extent the functions of
memory and forgetting are under our control at all, that
is, whether we can in fact remember or forget what to the
best of our knowledge and belief we want to remember
(Translated by Steven Rendall)
Notes after The Book of Memory by Mary Caruthers:
Soviet neuropsychologist Luria Sheresheveski, referring
to himself in the third person as S., converted words into
vivid mental images in orderly row or sequence. “He
would take a mental walk along that street.”
Ka-Tsetnik, most remembered for fainting dramatically on the witness stand during Adolf Eichmann’s trial in 1961, is the pen name of Yehiel De-Nur, born Yehiel Feiner. A Yiddish poet prior to the Holocaust, he took up a new identity after it with the intention of erasing his former self and turning himself into a live memorial to the Holocaust. Ka-Tsetnik means “concentration camper” in Yiddish (deriving from “ka tzet”, the pronunciation of KZ, the abbreviation for Konzentrationslager).
His early book of poems, published in 1931, of which only a few copies were printed, was acclaimed in 1950s Israel. But Ka-Tsetnik, as part of his conceptual mission to erase his pre-war life, insisted that no trace of it should remain, demanding that even the copies kept by the American Library of Congress and the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem be burned and destroyed.
The cut pieces of the book presented here were sent by Ka-Tsetnik to Shlomo Goldberg, manager of the National Library of Israel’s storerooms (whom he mistook for the library’s director). In his poignant accompanying letter he writes, “I hereby attach the remains of the book as a sign and testament. Please burn them, just as all that is dear to me and my entire world were burned in the Auschwitz crematorium. This letter is intentionally inscribed by hand rather than written by my cold typewriter.”
Ka-Tsetnik’s act of cutting the book resonates with myths of birth and creation associated with destruction and cutting (Chronos, who castrates his father, Uranus, god of the sky, in Greek mythology; or the Babylonian god Marduk, who cuts up the body of the goddess Tiamat, from which the sky and the earth are created). It was in reference to this myth that Freud coined the psychoanalytic term caesura (in Latin, a cutting), indicating the seam line between life in the womb and life after birth. By his act of cutting and burning, Ka-Tsetnik expressed his agonized desire to change his destiny and be reborn.
In 2001, Warluzel started to film the Israeli conductor Daniel Oren in different venues in Europe and Asia. Rather than filming the concerts, he chose to document what happens before, during and after the rehearsals. He thus focused on the work in progress and on the different combinations with which the conductor rehearsed for the concert: piano and choir, piano and soloists, orchestra only, orchestra and choir, orchestra and soloist, and finally all the orchestra parts together. With their moments of repetition, choices of interpretation, and various experimentations, the rehearsals expand the concert’s playing time. Warluzel recorded many hours of rehearsal with his DV camera, documenting the conductor’s “studio.” How to show, afterwards, all those phases? By choosing not to edit the rushes, he attempted to make the narration process legible, always caring about the frame and the subject’s distance. Warluzel then patiently and precisely translated Oren’s physical gestures into a textual score describing the conductor’s words, chants, postures and attitudes. Recorded by an actor, the text provides a parallel textual soundtrack to the movie.
The notion of shtiebelekh is presented through the visualization installation, which quotes, reconstructs and interprets various sources. Roman Vishniac’s images of traditional rooms of study and prayer merge with contemporary shtiebelekh in Jerusalem, which are intertwined, by means of spatial and architectural abnormalities, with Magritte’s paintings and traditional Jewish hermeneutics, ritual objects and emblems. The special light of the mystical book received by Noah—the “Zohar in the Tzohar” which he installed in the ark—shimmers here from within the depths of the dark space underneath the shtiebelekh staircase, shedding a light that touches, assembles, transforms and resurrects the different parts of the work. This ark is ready to sail on through broken horizons.
Thanks to Nava Rothschild, the Petach Tikva Museum of Art’s information specialist; to Ahuva Stockhamer, Shosh Saharoni, and Ruth David of the Petach Tikva Municipal Libraries; and to all the people who recommended books.
In the literature of Jewish Kabbalah, creation is portrayed as a tremendous act manifested in the world thanks to the magical power of the alphabet letters. The delegation of Divine power, too, is depicted as a linguistic act from which God’s names ensue. And the letters with which the holy writings are written are not merely conventional means of communication but containers of occult energy.
Kabbalic secular and sacred aspects resonate in Micha Ullman’s work, at whose core are binary oppositions, such as empty and full, remembering and forgetting, heaven and earth, light and shadow, life and death. Sculptural works using sand as a medium and images such as the pit and empty space are amongst the hallmarks of his artistic production. Particularly remarkable is the monument he produced by digging an empty library beneath the ground of Bebelplatz in Berlin, where the Nazis burned books in 1933, leaving behind a culture with a void at its heart. Using ordinary materials and states of void and absence, Ullman conjoins universal, mythical elements with history and politics, giving expression to the human capacity for containing the spiritual alongside the material, the transcendent alongside the quotidian and transient.
This work by Ullman is composed of a filing cabinet whose drawers have turned into pit-like cavities within the “pit” of the mouth cavity suggested by the work’s title. Ullman disrupts the functional use of the cabinet, which is based on the simple, effective logic dictated by alphabetical order. The artistic act transpires within the work, where the forms of the 22 Hebrew letters and several punctuation marks were cut out of the drawers’ bottoms in places corresponding to the place where the sound of each letter is produced within the mouth—such as the palate (for instance, the letter gimel), throat (aleph), teeth (zayin
The body, any body, is an archive or book; we contain the genetic information of all the bodies that have preceded us, to which we are connected through webs of biological information and memory. Noga Inbar works with bits of information culled from the pages of this book. The images she prints along the vertical axis of each of her works were sampled from her own body, which she has volunteered to undergo a variety of medical procedures. She uses advanced imaging technologies, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), to generate visual information, which she prints on fragile paper.
Inbar’s paper is made of fiber cells peeled off from the underside of the bark of various trees. Her works are therefore a projection of one inner layer (Inbar’s body) on another (the tree’s bark). In this way, which is associated with Bio Art, the paper skin becomes a support on which the artist exteriorizes a contemporary body image—a microoptic one which has gradually been replacing the traditional perception of the body as viewed from the outside. The body is no longer experienced as a whole in which invisible things occur. The virtual crossing of the boundary between exterior and interior causes us to experience the body as an image of itself, in which the distinction between subcutaneous biology and dermal text (face, skin color) collapses. Text and book have become as one.
Wanja said, “The book am Anfang ist Kaputt (In the Beginning is Kaput) is a garden. It is a story about the end in the beginning; the moment of translation—when we leave a known alphabet and read through a new one. I like to read gardens as I read books.”
Wanda said, “am Anfang ist Kaputt contains my collection of seeds, which I gathered over years from different plants and places. The seeds were embedded in mold-made paper and I bounded the sheets into an edition of two books.”
Wanja says, “Regarding the book, I was surprised to hear that you want to exhibit just the black book. I see the two books as one work and the black one not as a result of the other—it’s more a translation, which can always be further translated … Books are not a terminus, as long as we keep translating them, just as seeds are a variant of the plant in compact DNA form and the nomadic state/phase of the plant in which it spreads/dislocates itself. Would settled people create books?”
Yosef-Joseph-Yaakov Dadoune coated a Yalkut Shimoni volume (a 1787 edition of a collection of ancient Jewish homiletic or allegorical teachings found in the genizah of the Aix-les-Bains yeshiva) with anti-hemorrhoids cream in an attempt to neutralize the book and render it less irritating in the epidermal sense of the term. This was an attempt to conciliate tradition and sinful pleasure, spirit and body. It was a symbolic coming out, a coming to terms with guiltridden repression and an attempt to produce homosexual
Jewish art—that is, to invent a nature capable of overcoming the contradictions inherent in piecing together art and Judaism.
While this image was always thought as an attempt to cure the book, it is in fact the contrary: it is an attempt to cure oneself of the book.
—The origin of guilt?
—The sacred texts.