It was a bold ambition, imagining the future in the structure of a sukkah. There was a lot to learn in the beginning, like what a sukkah is and what the boundaries are that define it. There was a lot to think about, like how the boundaries that structure our lives are changing and in what kind of world do we want to live. The artists that created Sukkah City STL 2011 and the Sukkah City Annex took on the challenge and through the language of art- we had the opportunity to find ourselves interacting with the spaces in which we live- on the Washington University campus- and with images of constraints and freedoms -on the walls of the gallery at Shaare Emeth. Some artworks were temporary and disassembled; some remain intact. The participants in this project are of different ages, religions, and countries of origin. This is how I saw their artworks.
I saw artworks that explored the tensions that define boundaries. Harmonic Convergence demonstrates boundaries with the use of natural and man-made fibers and metals. Boundaries/Imaginary points to the limits one imposes on oneself. Originality sees boundaries as the imposed expectations of others. Imagination Without Limits defines creativity in opposition to boundaries. My Outfit challenges a seemingly arbitrary dress code. Boundaries: Referees and Rules of the Game, as well as, One Day recognizes the necessity and benefits of rules. Missing Pieces claims the freedom of the artist to decide boundaries. Jewish Architectural Follies affirms that creativity can be expressed within boundaries, solving one problem with a resolution of unintended benefits.
Tene defined the boundaries of the Jewish people. Its triangular base represented the foundation of Judasim: G-d, Torah and Jews. The singular repetitive building block units, different only in their orientation, bending and angling to an opening to the sky, were Jews, different only in their opinions about everything, arguing and struggling with G-d. Each unit added strength to the structure reminding us that the community is the strength and shelter of the Jewish people. Earth to Sky made the sky the focal point for the sukkah’s inhabitants and blurred the boundary that separates man and G-d. Shabbat breaks through the time boundary in Shattering Fragmented Boundaries. New Year 5722 dissolved boundaries, unifying the world and experiences.
The search for home found expression in a number of artworks. Heliotrope created the experience of moving across the boundaries of the past to the future by structuring a gradient of opacity to translucency. Home and Heading to the Promised Land poignantly expresses the longing of artists who traveled with the Foreign Service for many years to find their Jewish homes. Storycubes invited its visitors to search for a new home at each stage of life’s journey with interactive story cube questions. Sukkah Collective, designed to adapt its structural boundaries to the changing needs of the community it serves, also worked the themes of temporality and the future.
Memory played an important role in the creation of some of the artworks. The Red Sukkah creates memory in the layering of different fabrics. The Cattail Sukkah, inspired by the artist’s recollection that cattails were used to make sukkot in her mother’s native Lithuania, transformed the fragile sukkah into a safe haven for the family. Gleaned improvised on memory by was building a sukkah with harvest native grasses from the Midwest prairie.
And then there were the artworks that tackled a few of the pressing issues of contemporary life. Thru Motion represented an individual’s ability to control the borders of relationships in social media by creating a sukkah in which the viewer can choose to experience various degrees of transparency. Guests of the L’Chime Sukkah pushed the boundaries of a field of wooded rods creating the temporary sound of ‘wood echoes’. This sukkah, with its play on the words L’Chaim (for life) , could be concerned with the impact of human beings on the environment and suggesting the way we should interact with it. Exodus strove to present the desire of people to be more tolerant of others. The Woven Measuring Tape Sukkah Wall struggles with the imposition of cultural conventions and finds a way to free us from them, well almost. I kept on thinking about the smaller and smaller clothing sizes women aspire to fit into while remembering my grandfather telling me that men do not like skinny women!
Congratulations to all the artists who built Sukkah City 2011 and thank you to Neshama Roash at Firefly Universe for the wonderful pictures. Now that we are on the road, leaving a slave society, please join the Museum of ImaJewnation in its next venture…
Freedom Imagined, Freedom Lived:
An Artistic Review of the Passover Promise