And a River Went out of Eden by Maayan Elyakim

Photo Credit: Elad Sarig

Maayan Elyakim discusses his site-specific installation made specially for the Schocken Library in Jerusalem (The JTS-Schocken Institute for Jewish Research). Now showing until July 12, 2018. This project was proudly supported by Asylum’s Small Grants Project.

The Schocken Library was established in 1936 by Salman Schocken—a businessman, owner of department stores in Germany, bibliophile, publisher, philanthropist, active Zionist and art patron—to store his large book collection and to house an institute for Jewish studies. The building was planned by Erich Mendelsohn, one of the most influential architects of the 20th-century and a leading figure in the formation of modern architecture.

In my project, I tie Schocken and Mendelsohn’s work with the practice of Aby Warburg, an art historian who is considered a founding father of both cultural studies and iconography. Warburg established an art history-focused research library in inter-war Germany. There, he developed the idiosyncratic research project for which he is today best known: the Mnemosyne Image-Atlas. Begun in 1926 and left unfinished when he died in 1929, Warburg’s visual atlas was composed of large boards of black cloth onto which he pinned hundreds of photographs. The pictures he used ranged from reproductions of Renaissance paintings to medieval astrological charts, to modern stamps and advertisements. These images were arranged thematically, grouped according to chains of affinity across time and space detected by Warburg and, at times, coherent only to him.

And a river went out of Eden brings attention to the building’s architectural details and the library’s book collection and furniture, as well as creates a dialogue around them. The exhibition includes the work First Six Panels, which consists of a sequence of images organized on the six display tables that Mendelsohn designed for the reading room. The images include reproductions from books that I have collected over the years and from books within the Schocken Library. They also include reproductions of my own works from different periods, and pictures of objects and artworks that I am fond of. Next to the six tables are two sculptures, Bird and Snail-knife, which are like crystallizations, formed from the liquid flow of images that stream around them, always in flux.

First Six Panels – panel 4
228 images arranged on six display tables, variable dimensions
All the works and the elements that make up the exhibition are collected into yet another element of the project, an exhibition book, made in collaboration with graphic designer Michael Gordon, that was printed in the format and stylistic spirit of the Schocken Library series, a unique series of books published in the Schocken Publishing House between 1933-1938. The book presents the exhibition and also functions as one of the works within it, an essential and inseparable part of the whole.
Bird-of-paradise flower, water, glass, plywood and cherry veneer
A bird-of-paradise flower is placed within a glass vessel made of three parts in blue, red and yellow. The flower resembles a spectacular bird that is drinking nectar from its stem. The wide sepal that carries the flower resembles a bird’s stomach, with the sharp angle between the stem and the sepal evoking a beak, and the petals resemble fluttering wings. The form of the bird suggested by the flower entices nectivorous birds to land on its “stomach.” Pollen particles stick to their legs and fall off as they fly onto the next flower, contributing to the plants’ pollination and reproduction.
Like the glass vessel, the flower belongs to the monocotyledon group, comprised of multiples of three: three petals, three stamens, and so forth. It also has three colors: orange sepals, purple petals and a green stem. The vessel is made up of the three primary colors and the flower is made up of the three secondary colors. Together they comprise the full color wheel—two that are one, and one that breaks up into its elements.
Titanium, brass, silver, snail shell, pencil on paper, felt, plywood and cherry veneer
While examining medieval scrolls, I stumbled upon an image in the illustrated marginalia—a frightened knight fighting a snail. Confronting the snail, with its spiral shell that seems to imply the infinite dimension of the universe and the ability to travel backwards and forwards in time, the mortal knight, whose physical power and time are limited, can only beg for his life.
Two straight lines intersect on a sheet of paper resting on a small stand. A rod rises from this intersection supporting a small object: a palm-sized knife. The handle of the knife is made of snail shell out of which emerges a silver-plated brass body and an anodized blade. This object faces and stretches in two directions simultaneously. One coils inwards, while the other juts out sharply and turns outward.
The object on which the snail-knife rests resembles monastery choir stallsfurniture that demark independent spaces, disconnected from their surroundings, like separate rooms. Choir stalls include a chair and a stand for placing a book, for writing, or for presenting various objects—mostly sacred icons—for contemplation and reflection. This is a protected, intimate space for a moment of exhalation and inhalation, filling and emptying, reading and writing.
Photos by Elad Sarig
The Schocken Library is open from Sunday – Thursday, 9am – 3pm.
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