Asylum artists Yair Kira and Amir Shpilman, as well as Berlin-based artist Liat Grayver, were awarded the first DAGESH Art Prize for the creation of the installation “Open, Closed, Open” that was exhibited at the Jewish Museum Berlin in Summer 2019.
“Open Closed Open” was a multimedia installation that explored a multitude of perceptual positions realized in a continual movement using sand, light and the human voice. The work was created for a call by ELES – Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Scholarship Fund and the Jewish Museum in Berlin with the theme “What does being Jewish mean today?”
We saw potential to create something outstanding together at a moment in history where Jewish identity is re-inventing itself in Germany, and we wanted to contribute to that process in this work. Our installation offers the visitor a medium in which to explore the question of what their Jewish identity means to them, both personally and artistically. We felt it was important for visitors to inhabit the work, interacting with it and each other. Our goal was to provide them with the tools to come up with their own answer to the question posed by the exhibition organizers about defining Jewish identity.
Emerging from a room with audio and visual components, visitors found themselves in the midst of a large sandbox where a robot continuously changed the terrain by driving over it and writing Hebrew letters in the sand. The visitors were invited to write over the robot’s letters or flatten the terrain, preparing the surface for the robot’s next move. Each individual who entered the exhibition space contributed to the work’s evolution and became an integral element of the project.
Photo Credit: Jule Roehr
Hundreds of audio recordings of vocalized Hebrew letters comprised the electronic soundtrack used in the space. Each vocal fragment, sung by an opera singer, had been individually composed, and later combined to form an ever-changing soundscape projected over 10 speakers within the space. Depending on their movement, visitors could hear a single whispering voice or an assemblage of vocal gestures.
A live visualization of visitors’ movements inside the sandbox was projected onto a large, transparent screen that was hung at the back of the space. This animated representation reflected the movement and interactions within the exhibition and, along with the robotic and audio components, offered a stylized perspective of the social relations that occur between individuals and within groups.
Just as the various elements of the work were interlaced, our collaborative process worked in a similar way. In this project, we worked as a collective team, in that we each offered our own expertise while all artistic decisions were made together. This provided us with a ground for innovative creations and new perspectives to our usual scope of work. The name of the work is inspired by Yehuda Amichai’s poem, “I Wasn’t One of the Six Million: And What Is My Life Span? Open Closed Open”.
We engaged with two principal themes that symbolized our perception of Jewish identity. One was the movement influenced by Jewish identity from a physical, historical, spiritual, psychological and linguistic perspective. From the exodus to modern life in the diaspora, Jews have always been on the move. From a grammatical standpoint, in the Hebrew language, each sound is dictated by “Tnuot” (vowels) that punctuate the movement of Hebrew pronunciation. The second aspect embedded in the work was self-reflection. Jewish identity is continuously developing through a reflective environment and the actions of individuals and groups in their various communities.
This work corresponds to the dynamic transformation of our society through technology and media, and the increasingly frequent movement of people and the mixture of cultures brought about by various forms of migration, both voluntary and forced. It is this contemporary mixed, fragmented and often contrasting society that we have long seen as our home base. In part due to its familiarity, as we grew up in a country that was, at the time, predominantly inhabited by first- and second-generation immigrants — a land located in the Middle East whose inhabitants were mainly educated on foreign and imported European cultural values. This fragmentary, decontextualized experience is the space we investigated in the artwork “Open Closed Open”.