For Passover 2021, Asylum’s Betsy Medvedovsky collaborated with Katya Apekina to create Exodus 2021, a self-guided audio tour of the Jewish exodus from Egypt set in Highland Park, Los Angeles. The tour follows the Passover story from Moses’ point of view and includes audio works by eight local artists.
In this feature, Betsy and Katya interview each other about walking their dogs, being Russian-Jewish on the Eastside of LA, the Situationists, and how these experiences led them to create Exodus 2021 together.
Katya Apekina: I remember us going on walks with the dogs trying to figure out what kind of experience we wanted to create. I was into the Situationist projects, like where they would use a map of one city to navigate another city. We also talked about projecting the experience of Egypt onto where we lived. I remember you had talked about the personal aspect. What were the seeds of this project for you?
Betsy Medvedovsky: Well, I had this idea of mapping one place onto another, for a long time. And I also kept thinking about being Russian Jewish on the Eastside of Los Angeles—it’s an experience that a lot of my friends don’t know about. In Los Angeles, both the Russians and the Jews have a stronger presence on the Westside and in the Valley. I grew up in Boston, in heavily Jewish and Russian Jewish neighborhoods, so I really feel the lack. At one point I think I had the idea of a tour of Jewish Moscow but in Highland Park, but it seemed outside the scope. Then the idea of a Passover tour came up, and it was perfect.
For me it’s the mark of a good project that Exodus 2021 can be described from a lot of different angles. A huge part of it was a love letter to Highland Park, the neighborhood where we both live, and often walk our dogs in. I have a sense of frustration in LA, that people drive to parks to take walks in but so many of the streets are so beautiful and interesting; I want people to walk in their neighborhoods!
Does that resonate at all for you? How do you see the walking aspect as playing out in the work?
KA: Yes—Passover is a holiday about a very long walk and I love walking, particularly urban walking. I love the unexpected elements, running into people, seeing a bunch of crows in a palm tree or the same color cars parked on one side of the street. I feel like that stuff always jolts me out of my head. I also love listening to something as I’m walking and existing in several spaces at once; in the physical world, and in the world that’s been created by what I’m listening to. I thought it was fun to play with that in the walk we made. It seems to me that you think about urban planning and spaces much more deeply than I do. I’m more like, “Look a cool bird!”
How did you feel about the collaborative aspect of creating this walk? Was the process like what you had envisioned going in?
BM: You know, I hadn’t really envisioned the process at all, which to me, is always a good thing. I had a set of organizing principles—a tour of a place set in another place, something about Passover, working with you—that I knew I wanted to follow, and the rest was open ended. Those are elements of a good project for me, because the guiding principles create boundaries and a way forward, but I’m not overly tied to an outcome.
Coronavirus was another principle and to be honest, I think it was helpful for us. In the beginning, we had talked about guided tours, and were talking about making art to show on the tour. But with coronavirus, it pushed us into an audio tour format, which I, personally, would have never thought of. We started imagining the classic centerpiece of the Passover story—the Plagues—not as a visual piece but as a soundscape. Eleanor (one of the participating artists) linked us up with the work of the amazing Fil Corbitt (who did not just the Plagues soundscape but the promo pieces, just for fun). That was what lit the match for me—to imagine Exodus 2021 as a full-blown audio experience. From there it felt like it grew organically. I think we were really brilliant that we met with Deanna Neil to walk us through the Passover story from a Jewish angle, because it gave us the confidence to have a clear framework for each stop, what we wanted it to accomplish, and to approach the artists with that framing… and then let them do their thing. Eleanor Tullock had just done an audio letter for Fil’s podcast, so we asked her to do something for crossing the Red Sea, and of course, she took it so much further and created a vision of this migrant camp, with their pots and their pans, moving slowly across the desert. Corey Vogel, who you knew from the Inquiry Fellowship, seemed perfect for the energy of Moses’ encounters with the Pharaoh. Linnea Sablosky is a super talented singer who lives right next to the Oasis stop, and she brought Adam Hirsch as well. And then we had your brilliant brother, Matthew Shifrin, do this funny, sweet intro piece. What was nice was that it wasn’t just music; we had interactive pieces like the breathwork by Christina Aumann at the Burning Bush stop and Miriam’s Dance, the final celebration of the victory over the Egyptians, by another Asylum alumna, Alexx Schilling.
Of course, key to the tour was the central narrative, which you wrote. It was from Moses’ point of view, and this amazing way to look at Moses as a character, and gave the tour a basic structure. How do you see Exodus 2021 as fitting within your work?
KA: It was cool to do something collaborative. Especially with you. To work on something like this was very joyful, interesting and complemented the kind of writing I usually do which is not collaborative at all—it’s novel writing, which for me is long and sometimes lonely and usually kind of all encompassing and heavy and I am very possessive about it. It was really cool to hold a project lightly, to see how all the different artists approached their interpretations for the various stops on the tour and then write something around their pieces. What about you? You’re a graphic designer by day; how does this fit into your work?
BM: That’s a really good question. I’m not sure. It was an audio tour and I’m not really an audio artist, after all! But it still really feels like my baby. What I do know is that right now, tours are where my creative interests lie. Marrying history, narrative and art with spaces to physically move through… I find it very compelling.
Exodus 2021 was created by Betsy Medvedovsky and Katya Apekina
Learn more and experience the tour: https://www.exoduswalk.com/
Exodus 2021 was supported by an Asylum Arts Small Grant.