Melissa Shiff - ARK / ARCHA
From 14. 09. 2006 to 31. 01. 2007
September 14, 2006 – January 2007
Jewish Museum in Prague - former Small Pinkas Street, at the intersection of Valentinská and Široká.
"The museum functions as Noah's Ark did in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) -- to salvage and save what might otherwise be destroyed by natural disaster and catastrophe. Therefore ARK seemed to be the perfect metaphor for a project about the museum and particularly about this museum that was able to salvage thousands and thousands of objects during the Holocaust."
Canadian artist Melissa Shiff exhibits her outdoor video sculpture ARK starting from September 14 at the Jewish Museum in Prague as part of the centennial celebration of this institution which is the largest repository of Jewish cultural heritage in the Jewish diaspora. The exhibition runs until January 14, 2007.
ARK is a 4.5-meter high video-sculpture. The structure is made out of acrylic and aluminum that serves as a 3D projection screen on which Shiff projects her 30-minute video that narrates the history of the museum and the Prague Jewish community during the last turbulent century. It reflects upon the museum as an ark (as a sanctuary for Jewish cultural and religious treasures) and an archive (that preserves the legacy of Jewish cultural memory) as well as on the function of the museum in general. ARK confronts man-made catastrophes such as the Holocaust and natural disasters such the recent floods in Prague (2002) as the powers of the formless that threaten the museological imperative to collect, order, and structure the archive.
Shiff explains the symbolism of ARK as follows: "The museum functions as Noah's Ark did in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) -- to salvage and save what might otherwise be destroyed by natural disaster and catastrophe. Therefore ARK seemed to be the perfect metaphor for a project about the museum and particularly about this museum that was able to salvage thousands and thousands of objects during the Holocaust."
A 12-page, full color folding booklet with photographs of this project is available through the Jewish Museum store in the Spanish Synagogue (Vězeňská 1, Prague 1), at the Robert Guttmann Gallery (U Staré školy 3, Prague 1) or through the museum website at www.jewishmuseum.cz.
Melissa Shiff is well-known for her artistic projects that reinvent Jewish rituals and that reflect upon their relevance for contemporary social issues. Her Passover art activist projects (such as The Times Square Seder and The Medium is the Matzo) are featured in the September 2006 issue of the media arts journal Afterimage. She had a special exhibition (Eljah Chair: Art, Ritual, Social Action) at the Goodkind Media Gallery of The Jewish Museum in New York in 2004. Her other exhibitions and video installation projects includes Gender Cuts: The Jew Under the Knife (on ritual circumcision) and Postmodern Jewish Wedding (also exhibited by the Jewish Museum in Prague at the Spanish Synagogue). Shiff has recently launched an on-line store called JAP Jewish Art Projects/Products/Politics for her reinvented ritual objects. The store can be reached through her website at www.melissashiff.com or directly at www.japshopper.com.
Key Dates of the Video Narrative: Running time 30 minutes
1: The Hebrew letter ALEPH - according to some Jewish sources the basis of the formation of the world
3: The day the waters were separated
1056 (according to the Hebrew calendar) / 2296 B.C.E.: The approximate date of Noah’s ARK and the flood
1056-5650 (according to the Hebrew calendar) / 2296 B.C.E. – 1890 C.E.: Fish swimming that connote the flow of time. These fish are silver spice boxes from the Jewish Museum in Prague’s collection
1890: A 100-years flood in Prague
1896: Abolition of the old Jewish Quarter known as Josefov begins
1906: Founding of the Jewish Museum in Prague by Salomon Hugo Lieben and Augustin Stein
1906-1939: Showcasing the Prewar Collection
1939-1945: The Holocaust initiated the salvage effort spearheaded by a group of Jewish curators and archivists—over 100,000 objects were saved
1948: Communist Coup d’État
1950: Nationalizing of the Jewish Museum in Prague and confiscation of precious artifacts by the Communist Regime
1959: Inauguration of the Holocaust Memorial at the Pinkas Synagogue
1967: Diplomatic Relations with Israel cut off by the Communist government as a result of the Six-Days War
1968: Holocaust Memorial in the Pinkas Synagogue is closed
1989: The Velvet Revolution
1994: The Jewish Museum in Prague is returned to the control of the Jewish community
2000: A new wave of restitution begins
2002: Another 100-years flood hits Prague
2006: The Centennial celebration of the Jewish Museum in Prague
This project was made possible through the kind support of the following partners: Goodside Foundation, Hardesh Foundation, The Lee Foundation, The Davis Family, The Glina Family, The Warshafsky Foundation, Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, Prague 1 Borough, City of Prague, Embassy of Canada / Ambassade du Canada, 9 GATES – Festival of Czech-German- Jewish Culture, JAP – Jewish Art / Products / Politics, SIEZA, s. r. o.
Curator: Michaela Hájková ( michaela.sidenbergjewishmuseum.cz)