Below is a selection of cards excerpted from the texts created by Francesco Spagnolo for the exhibition, mima’amaqim | from the depths of collections, by David Wilson and Francesco Spagnolo, presented at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (July 30, 2015-January 3, 2016), in the context of the series In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art, curated by Renny Pritkin.
The cards explore varied and conflicting notions of diaspora, in relationship to words, texts, people, and objects.
diaspora | di·as·po·ra | dīˈaspərə/
diaspora is a greek word. it means scattering, of seed. usually, “seed” is understood as “sperm,” thus the genetic implication of the scattering of a people. but a botanical explanation may work equally well. if one has in mind how farmers used to spread seeds on a field, by scattering them with a fanning gesture of their arm. it’s a theatrical gesture. it’s a display of seed.
diaspora | golah | galut
in hebrew, diaspora is usually rendered as golah or galut. here, the traditional understandings of the word — ranging from “expulsion” to “captivity” to, of course, “exile” (which is both, in a way) — are not enough, and the conversation must go further. an implication of this word may instead have a lot to do with “nudity” and “exposure.” even ezekiel (ch. 12), who obsesses with the word golah, seems to suggest that exile involves being exposed to the sight, and specifically to the eyes, of others.
diaspora is to be seen.
biographies in diaspora
life in diaspora is life in motion.
is writing the biography of a diasporic artist all that different from writing that of a diasporic object? in describing the magnes collection, i’ve left behind most conventions. artists no longer have “nationalities,” even when they do carry a passport (some carry more than one, others none at all). their biographies are told, sparsely, by the dates that frame their lifespan and, even more importantly, by the territories, countries, and sometimes cities, in which they lived and worked.
take abram krol, the artist who donated the original etching plate of his portrait of isaac bashevis singer to the magnes in 1997 [Acc. no. 97.14]. according to MoMA.org, he is Abram Krol (French, born 1919). and if one follows artnet.com, he was instead Abraham (Abram) Krol (Polish, 1919-2001). in his full diasporic biography, in his life within the jewish world, this visionary artist who crossed from hassidism to cubism is better described as Abraham (Abram) Krol (Poland, France & Nazi-occupied France, 1919-2001).
nationalities do not necessarily matter here. quite paradoxically, in diaspora, it is instead the sense of place that truly matters.
the same is true of objects. material culture in diaspora always belongs to many a place. the very materials that make a ritual object often come from different parts of the world — among my favorites @magnes are torah ark curtains, one of which combines an inscription from ukraine with a textile from india, where it was used by jews from iraq… the biography of diasporic objects does not stop at their materials, though. it includes that of the (often unnamed) makers, of those to which the objects were dedicated (this is the case of many ritual objects), and of those who used them. and each of these biographies may very well bring together an array of places, of individual paths, of narratives.
the biography of objects and of people in diaspora is not a trajectory — from here, to there. it’s a network — a network of places.
The working group on mapping diasporas is concluding its series of monthly meetings for the Spring Semester.
Meetings continued to involve the exploration of theoretical issues, collaborative collection research (based on the holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life), and the critical examination of digital tools and platforms.
The third and last meeting of the semester will focus on a presentation by Francesco Spagnolo, who will illustrate the plan for a new course on Mapping Diasporas, which will be offered in the Fall of 2016 by the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The course will combine the critical examination (and application) of digital tools to the study of diasporas through material culture.
The focus on objects emerged in the analysis of the quotations that open the chapter, “Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm,” of Carlo Ginzburg’s, Clues, Myths and the Historical Method, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989, p. 96.
God is in the detail. A. Warburg
Attributed to Aby Warburg
An object which speaks of the loss, of the destruction, of the
disappearance of objects. It does not speak of itself. It speaks of others. Will it also include them? J. Johns
Attributed to Jasper Johns via John Cage’s Jasper Johns: Stories and Ideas, included in A Year from Monday: New Lectures and Writings, 1969.
One can also listen to John Cage’s reading of Jasper Johns: Stories and Ideas on the Internet Archive:
The working group on mapping diasporas is continuing its monthly meetings for the Spring Semester.
Meetings involve the exploration of theoretical issues, collaborative collection research (based on the holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life), and the critical examination of digital tools and platforms.
The second meeting of the semester will include:
- Mapping Languages in Diaspora:Robyn Perry, a graduate of UC Berkeley’s iSchool, an inaugural Fellow of the Center for Technology, Society & Policy and a collaborator in the Aikuma app project (a platform aiming a preserving unwritten languages) will discuss information-based approaches to migration and language in diaspora
- Research on hanukkah lamps in The Magnes Collection: the question about how did lamps specifically designed to accommodate nine lights came into existence, and how their use spread and changed across Jewish history, is rather thorny. We will discuss the topic of mapping history through objects by looking as some examples being selected for an upcoming exhibition
- More questions about Virtual Reality: VR is increasingly gaining traction as an emerging platform, and we will continue to explore this topic
More engaging discussions to come!
The Working Group on Mapping Diasporas (a project of the Townsend Center Working Group on Modern Jewish Culture) is delighted to co-sponsor a talk by Professor Celia Applegate (Vanderbilt University).
Family Ties: How the Mendelssohns Understood Their Own History
In 1879, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s son Sebastian published “Die Familie Mendelssohn 1729-1847” as the “chronicle of a good German Bürger Family.” It carried an epigram from Goethe’s Iphigenie as its frontispiece, on the joy of recounting the deeds of one’s fathers. This lecture will work backwards in time from this 1879 family chronicle, using letters and other writings of members of the Mendelssohn family to illuminate their emerging self-understanding as a German-Jewish family.
Celia Applegate, William R. Kenan, Jr. Chair of History at Vanderbilt University, studies the culture, society, and politics of modern Germany, with particular interest in the history of music, nationalism and national identity. She is the author of A Nation of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat (Berkeley, 1990), the co-editor (with musicologist Pamela Potter) ofMusic and German National Identity (Chicago, 2000), and the author of Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion (Cornell, 2005), winner of the DAAD/GSA Book Prize. She is currently working on comprehensive interpretation of musical life in Germany from the 17th century to the present, titled Music and the Germans: A History. She is past President of the German Studies Association and Vice President of the Central European History Society.