Just back from Berlin, where I spent an exhilarating and exhausting week covering the walls of the Jewish Museum in calligraphy for an incredible exhibition curated by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway on the subject of Abraham and Isaac. Saskia takes a bold and controversial approach to the most troublesome story of the Old Testament, presenting it from the viewpoint of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son is not praised as a sign of unswerving loyalty to God, but criticized as a license for the abuse of the weak by the strong. In each of the fifteen rooms there is a video, historical objects from the three religions and a calligraphic wall text. I spent a week at the top of ladders and scaffolds under the demanding and creative gaze of Saskia, creating compositions from scratch and without preparatory drawings. This was always my approach for Greenaway installations, since I never received the texts in advance, was always faced with last minute changes and ideas, and could not evaluate the wall surfaces from architectural plans or photos. So I make it up as I go along, starting in the most logical position on the wall and building my composition from there, one phrase at a time. This exhibition follows a trajectory of increasing violence, beginning with videos of children speaking the words “I am Isaac” and “I am Ischmael”, and culminating in Room 14, The Sacrifice, with a huge video triptych in which abstract and very elegant choreography is combined with footage of children in war zones. It is impossible not to be moved. In the final room, one is confronted by the words “Or are you an Abraham?”, my first attempt at graffiti in a public space!
Congratulations to the Jewish Museum for presenting an exhibition that challenges fundamental tenets of the Jewish faith!
Photos by Igor Mandic, copyright Saskia Boddeke.