Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The picture, originally published in the New World Notes, has the subtitle: "Avatar from Avatar; Second Life avatar of avatar from Avatar" (yes, this is too good to be made up). Anyhow, Hamlet Au asked in his open forum on the New World Notes if the James Cameron movie "Avatar" might generate new interest in Second Life. The answers you can read here.
New interest in Javatars was not created by the movie (yet). But the Jewish culture magazine Tablet has a Jewish story related to the movie that is worth reading (link here).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Paul Duda

Photographer Paul Duda explains the process behind his contribution to the CHAP exhibition in the John Slade Ely House/Center for Contemporary Art.

As a local (New Haven) artist, were you aware of the Orchard Street Shul before the project?
I was not aware of the Orchard Street Shul prior to this project. So many times driving the street to North Frontage Road, I fell prey to the destruction of awareness due to mundane behavior. I think I know an area thus blindly drive an understood route home. I missed a real jewel of architecture many times.

Can you describe the technique you used for your photograph?
My technique is that of the early photographers, the exposures of the mid 1800's with shutter speeds of twenty-five minutes and longer. I shoot on film, medium format slide film, and through filtration and development of the film I can make my exposures in the bright sunlight. The color is not digitally manipulated. Reciprocity or the films inability to record light at the same speed over time (in this case 38 minutes at an f-stop of 32.2) supplies the look of the finished photographic image. The vignette at the corners is caused by a slightly longer distance from the lens to the edge of the film plain compared to the shorter distance from the lens to the center of the film plain. All cars, people walking, bikes, and the rest of daily life simply pass through the image without reflecting enough light to be recorded. The same reason a bullet shot through a photograph exposed of 1/1000th of a second is absent in the image. The expansion of the contrast is also a natural part of the process when exposing at such lengths. The image provided shows my technique verses a more traditional exposure of slide film on the same day at the same time.

How important are for you artist networks such as CHAP?

I have never believed that great art can be created in a closet void of the study and influence of other artists. Any network promoting the introduction of otherwise unfamiliar artists is a wonderful opportunity for growth in ones on work.

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Mary Lesser

Mary Lesser speaks about her work for the CHAP in New Haven.

How did you find out about the Orchard Street Shul project and what motivated you to participate?
Cynthia went to a show of mine in my gallery. She liked my work and called me to suggest that I might be interested in the show.

Can you explain your contribution to the project and its connection to the shul?
I made an installation which hangs from the ceiling and represents a sukkah. The "walls" are paper on which I collaged prints made from photographs and documents connected to the shul. I then printed color and pattern on top with etching ink.

How does this work fit into the context of your other art work?
I generally do not do "Jewish art" but much of my work is concerned with the immigrants who came to America from many lands or were brought as slaves. I often make prints which incorporate manipulated and reprinted antique photographs.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship Deadline coming soon!

Yes You Can. You Can be the One.

JDC is currently recruiting for the 2010 – 2011 Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellowship -- the premiere opportunity for engaging young Jewish leaders in the work of the world’s largest Jewish humanitarian aid organization.

Who? JDC is looking for the best young Jewish thinkers and doers -- writers, artists, policy shapers, business innovators, and community builders -- there is no single profile that fits. We are looking for leaders in their field who have the promise to influence the future of Jewish life and the world.

What? JDC’s Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship is a one-of-a-kind, paid, professional development opportunity to live and work in overseas locations where JDC is active and engage with the inner workings of the organization.

Where? JDC works in over 70 countries around the world.

When? Fellowship begins in September 2010 with an orientation period at JDC’s headquarters in New York, continues with two or more overseas assignments, and concludes in New York in September 2011.


Deadline: December 30, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Suzan Shutan

New Haven artist Suzan Shutan spoke with 2Life Magazine about the Orchard Street Shul and her project.

How did you find out about the Orchard Street Shul project and what motivated you to participate?

I received an exhibition call for artists by a colleague who knows that I happen to live in the town where the exhibits central focus would be local, Orchard Street Shul, and thought my community based artwork would be appropriate. I replied to the call with interest and attended a meeting at the Shul site. When I walked inside, it was as if I stepped back into history. At first glance the interior was magnificent, full of intimate details and symbolism and at second glance I noticed sections of ceiling that had fallen through onto hand carved benches and walls that were rotted and exposed amidst beautiful hand stenciling. That is when I understood the gravity of the call and knew I wanted to be a participant.

Can you explain your contribution to the project and its connection to the shul?

My contribution to the project was a video installation called “Stomping Ground” that is part street map, moving pictures and personal stories woven together to examine community as a cultural construct and system that transcends its people.
The title references the neighborhood and Orchard Street Shul as sites of congregation and desecration where boundaries and interactions blur, shared beliefs intermingle, and transformation is the outcome of heterogeneity.
The installation consists of a geometric wooden relief grid work that references an aerial map of the neighborhood. A video screen is mounted in its middle like a courtyard, where action and congregation take place. The video is visually constructed like a grid of four panels that uses assembled photographic images combined with moving video to build a collective recollection of "place".
I interviewed six individuals who reside/d in the community. They represent three generations and four different cultures. Each story told focuses on a universal issue, the immigrant experience (home ownership & business), spiritual experience (the role of religion/the Shul) and community experience (how we connect to each other).
Stomping Ground is about preservation stimulating sustainable neighborhood development so that cultures are retained, views are celebrated and streets bustle with life.

How does this work fit into the context of your other art work?

Much of my work is rooted in socio-political content be it obvious or more subtle. For example, I have been working on a series about Pheromones- art and science. The work visualizes patterns of attraction or repellent that happen within our body chemistry. The idea is abstract and its message is subtle, but you certainly get the feeling of a sexual reaction...particles blown away or drawn in like a magnet, the work spreading across 20 foot walls. Last year while on a regional grant to Argentina, I created an entire exhibit based on traveling, how we glean information... developing a preconceived notion about what a place is like before we arrive.
My sculptural work, often combined with large projected videos, is at first glance abstract until you spend time with it to identify its deeper meaning ... in Argentina, a glacial drift was based on a small mountain of ice that dislodging itself in Patagonia due to our climate crisis.
Stomping Ground fits into the context of my other work in that it is based first on an investigation of ideas, in this case being, how can we live well with each other to survive in the world.

Shimon Peres launches YouTube channel

“Welcome to my YouTube channel. I am so glad to speak to you and no less, to listen to you. I would like to share with you my dreams, my thoughts, and I would like also to hear your dreams and your thoughts”.
No, this isn’t a quote by Beyonce, but rather the launching of a completely different channel, the blog IsRealli reports.
After staying on top of almost every global trend, the President of Israel now has his own YouTube channel. At a special event held in Jerusalem, President Peres hit the publish button and uploaded his first ever clip: “The freedom of speech belonged for many years in history to the strong, to the mighty, to the privileged. They have had the microphones and we have had to listen to them. Today we really enjoy free speech. We can talk to each other, no matter where are you, no matter who are you, no matter who I am, as a person to a person, directly. With a great interest and full hope, join in me, in dreams, in hope, in conversation. I think it will enrich you, I am sure it will enrich me.” said Israeli President Peres.
Joining Peres at this event was Chad Hurley, YouTube’s founder who hopes this channel and others will serve to promote peace and understanding: "I could have never imagined when we started this site five years ago that we would be considered a vehicle for peace. Today, we are breaking down boundaries so that people get to see the other side. People see that everyone around the world really shares the same dreams and have the same fears.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Lisa Link

Three questions for CHAP artist Lisa Link.

How did you find out about the Orchard Street Shul project and what motivated you to participate?
I found it somewhere online and was interested because I used to work in New Haven and it was a chance to investigate a place near where I used to go to work every day.

Can you explain your contribution to the project and its connection to the shul?
After visiting the Orchard Street Shul and speaking to some New Haven residents, I kept thinking about the impact of urban renewal projects on people's lives. For the Orchard Street Shul project, I set out to create a piece that gives a small glimpse into the intersection of personal memory, politics, and the built environment. I chose the format of a public Google Map because of its accessibility as a space on the World Wide Web, its capacity to juxtapose layers of information and its option for public participation. I am interested in the contrast between the personal reflections of the people I spoke with and the generic but so functional visual interface of Google Maps. I wanted to place the words and photos gathered from my learning about this aspect of New Haven's history on the map; over the parking lots and highways that were once the vibrant Jewish neighborhoods.

How does this work fit into the context of your other art work?
Most of my other work is more directly political in content and activist in context. My work is about giving people voice in the media and lately, as artist, standing farther in the background, acting as a catalyst for conversation and connections rather than as a focal point as a maker of objects. That is why I chose the format of the Google map - it can reach a lot of people and allows for community participation and my role is almost invisible. I've also been exploring ways to incorporate concepts that I am exploring in my job as a web designer into my art projects and seek to blur the boundaries that I used to set up between these two worlds of "art" and "interactive design".

To visit Lisa's artwork online, click here.


Digital film made in response to the Orchard Street Synagogue after visiting on the day before Tisha b'Av, a day of mourning. The artists selected associative images in the first paragraphs of Lamentations that had direct relevance to the synagogue.

Monday, December 7, 2009

92-year old Sam Faiman at the opening in New Haven

Maya Escobar shared this video from New Haven with me via Facebook. The opening of the exhibition was yesterday.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Alan Falk

Three questions for CHAP artist Alan Falk.

How did you find out about the Orchard Street Shul project and what motivated you to participate?

I initially got involved in the Shul's restoration project. As a designer (my day job), I was invited to develop and create materials for marketing the Shul's fundraising appeal. Having worked in the New Haven Jewish community and producing a series of posters for the New Haven Jewish Historical Society celebrating the contribution of Jews in New Haven during the 350th anniversary of Jews in America, I was extremely familiar with the history of the synagogue, neighborhood and congregation. During my conversations with the Shul Board, I met Roslyn Croog, a participant in the CHAP project and a member of the board. She told me about the artist's project and I expressed my interest in participating. She contacted Cynthia Beth Rubin and the Artist's Committee, and I was invited to participate in the project.

How does this work fit into the context of your other art work?

My work is immersed in Jewish issues and topics, so the subject matter came to me easily. As soon as I entered the Synagogue's sanctuary, I pretty much knew how I would approach the project.

How important are artist networks such as CHAP for you and where do you see this project going after the exhibition in New Haven ends?

Having chosen to work, until recently, in relative isolation, my experience of engaging with other artists has been limited for quite a number of years. However, I have come to realize how important these networks are. I recently became involved with the New York-based Jewish Arts Salon and have had opportunities to meet and engage in dialogue with artists of similar sentiment. I have come to understand how this form of exchange - ideas, philosophies, experiences, etc., is so vital to development and growth. The CHAP concept is very appealing, because it goes a step further, involving artists in a form social/community action, and I am delighted to be a part of this venture. I am very much in favor of the idea of developing more cooperative projects, involving artists contributing to a team effort, as opposed to just individual contributions.

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Bruce Oren

Allison Hoffman has today a story about the Cultural Heritage Artists Project of the Orchard Street Shul in Tablet Magazine. In it, you find a slide show with some of the work. One of the artists featured there prominently is New Haven artist Bruce Oren. "I wasn't aware of the Orchard Street Shul before this project," he explains 2Life Magazine in a recent interview. "I've only been in New Haven for five years. I had driven passed the shul before, but simply never noticed it."
Invited to visit the shul, he made his way there one afternoon this summer, and was inspired for his piece. "Soon after committing to do a piece for this project, I dreamed about creating a large, empty tallis. I'd never dreamed up artwork before and felt obliged to follow through on the tallis concept. I'm a stone sculptor who occasionally carves wood, so working with cloth was a considerable departure from my comfort zone. Overall, it was a fun experience working in such a malleable, plastic medium."
Oren is looking forward to the opening this Sunday. He is thankful for the opportunity provided by CHAP, but "artist networks have not been important to me. I work alone and don't usually actively seek exposure".

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: David Ottenstein

Three questions for New Haven photographer David Ottenstein about his experience with the Orchard Street project.

As a local (New Haven) artist, were you aware of the Orchard Street Shul before the project?
Yes, I was aware of the Orchard Street shul. Several years ago someone in the community brought it to my attention. I photographed it then, but had always intended to go back and do some more work. This project presented the perfect opportunity for me.

Can you describe the technique you used for your photograph and how they fit into your portfolio?
Unlike much of my work, all the photographs included in the project were captured digitally. Usually I photograph on 4x5 film, then scan my negatives and print them with pigment inks. The 8 smaller images are individual exposures; however, the large, central image was created from 16 separate digital files that were stitched together in my computer. I had been experimenting with this stitching technique prior to my work on this project, but this is the first time I produced a finished exhibition piece using the technique. The prints were made with the same inks, paper and type of printer that I typically use.
To most viewers, I expect that these photographs will be indistinguishable from my 4x5 work. Combining multiple files to create a single large print yields clarity and resolution at least equal to what I can achieve with a scanned 4x5 negative.
How important for you are artist networks such as CHAP?
This is the first time I have been involved in a project through an organization like CHAP. It has been a very rewarding experience. Being part of a diverse artistic community, guided by a common theme, is a great way to work. It provides inspiration and energy in a way that working in isolation simply cannot do. I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibit and meeting more of the artists. I will likely pay attention to future opportunities for working with similar networks.

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Janet Shafner

Janet Shafner, one of the contributors from New York, answers questions about the Cultural Heritage Artists project of the Orchard Street Shul.

How did you find out about the Orchard Street Shul project and what motivated you to participate?

I knew Cynthia Beth Rubin from the time, many years ago, when we both were teaching art at Connecticut College. Over the years, we have had occasional contact.

Last year, I wrote to tell her about a project I was involved with in NYC . It was something akin to the Orchard Street Shul Project, in which a number of artists were planning to show their work in the lower East Side Stanton Street Synagogue, which like the shul in New Haven, was decrepit and about to be rehabbed. The exhibition consisted of works by Jewish artists from the New York area, and panels and lectures to correlate with the show were being planned.

Cynthia, in turn, let me know about the New Haven project, and urged me to participate. Anytime a group of artists interested or working with Jewish themes gets together, I am interested.

For over 20 years I have been making multi-paneled paintings based on material from the Hebrew Bible and classic commentaries and their parallel with contemporary political and social issues. At first, I felt like I was mining a vein that was way off the path. It was almost universally considered "kitsch" to do art relating to Jewish subjects. Now, of course, it has become respectable, although Jewish subject matter is still considered transgressive by many museums, galleries and curators.

So, it is with great pleasure that I join with artists who are bringing this material into a contemporary context.

Can you explain your contribution to the project and its connection to the shul?

I visited the Orchard Street Shul and it was so reminiscent of other very old synagogues, all
deteriorating as the neighborhoods and the demographics shift. The images that were most insistent, for me, were the many piles of old sacred books, on benches and in bookcases. I took some photos and went home to find an image that would link the decaying books to a larger motif.

How does this work fit into the context of your other art work?

As I mentioned, most of my paintings done in the last 22 years have dealt with images relating to the Hebrew Bible, Midrash & Talmud. Almost all consist of a rectangular panel with one or more attached lunettes.

Although this piece is not textually inspired, it definitely relates to the Jewish tradition, and its physical structure of a lunette attached to a rectangular panel is the same.

I admire the reverence that is given to holy books, so that when they are unusable they are buried like, and with, the Jewish people. Zachor (remember) is a reference to those books and
also the passed life of the Orchard Street Shul. To bring the concept forward, the box marked "Shaimos" is placed below the piece so sacred books that can no longer be used, can be deposited there, awaiting proper burial.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Beth Krensky

On December 6th, the Cultural Heritage Artists Project will open its first exhibition, dedicated to the Orchard Street Synagogue. Before the exhibition opens at the John Slade Ely House in New Haven, 2Life Magazine will feature various participating artists. Each one will get three questions related to their artwork and their experience.
Today we feature Salt Lake City based Beth Krensky, an assistant professor of art education at the University of Utah.

How did you find out about the Orchard Street Shul project and what motivated you to participate?

I was interested in the Orchard Street Shul project because it examined a particular place, the shul, over time and, for me, was a way to examine how a space or objects in that space get imbued with meaning. Much of my current work explores how objects can be used to create new rituals that comment on larger social and/or political issues. Since I moved to Utah 6 ½ years ago, most of my art has explicitly drawn from elements of the Jewish tradition—both text and objects--that have to do with transformation. For these reasons, the project intrigued me.

Can you explain your contribution to the project?

I visited the shul last summer and I was interested in how the meaning and power of many of the religious objects remained intact despite the layers of dust and decay that had occurred over the years that the space appeared to have lay dormant. I was also struck by the importance of the space to former congregants. I pondered questions like “What gives a place meaning?” and “Is there a way to sanctify a space by demarcating it in some way?” These questions brought up the idea of portable sanctuaries. I considered making physical tent-like spaces that could signify a space of worship and could go to where the congregants were scattered. In the end, I decided to recall and reify the objects that represented orthodox Jewish observance which would represent that meaning despite the location they were placed in.

In my statement about the pieces, I assert that:

These Reliquary pieces are about enduring objects. The Orchard Street Shul, and the neighborhood within which it exists, act as a metaphor for the multiple layers of shared existence over time and place. The ebb and flow of people, activity, decay and renewal shares a history with objects that retain their symbolism, power and liturgical or ritual meaning over time. The objects placed in the reliquaries have physically and symbolically endured over time and demarcate a space for religious observance. Architectural elements of the Shul have been incorporated into the forms of these containers. Much of my work consists of common objects made sacred. This turning of the mundane into precious invokes the possibility of change, mirroring the layered history of the community and Shul.

How does this work fit into the context of your other art work?

In his book, The Strange Place of Religion on Contemporary Art, James Elkins debates the impact and importance of contemporary art that addresses religious beliefs and/or observances. These beliefs and observances can come from established, new or individually created religions. In describing some of this work, he refers to the artist Betty Saar who believes that this type of work shifts points of view and releases an inner spirit.

For my own work that is based on ritual, I often research ancient traditions that were used within Judaism and other traditions of faith. This research only informs my art, as I often imagine new, sometimes idiosyncratic, rituals based on ancient knowledge. The objects I create are intended as instruments for our own rituals, real or imagined.

I like to think of my work existing somewhere in the space between secular art and ritualized objects. There is a long tradition of artists, many of them women, creating altars, rituals and objects that aesthetically reside within the high art world, yet the purpose of the objects often responds to a personal ritual. These very personal actions can come to bear on larger social or political issues, such as the work Suzanne Lacy engages in.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Visual Midrash

We are living in a world that almost daily offers us new media and new challenges. We are also the latest in a long line of generations awed and wonderstruck by our ancient Jewish traditions and their place in world culture.
A new website addresses both of these realities: It offers access to a digitized collection of artwork on biblical and Judaic subjects, gathered over decades. It is a gate to a vast treasury that can be searched by subject, period, artist, medium and textual location. The search will be aided by biographies, essays, citations, references and pedagogical guidelines for the use of these materials in formal as well as informal education.
A fascinating site, worth exploring. Enjoy.