Doug and Mike Starn: Ramparts Café

September 9, 2001 - February 10, 2002

Created to commemorate the three-thousandth anniversary of Jerusalem in 1995, Ramparts Café is a meditation on the ancient and modern aspects of the city.

Created to commemorate the three-thousandth anniversary of Jerusalem in 1995, Ramparts Café is a meditation on the ancient and modern aspects of the city. A tabletop haphazardly covered with glasses, plates, eating utensils, and ashtrays evokes contemporary life in Israel, where opinions are often exchanged at the table. Documents set in the transparent table and songs of prayer that emanate from it invoke the history of religious contention that continues to characterize the city.

Embedded within the tripartite table are photographic transparencies of historical and contemporary documents that recount the religious conflicts over Jerusalem. The three parts of the table symbolize Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Within each part is a mix of documents from all three religions, demonstrating that the individual history of each religion is enmeshed with that of the others. A passage from the Dead Sea Scroll War Rule, a passage from a twelfth-century Crusader Bible, and the same passage from a sixteenth-century Koran provide religious justification for each group to wage war over Jerusalem.

The layers of the transparent texts are like archaeological strata. Historical texts encased within the contemporary table reveals the modern city’s perpetual and inevitable interaction with its three-thousand-year history. The transparencies range from Josephus’s writings about the ancient city to contemporary Israeli, Muslim and British newspaper reports of hostilities and of negotiations. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim documents also demonstrate that history is not a single story, but a collection of divergent and multiple narratives.

Ramparts Café rejects the notion of memory as fact. Conflicting memories of three religions are dependent upon texts that are dusty, warped, and corroded. The transparent layering of documents reinforces the way that free association functions in the memory process and suggests that memory is dependent on culture rather than fact. The prayer songs speak to each group’s collective memory, as they conjure powerful emotions.

Bio
Doug and Mike Starn are identical twin brothers born in 1961 in Absecon, New Jersey. Through their collaborative work they have been studying cultural history, sciences, and literature since the early 1980s. Their unique position within contemporary photography was first brought to public awareness at the Whitney Biennial in 1987. Mike and Doug Starn stretch the boundaries of photography by blending postmodernism’s ideas of appropriation with their fascination with creativity and spirituality.

Doug and Mike Starn: Ramparts Café has been made possible through the continuing generosity of public and private donors to the Jewish Museum’s Fine Arts Endowment Fund.