Elijah Chair: Art, Ritual, and Social Action

February 6 - April 11, 2004

Elijah Chair, a video sculpture on view in the new Goodkind Media Center, was created for the Times Square Seder, a public art and social action project which took place in New York in 2002.

The Goodkind Media Center, which opened in October 2003 on the third floor, includes an exhibition space dedicated to video and new media. On view beginning February 6 is Elijah Chair, a video sculpture by Canadian artist Melissa Shiff. On March 30, 2002, Shiff orchestrated the Times Square Seder, a public art and social action project at the Chashama arts organization in New York. Conceived by Shiff as a multimedia event, it consisted of readings, performances, video projections, art installations, and a “Matzoh Ball Soup Kitchen” for the homeless. Elijah Chair, a recent addition to The Jewish Museum’s collection, is one of the works Shiff created for the Times Square Seder. This video sculpture is linked to several traditions related to the biblical prophet Elijah, such as the Passover cup, the Passover chair, and the circumcision chair.

According to the Book of Malachi, Elijah will herald the messianic era—a time of redemption, peace, harmony, health, and spiritual bliss. During the Passover seder, families customarily open their doors as a symbolic gesture to Elijah. Shiff’s sculpture serves as a meditation on unconditional hospitality and the unequal distribution of wealth in urban America. A monitor embedded in the chair’s back displays a video loop of doors that open into various homes: uptown, downtown, rich, poor, and everything in between. According to Shiff, “This video documents the staggering divide of wealth in this city of extremes in an effort to show that Elijah signifies the hospitality and openness to the Other that must occur. . . . If Elijah represents hospitality, I wanted to push his role even further and employ this prophetic figure in the service of social action.”