In the past decade, contemporary artists have taken video in new directions since its birth as an artistic medium in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when most experiments focused on formal aspects of the medium. Today, artists are exploring a wider spectrum of cultural issues and incorporating genres such as documentary, narrative, and autobiography. Rite Now presents videos produced between 2001 and 2009 that explore secular and sacred rituals in a new framework, documenting inventive spiritual practices, reimagining old stories, and proposing new rituals altogether.
Lior Bar, Gestures for a Metal Detector, 2008, 6 min. 8 sec.
Tamar Ettun, Standing Prayer, 2008, 5 min., 59 sec.
Dafna Shalom, Yamim Noraim (Fearful Days) #2, 2007, 5 min., 23 sec.
Total running time: 17 min., 30 sec.
Barbara Rose Haum, selected videos from Book Unbound, 2007–08
Total running time: 13 min., 7 sec.
Hila Lulu Lin and Levi Zini, Understood, 2002, 19 min.
Neil Goldberg, A System for Writing Thank You Notes, 2001, 8 min., 30 sec.
Sarah Jane Lapp, Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist, 2009, 25 min.
Total running time: 51 min., 30 sec.
Lior Bar (Israeli, b. 1971), Gestures for a Metal Detector, 2008, digital video, 6 min., 8 sec. Courtesy of the artist
Jerusalem-born artist Lior Bar stages a security check in front of public buildings in downtown San Francisco. Standing and rotating as if examined by a security wand, Bar repeats an Israeli secular ritual in a society with a different set of safety protocols and expectations.
Tamar Ettun (Israeli, b. 1982), Standing Prayer, 2008, digital video, 5 min., 59 sec. Courtesy of the artist.
Tamar Ettun also takes to the streets, in her case the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where she performs her version of the Amidah (Standing Prayer), a series of blessings traditionally recited three times every day. Attempting to communicate more directly with the Divine, she rigs herself up on ropes from structures such as a tower, bridge, tunnel and olive tree. Ettun, who was raised Orthodox in a family of diverse religious practices, suggests that the road serves as a conduit of communication between Tel Aviv—Israel’s symbolic center for secular culture—and the holy city of Jerusalem: “I wanted to use the space between the two cities as an expanse where religion, art, spirituality, and the everyday can mix and experience renewal.”
Dafna Shalom (Israeli, b. 1966), Yamim Noraim (Fearful Days) #2, 2007, digital video, 5 min., 23 sec. Courtesy of the artist.
In Yamim Noraim (Fearful Days) #2, Dafna Shalom posits ritual as a source of spiritual expression and social and environmental concerns. As an Israeli of Yemenite and Moroccan descent, Shalom uses Mizrahi musical motifs to break down dichotomies between Jew and Arab, male and female, tradition and modernity. As part of a series responding to traditional, time-based rituals in the Jewish calendar, Yamim Noraim (Fearful Days) #2 refers to the Ten Days of Awe, an introspective period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in which worshippers seek forgiveness from those they have wronged. The video features a swarm of bees on a honeycomb, a surface of orderly, geometric shapes. In the past three years, worker bees in North America have drastically vanished in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. In Yamim Noraim (Fearful Days) #2, the disappearing honeybees represent a cosmic imploding of order, ethics, and nature. Chanting in Hebrew, using a Moroccan call-and-response pattern, a lone female voice in dialogue with a male chorus describes the need for sanctity in the midst of chaos.
Barbara Rose Haum (German-American, b. 1962; d. 2008), selected videos from Book Unbound, 2007-2008, digital video, 13 min., 7 sec. Courtesy of the Estate of Barbara Rose Haum.
This selection of videos was part of Barbara Rose Haum’s final, unfinished multimedia project Book Unbound: Text in Time, which advocates the reinvention of the annual reading cycle of the Torah using Biblical texts, interpretations by multiple artists, and twentieth-century events in Jewish history. Using stories from Genesis such as the Tower of Babel, the rape of Dinah, and the death of Joseph, Haum revises ancient narratives with striking imagery such as a woman consuming the alphabet, hands crushing a pomegranate, and books being buried under dirt.
Hila Lulu Lin (Israeli, b. 1964) and Levi Zini (Israeli, b. 1953), Understood, 2002, digital video, 19 min. Courtesy of the artist.
Understood is Hila Lulu Lin‘s attempt to cope with the burdens of personal and national history and to affirm her own identity. In this hybrid of visual art, performance, memoir, and documentary, Lin returns to her kibbutz, a place she associates with feelings of betrayal and repression. She invites her extended family and community members to a ritual that memorializes the passing of her father and grandparents, and heals painful memories of her home.
Neil Goldberg (American, b. 1963), A System for Writing Thank You Notes, 2001, digital video, 8 min., 30 sec. Courtesy of the artist and Sara Meltzer Gallery.
In A System for Writing Thank You Notes, Neil Goldberg‘s widowed father explains a practical, efficient method for acknowledging condolence cards and other expressions of sympathy. Mr. Goldberg’s uncomfortably amusing explanation demonstrates how order and dispassion are necessary tools in the grieving process.
Sarah Jane Lapp (American, b. 1972), Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist, 2009, digital video, 25 min. Courtesy of the artist and Seventh Art Releasing.
Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist, a hand-drawn animated film by Sarah Jane Lapp, stars an irascible rabbi—who prefers to think of himself as a “grief facilitator”—who discloses his trade secrets to an acolyte. This semifictional film, based on interviews with various clergy members, explores the challenging role of those who use the art of the written word to minister to mourners and create an authentic portrayal of the deceased. According to Lapp, characters like the eulogist are “conceits through which I may archive and animate people, detritus, and historic moments that seem otherwise ephemeral.”
Rite Now: Sacred and Secular in Video is presented simultaneously with Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life.
Lior Bar (Israeli, b. 1971) has previously exhibited in San Francisco at the Art Institute, Artists’ Television Access, and Patricia Sweetow Gallery.
Tamar Ettun (Israeli, b. 1982) has previously exhibited at The Center for Contemporary Art (Tel Aviv), Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, The Israel Museum, and Yale University Art Gallery.
Neil Goldberg (American, b. 1963) has previously exhibited at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, The Hammer Museum, the Jewish Museum (Love and Loss: A Video Trilogy by Neil Goldberg, 2007; Too Jewish?: Challenging Traditional Identities, 1996), The Kitchen, New Museum, and The Wexner Center for the Arts. His videos have been screened at the British Film Institute, New York Jewish Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, and Thirteen/WNET’s Reel New York. His work is in the permanent collections of the Jewish Museum and The Museum of Modern Art.
Barbara Rose Haum (German-American, 1962–2008) exhibited her work at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Center for Book Arts, the Jewish Museum (Frankfurt), and New York University, where she served as Assistant Professor of Culture and Communication and pioneered the use of Internet2 as an artistic medium. Her work is in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC/VAL, Paris), and Fotographie Forum Frankfurt.
Sarah Jane Lapp (American, b. 1972) has previously exhibited at The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art; British Film Institute; New York Jewish Film Festival; Pacific Film Archive; Tacoma Art Museum; Smithsonian Institution; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Walker Art Center.
Hila Lulu Lin (Israeli, b. 1964) has previously exhibited her work at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, The Israel Museum, the Jewish Museum, Museo d’arte Moderna e Contemporanea (Bolzano), Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (Karlsruhe). Her work is in the permanent collections of The Haifa Museum of Art, The Israel Museum, the Jewish Museum, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and Bass Museum of Art.
Dafna Shalom (Israeli, b. 1966) has previously exhibited at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, The Minnesota Center for Photography, The Museum of Art Ein Harod, The Museum of Contemporary Art (Zagreb), and The Petach Tikva Museum of Art.