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MELISSA SHIFF

Postmodern Jewish Wedding

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     On October 12, 2003 Louis Kaplan and I stood under a new media chuppah in a nineteenth century stone distillery in Toronto Canada. Together we created a ritual that played between contemporary performance art and the customs of the traditional Jewish wedding. Solomon and Socalled’s Hip Hop Khasene served as the musical accompaniment to our multi-media video extravaganza with cutting edge performances from new wave Klezmer musicians, Sophie Solomon, Josh Dolgin, Michael Alpert and David Krakauer.

Zahkor, Remembering our Ancestors

     The Hebrew word (Zahkor) Remember is crucial to our lives and it projects the past into the present and the future. In some Jewish wedding ceremonies one is supposed to honor and remember ones ancestors. Instead of merely conjuring up the memory of those that have left us in the mind’s eye, we decided to create a visual representation of our respective family members who have passed away by using photos of them and projecting our ancestors onto the Chuppah so that their larger than life images hovered above us watching over our celebration if only for a moment and then receding back into the void.

Kale, Bride’s Procession

     Video projection was the key device in the staging of this avant-garde Jewish wedding. As we walked down the aisle we projected text onto our bodies and in my case the text hit the many layers of the veil turning me into a holographic bride. Instead of the usual wedding choreography we turned around at the end of the aisle to face our friends and family as the Hebrew text washed over us. My video projection was a specific portion of the Torah where Rebecca veils herself. In an effort to challenge this patriarchal age-old tradition I turned around at the end of the aisle and uncovered myself and broke with this custom.

Khosn, Groom’s Procession

     We felt that it was important and crucial to integrate the Torah into our processionals both as a marker of our Jewish inheritance and our interpellation as Jewish subjects. The goal was to embody this sacred scripture and scroll as a new media form via video projection and our own moving bodies. In this way, the Torah was animated in space and time and transmogrified via video projection. Louis’ projection was a fast forward montage of random Biblical passages. Instead of the usual wedding choreography where the bride and groom ascend to the altar without a pause, we turned around at the end of the aisle to face our friends and family in order to mark the performative nature of this ritual. The Hebrew text washed over us as we faced the projection. When we faced the audience a text was also projected onto the Chuppah for each of us. Louis chose a text from Edmond Jabes’ Book of Questions that has special meaning for him as a self-questioning Jew.

Rewriting Deuteronomy

     We feel that it is very important to mark and transform those aspects of our Jewish inheritance that are based on patriarchal rule and the oppression of women. That is why we decided to rewrite this offensive passage in the Bible about marriage rites and the control of woman’s sexuality at our wedding ceremony. Unlike the harsh verdict of Deuteronomy, we decided to cast off the words of patriarchy and injustice with the aid of the software program Aftereffects to be left with free-floating signs from which to create poetry. In the end, the new text is incorporated into the Torah symbolically indexing the sacred text as permeable and permutable.

Exhibitions

 

With This Ring: Wedding Ceremonies in Contemporary Art

Beth Hatefutsoth, Tel Aviv, IL

February 25 - April 1, 2010

Kol Ishah, In Her Voice

Emet Gallery, Montréal, QC

March 25 - September 7, 2009

Objects of Affection

Center for Jewish History, New York, NY

April 13, 2008

Postmodern Jewish Wedding

Spanish Synagogue at The Jewish Museum, Prague, CZ

2005

Credits

Artists: Melissa Shiff, Louis Kaplan

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