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MELISSA SHIFF

Imaginary Jewish Homelands

What if the Freeland League had succeeded in its goal of finding a refuge

for persecuted Jews during the Holocaust somewhere in Australia?

Imaginary Jewish Homelands utilzes virtual reality to image and imagine I.N. Steinberg's dream of finding a save haven for the Jewish people outside of Israel/Palestine. 

What if Jewish Territorialist leader I. N. Steinberg (1888–1957) and his organization The Freeland League had instituted its proposed Kimberley Plan by purchasing millions of acres from the pastoralist Michael Durack in western Australia in the late 1930s, thereby saving Jewish lives before the Holocaust? Utilizing digital media (including the software programs Rhino, 3D Studio Max, and Photo-shop), This project models and renders nothing less than an imaginary Jewish homeland situated in the Australian outback. From the rugged look of the landscape, we are quite far from the European shtetls and yet Yiddish appears to be spoken here. In contrast to Theodor Herzl’s Zionism that fixated on the return of the Jews to the ances-tral Land of Israel as the promised location to build a modern nation-state, the Freelanders rather advocated cultural autonomy alone and concentrated their efforts on settling uninhabited land wherever it was available on the globe. 

“ The Imaginary Jewish Homelands of I. N. Steinberg” is a collaborative research-creation project supported by an Insight Grant of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Like many contemporary works that make art through the excavation of archival or museum collections, the project reanimates and repur-poses original documents (e.g., newspapers, letters, memos) found in the voluminous Papers of Isaac Nachman Steinberg housed at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York

When complete, the project will consist of a virutal reality world where the participant can traverse through the 90 virtual buildings that Melissa's team have constructed and read the I.N. Steinberg archive as it looms larger than life on the walls and facades of each building and in this way ponder how history may have taken a different path if Steinberg's utopian dream had been realized. 

Dedicated website forthcoming (2024)

Stay tuned for exhibition venue and dates...

Credits

Artistic Director and Primary Investigator: : Melissa Shiff

Historical Reasearch: Louis Kaplan

Architectural Renderings: Ultan Byrne, Rotem Yaniv 

3D Studio Max: Ultan Byrne, Chen Gong, Melissa Shiff

Research Assistant: LIron Ofrat

Coder: Keegan Bubalo

Photoshop: Chen Gong, Melissa Shiff

Yiddish Translation: MIriam  Borden

Imaginary Jewish Homelands is made possible through a generous grant from the Insight Development Grant Program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

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