Is someone asking a question in the Yud Gallery at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco? Has the CJM just opened a new sound installation in its Yud Gallery called “Are we there yet?” Has it been designed — based on Jews’ inquisitive impulse — by regular collaborators Ken Goldberg (artist and professor of robotics at U.C. Berkeley) and Gil Gershoni (commercial designer)? Did they talk to the Forward’s Dan Friedman by telephone? Did the chief rabbi eat matzo at Seder?
Dan Friedman: Are the Jews really the only people who ask questions?
Ken Goldberg: Who else asks questions? What are you trying to say? What do you mean?!
What is a good question?
Gil Gershoni and K.G.: Paper or plastic? Where are you? Don’t you think that even these everyday questions are philosophical? If you ask these — or a lot of political questions — in a new setting, don’t they resonate in a new way?
How did the exhibition come about?
G.G. and K.G.: We were given an opportunity to use this space — with high walls and dramatic angles — for an exhibit to engage the wider community, and weren’t we right to think that the use of sound and questions tie it into Daniel Libeskind’s enigmatic design that avoids any graven images?
What is the experience of the exhibition? If you walk in, what happens?
G.G. and K.G.: Have you ever entered a gleaming white space with no furniture in it and been asked questions from all around — triggered by your proximity to sensors — by disembodied voices, some of which you recognize and some of which you don’t? And wouldn’t it be great if these questions made you think about your daily life and also about life’s larger philosophical questions?
Who asks the questions?
G.G. and K.G.: The questions are submitted through the website and at the exhibition and are voiced by people who ask questions professionally, like Michael Krasny, Susan Stamberg and Laura Sydell from NPR, as well as people from our family and acquaintances: You want to ask a question?
How long did it take to finish?
K.G.: We’re very visual people, so we needed to see how the robotics and installation would work, so even though Gil is a graphical genius, it still took us nine months — have you ever had a baby? Also, do you think the installation is finished just because it is set up and working? We set ourselves a task that has never before been attempted, and wouldn’t it be presumptuous to think that we finished it?
So how did you even get this far?
G.G. and K.G.: We had the help and support of Connie [Wolf, CEO and director of the CJM] and the CJM, we were working with Meyer sound — who are one of the world’s leading sound design companies and who designed the Beijing Olympics, “Cirque du Soleil” and the “Spider-Man” show — and did we mention the help of hundreds of people who submitted wonderful questions?
“Are We There Yet? 5,000 Years of Answering Questions With Questions” is at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco until July 31. Pose questions online at www.are-we-there-yet.org