Ira Eduardovna, ‘A Thousand Years’ (video still), 2014.
In the Talmudic legend called “Four Entered the Orchard,” a quartet of wise men who explore Jewish mysticism meet severe ends: One dies, one loses his mind, and one forsakes Jewish tenets altogether. Only one leaves intact.
Here’s hoping that the artists in “Pardes,” a new exhibition at Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts, meet gentler fates. Inspired by the ancient tale, the exhibition “brings together four Israeli sound and multimedia artists to investigate notions of mysticism, heresy and the occult from secular perspectives, as they relate to contemporary society,” according to Mona Filip, the Koffler’s director.
The Talmudic story “becomes an overarching metaphor and theme of research for the show,” Filip said.
Pardes is also “a metaphor for the transcendent,” according to Toronto-based curator Liora Belford, who organized the exhibition. ”Where traditional transcendent and institutionalized religions are waning, alternative forms of non-physical yet non-transcendent ‘spirituality’ are emerging.”
“Having lived in Israel, where religion is a significant part of everyday culture, I often wonder about the impact of mysticism and tradition on contemporary secular life,” Belford told the Forward. “Even from an atheist perspective, I find interesting correlations between religious experience and the experience of a work of art, both in its creation and reception.”
Belford walked the Forward through the exhibition’s provocative, progressive works. “A Thousand Years,” a TV sitcom-inspired scene by Brooklyn-based, Uzbekistan-born Ira Eduardovna, “points to the most common, non-transcendent new spirituality — the entertainment media,” Belford said.
Israeli-born, Providence-based video artist Nadav Assor “brings technology into the discussion and the development of drones as new mystical creatures.” Tel Aviv-based video and installation artist Nevet Yitzhak “looks at the different influences that shape a cultural identity” with archival recordings from the Israel Broadcasting Authority Arabic Orchestra from 1948.
And in the exhibition’s most explicitly religious work, Jerusalem-based sound artist Amnon Wolman “looks at systems of control and secrecy with regards to the dissemination of information” with a “singing,” sound-enabled tallit and siddur.
“In very different ways each piece deals with the power that is derived from the control of information and knowledge,” Wolman told the Forward by email. “It seems to me that as recipients of knowledge we (audience members, spectators, Internet users, and others) tend to trust it when we trust its provider, and then we feel comfortable about forming an ‘informed’ opinion. I hope that the people interacting with the works will question these assumptions and the artifacts themselves.”
Wolman’s piece “transforms into an inclusive object a ritual item that’s coded a very specific way in Jewish law,” the Koffler’s Filip said. “Through a simple gesture, the object now exists in secular space. Everybody is invited to wear it, which breaks through conventions and actually becomes a calls for change.”
Overall, said Filip, the crux of the “Pardes” project “is that there isn’t one prescribed path to spirituality or knowledge, ultimately. There are many ways to approach it. We’re calling this exhibition a research project. We’re not trying to provide answers.”