A new three-part exhibit spanning campus highlights the traditional Jewish practice of eruvim through multiple art media.
“Shaping Community: Poetics and Politics of the Eruv” opened yesterday at the Institute for Sacred Music, the Slifka Center and the School of Art. Each part of the exhibit presents a different angle on the traditional Jewish boundary — the eruv — that extends the private domain of a Jewish home into the public sphere, allowing certain practices that are limited by Jewish customs to private spheres to be extended to communal areas. Though the creation of eruvim is governed by complex religious rules, the exhibit dissects these technicalities to relate the custom to everyday life, curator Margaret Olin said.
“The [exhibit] shows how even this very technical thing can relate to broad artistic interests,” artist Ben Shachter said.
Martin Jean, director of the Institute of Sacred Music, said that while not everyone in the Yale community — even some Jewish people — is aware of or holds to the practice of an eruv, the topic still raises poignant issues of how visible one’s identity is. Though the exhibit was originially planned as a hallway gallery, Olin decided to expand it to multiple locations after realizing the extent of artists’ interest in the topic.
“An eruv is a potent metaphor for community relations, for the way people interrogate their own identities and for the way people distribute and articulate space,” Olin said.
“Shaping Community” originally developed out of Olin’s interest in Jewish visual culture, she explained. Olin was inspired to investigate the place of eruvim in the Yale community after she discovered 1980s installation artist Sophie Calle’s work, of which “Erouv de Jerusalem,” a map accompanied by photographs of eruv markers, will be shown at the School of Art. This exhibit, which will also include work by video artist Shirin Neshat, focuses on the theme of internalizing borders, Olin said.
“This Token Partnership,” the segment of the exhibit housed in the Institute of Sacred Music, focuses on the definition of eruvim — both physically and conceptually — instead. Olin, who is one of several artists displaying work in this portion of the exhibit, created a photographic series concentrating on the New Haven eruv that is meant to show “what the eruv is made of and how it fits into the community.” This display is paired with maps that Shachter created through stitching and paint. Shachter’s work explores the theme of laws and rule-making, both municipal and religious, and he employs the real rules of eruvim in creating his maps.
“Conceptual artists from the 1960s set up rules that guided and limited their work,” Shachter explained. “I found rules I found interesting.”
The show’s inclusion of alternative media takes shape outside the Institute of Sacred Music gallery with a laser eruv installation. Created by Elliot Malkin, the piece is a “wire constructed out of light,” which, though invisible to the human eye, divides the space of the courtyard. In conceptualizing the piece, Malkin meant to extrapolate the ancient practice of defining eruvims to the future.
“All of our cultural artifacts evolve alongside our technological environments,” Malkin said. “That’s what this is about — the next step.”
The Slifka Center localizes the show’s overall theme by exploring eruvim in Israel. One artist, photographer Dani Bauer, depicts a hill demarcated by a new eruv line. The hill denotes a dynamic between the visible and the invisible, Bauer said, because it is simultaneously the location of an eruv and a reminder of a former Palestinian settlement. Both aspects are present but invisible to the uninformed.
Formal opening receptions for the exhibits, which will include talks by the curator, take place Oct. 18.