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You Can’t Go Home: Digital Art By Shulamit Tibor

Through the Curtain: Digital Art by Shulamit Tibor
Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Museum
One West 4th Street, New York, NY 10012; (212) 824-2205
Mon.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Selected Sundays
Free Admission: Until June 25, 2004


 

We all attempt to reap sustenance from the past. Our collective heritage acts as a foundation of cultural values necessary for us to build into the future. But what happens if we are cut off from that past? “Past the Shoah there is a black hole,” comments Shulamit Tibor, an Israeli artist whose new digital prints confront the memory of the Yiddish Theater in an attempt to
pierce the silence and reclaim that which is rightfully hers.

Tibor’s unusual images are constructed from scanned photographs of productions at the Yiddish Theater of Warsaw (1920′s), the Moscow Yiddish State Theater (1920′s), the Vilna Troupe (1920′s), and the Yiddishpiel Theater of Tel Aviv (1990′s). With this diverse source material, she has constructed a series of eighteen large and dramatic Lamda Prints in which the
images are edited, cut, pasted, manipulated and reconstructed to simultaneously represent a largely vanished Jewish theatrical world and our inaccessibility to it. She has worked on this project for the last two years, and the current exhibition at the Hebrew Union College Gallery, curated by Laura Kruger, represents a selection of the 45 artworks created.

After 25 years of painting a wide variety of subjects and styles, Tibor turned to the computer as a new means of expression, creating images that manipulated light and photographs in the creation of interior and exterior environments immediately recognizable and yet totally fabricated. Using the raw material of the Yiddish Theater, some of which is on display to provide a startling comparison, Tibor has again fabricated a totally remarkable world.

This constructed visual world represents for her the collective memory of the Yiddish Theater that was almost totally erased after the war. She remembers vividly her parents’ tales of the Yiddish Theater in Europe that slowly faded in an Israel that turned its back on the Eastern European past, a past that felt shameful and filled with tragedy. The Yiddish Theater in Israel in the late 1940′s and 1950′s was performed only in Hebrew, and Eastern European culture was generally shunned in the Israeli secular public schools where she was educated. She feels that her current work is “closing the circle” of memories lost to the next generation of youth and Sephardim.

Distance and longing are central to her vision in the image of The Dybbuk. A spectral female figure commands the center stage surrounded by a crowd that fills the middle ground. She is frozen in mid-step, a luminous outsider passing through the glum reality behind her. The figure is created digitally by cutting and transposing one figure over an existing image. The entire mysterious scene is further removed from the viewer by the transparent curtain that distorts our vision. S. Anksy’s great masterpiece of Yiddish Theater thus haunts us, invading our consciousness and disturbing our dreams as a dybbuk in search of a resting place.

Mirele Efros is also glimpsed behind a curtained image. Here also Tibor has rearranged the figures and, through the means of the partially transparent scrim, has manipulated the characters to her own ends. The relationship between the mother and her daughter-in-law (played by Ida Kaminska and her daughter Ruth Turgow) is strangely shifted as the daughter-in-law is emphasized by her centrality and light, even as the scrim obscures her face. This is echoed by the fact that each of the characters is partially obscured and immersed in their own thoughts. The psychological drama is thus vividly evoked as playing out on the other side of a visual barrier imposed by the artist. The viewer feels as trapped on this side of the scrim as the frozen characters on the other side.

Tibor breaks through this barrier in three singular images from Chomesh Songs. The material she uses is from the contemporary Yiddishpiel Theater in Tel Aviv in 1990. Each is a radically different image showcasing the artist’s skills. In one (40 x 20) a girl in a colorful costume is distantly glimpsed through a crack in a digital door. She and a black and white companion peer out at us as if we were on stage, expected to perform. The next image shatters a scene of four players with a vertical slicer as if the theatrical reality had been shredded to conceal its identity. Even though all the parts are properly arranged, the viewer must constantly reconstruct the image much in the same way that Yiddish Theater performed today feels like an oddly reconstructed vision of the past.

The past looms even more emphatically in the third image (40 x 30) of Chomesh Songs. Two costumed figures face us bravely in the midst of speaking or singing directly to the audience. In the context of the other exhibition prints, they are alarmingly direct, perhaps because looming behind them Tibor has placed their negative images, devoid of color and twice their size. This negative presence completely alters our understanding of the stage performance by suggesting that in the Yiddish Theater, each actor and each character casts a kind of negative shadow of performances and performers long gone. It is almost as if no matter how contemporary a performance may seem, the past with its glorious memories haunts the present day stage,
confusing and complicating what we witness.

Shimale’s Dream brings us to the very edge of pathos by placing the lead character, seen in what must be heartfelt song, between two stately columns. This formal frame, coolly lit in the foreground with a bluish light, isolates, flattens and emotionally crushes the performance we glimpse. The artist has made us painfully aware of two distinct worlds that may never coincide.
Today’s theater, represented by the realistically lit columns, is seen as pristine and empty. Seen behind the contemporary reality is an emotional performance that we know would move us to tears, if we could only reach it.

Shulamit Tibor’s remarkable prints explore the complexities of the contemporary audience’s relationship with the Yiddish Theater. Fueled by childhood memories of that which was already out of reach, Tibor’s longing to connect with the Yiddish Theater is the engine of her creativity. For us, the curtain may never be fully opened. Indeed, no matter how much we may try, it seems you can’t go home anymore.


Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


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