Perplexing legacy

With her works for our art vending machines, Deborah Wargon exposes things that got swept under the rug

portrait of Deborah Wargon

Portrait of Deborah Wargon © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Gelia Eisert

A cordial welcome, the wafting flavors of a freshly-cooked meal, a light-drenched room with a high ceiling, full of brightly-colored books and pictures, and a piano with a sign-post ‘to Australia’ sitting on it… My first encounter with Deborah Wargon in her live-in atelier in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood is a far cry from the rather severe, somber associations that the term ‘testament enforcer’ brings up for me. Wargon – a musician as well as visual and theater artist born in Melbourne in 1962 – describes herself this way on the package insert that comes with the small-scale artworks that she created for the art vending machine in our permanent exhibition. Those artworks bear the title “The Legacy of Friede Traurig” – where Friede Traurig doubles as a proper name and, in German, to mean peace sorrowful. And Deborah Wargon, who is best known for her paper cuttings inside former insect cases, says that she would rather be sorrowful.

With a little good luck, you may get one of her works from the vending machine: for instance, a little human figurine made of rail track ballast (gravel), wire, and newspaper. Aside from the expressive name Friede Traurig, the materials invoke woeful stories of train transports and barbed wire fences, particularly because the newspapers she used are from the Second World War. But for the artist, it’s clearly not only about the specific time the Nazis were in power and the Shoah. It’s also about the legacies, the inheritance, the stories that we all carry with us. She explains her choice of materials: “For me, wire is a fascinating material. It’s also used for cages. So you can use to suggest the ways that we’re all captive.” The rail track gravel, which normally lies on the ground, relates for Wargon to the ground that we all walk on, as descendants of the people who came before us. “Besides, in both German and English there’s the expression ‘to sweep something under the rug’”. The gravel, or grit, that we bring into the house on the soles of our shoes, and then sweep under the rug, stands for something that we don’t want to face and deal with.

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Best Blog Award

Logo of the best blog awardWe received a “Best-Blockstöckchen” with a list of questions from Christopher and Johannes, co-authors of “Koschere Melange”, one of our very fave blogs. We = the two Mirjams (on which matter see “Names have meaning“) who have edited the blog since its inception were highly delighted but unfortunately, what with summer vacations and all, it took us somewhat longer than usual to compile our answers. Now, here they are:

1. Who blogs? And why?

Here, our colleagues at the Jewish Museum Berlin blog about topics dear to their hearts, about questions that crop up for them or others and about stuff that might otherwise be overlooked.
We blog, because we are repeatedly confronted, in our daily work, with questions, discoveries, or thoughts that we like to share.

2. What makes a (very) good blog (very) good?

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On Lovable Old Coots and “a kind of infection” Called Love

A Birthday Tribute to an Inquisitive Storyteller

Book cover "Juden und Worte" with a picture two armchairs

Book cover of the German edition of “Jews and Words”
© Jüdischer Verlag im Suhrkamp Verlag

On the occasion of his 75th birthday on 4 May, we wish to congratulate Amos Oz, a great writer who visited the Jewish Museum Berlin no less than twice last year. The award-winning Israeli author—he has received, inter alia, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1992) and, more recently, the Franz Kafka Prize for Literature (2013)—and his daughter, the historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, presented their jointly written book Jews and Words (2012) here last October. In four highly entertaining chapters, “secular Jewish Israelis” draw on the genealogy of reading and writing to trace historical continuity in Jewish traditions. They ask which female poet may have penned the Song of Solomon, reflect on other “vocal women,” and philosophize on matters such as the importance of time and the interplay of collectivism and individuality.

A house between trees

Building in a real kibbutz, photo: Mirjam Bitter
Creative Commons License

In March 2013, Amos Oz paid a visit to the Museum wearing his literary author’s hat, so to speak, to present his latest publication Between Friends (2013, Hebr. original Be’in Khaverim 2012). The eight interconnected short stories in the volume are set in the fictitious Kibbutz Yekhat and immediately attest the author’s familiarity with kibbutz life. Oz left his intellectual father’s home for a kibbutz at the age of fourteen and a half, and lived and worked there for three decades. His descriptions of typical kibbutz settings—the communal laundry, kitchen, and dining room, the cowsheds and chicken coops, huge orchards and swimming pool—instantly made me feel at home, too, since I lived for a while on a kibbutz in the late 1990s. Discussions at Yekhat about the children’s house, on the other hand, situate the action specifically in the 1950s, the Golden Age of kibbutzim.

The stories deal with the universal constants of human nature: love, loneliness, and the struggle to make major decisions in life.  continue reading