With her works for our art vending machines, Deborah Wargon exposes things that got swept under the rug
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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When I first heard that the Jewish congregation of Pinneberg is giving “church asylum” to a Muslim, I had to chuckle. The article about it in the online magazine Migazin put the words “church asylum” in quotation marks and used a picture of the dome of the synagogue on Berlin’s Oranienburger Straße – making the linking together of the three monotheistic religions appear intentional.
But now I heard from a friend that there’s a film about the Kiddush asylum at the Pinneberg congregation for a man from the Sudan, and I had to wonder why “church asylum” isn’t “synagogue asylum”.
The Kiddush is a blessing spoken over a goblet of wine at the beginning of a holy day, in order to sanctify the day. Church asylum, as I learned from the film, is actually about a sacred room that protects people who are under threat. The Jewish congregation in Pinneberg has one such room. And it is encouraging to hear – as the head of the congregation explains in the film – why they are using this space to protect a person, at least temporarily, from persecution.
Rosa Fava, director of the “Diversity in Schools” project
in Conversation with Emile Schrijver, Curator of the Braginsky Collection
What made you decide to be curator of a manuscript collection?
When I studied Hebrew in Amsterdam, a lecturer took us to see the University of Leiden’s collection of medieval manuscripts. In the impressive vaults, I saw ancient manuscripts for the first time: the only manuscript of the Jerusalem Talmud (Yerushalmi), for instance, and one of the earliest Rashi manuscripts. Seeing these ancient sources, and gaining first-hand experience of living history, was overwhelming. Historical books had a strong effect on me. I subsequently studied at the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, the Jewish library at the University of Amsterdam, where I later began to work. A few years ago, Mr. Braginsky was looking for a curator for his first exhibition in Europe. Mutual acquaintances from the international circle of manuscript specialists put us in touch with one another. We got along well and were soon able to establish a good, trusting working relationship
What do you do as a curator of the Braginsky Collection?
Emile Schrijver and the Harrison Miscellany © and photo: Darko Todorovic, Dornbirn (A)
I take care of the collection. I am responsible for Mr. Braginsky’s new acquisitions and for his existing objects. Most new acquisitions are delivered with a short description. Others we describe and photograph, before adding them to our inventory. I carefully examine the books’ condition and, if necessary, commission their restoration. I’m also responsible for monitoring the climate in the storerooms. Inquiries concerning exhibitions and reproductions are a lot of work for us. The process of digitizing our stock is ongoing. Occasionally, scholars wish to view specific works at length. We also organize presentations on our own premises, on behalf of the European Association of Jewish Museums, for example. Public relations for events such as the Jewish Book Week in London in 2013 likewise require a great deal of preparation.
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