Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jüdisches Museum in Berlin - Obedience - part one

Image courtesy of Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway
    
Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."
 -Bob Dylan

     When I was asked to be a part of the exhibition at the Jüdisches Museum in Berlin we had spoken through Skype and the overall idea of the exhibit was explained to me.  They determined that the exhibition would be of Abraham and Isaac or the Akeda as reflected through the Hebrew and Christian bible as well as the Qur'an.  One of the beautiful aspects in working with Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway is that they have a firm idea of where the overall exhibit should end up, but they also allow the artists to take ownership of their own artwork and give them the freedom to understand and work within their own strengths.  Essentially they know what you can do and simply ask you to do it. 
Image courtesy of Art Blue
      So let me start off by saying that I am not religious.  I am not against religion, it just simply was not a part of my life growing up.  I had said to someone the other day that when Ebola was destroying families and lives in Africa, it was not people like me who rushed over to help those in need.  The people who held the hands of dying children, at risk to themselves, often were religious.  If religion can help create that type of empathy in the world then it is a good thing.  However, there are also those who commit atrocities in the name of a God.  When I look at religion I don't paint it with a broad brush as either good or evil, but rather recognize that there are far too many degrees of religious devotion from someone simply trying to be a good person and following some teachings from the Bible, to those who are fanatically religious to the point where it is a form of insanity.  So at those times when I have been in contact with religion, be that weddings, funerals or what have you, at those times I am generally an observer.  When the priest asks the room to bow their head, close their eyes and repeat a prayer I am usually in the back watching the room.
Image courtesy of Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway
     So the first thing I did when I prepared to build a virtual space for the museum was to look with a bit more depth at the story of Abraham and Isaac, which I was already mildly familiar with.  Essentially God wishes to test Abraham's faith by asking/commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac.  When God is convinced Abraham will do this deed his sends an Angel to stop him at the last moment.  I am going to do some more posts on the story and the modernized version I wrote, but first I have to explain the initial and almost immediate issue I came across.  You see, in my research I found two variations of what God said to Abraham.  In one he says "Take your son, your only son, whom you love--Isaac--and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you."  But then I discovered that in Hebrew it is written “kakh na”.  Kakh alone is a command to “Take” but when combined with “na” it changes into a request or question  “Please take” or “Will you take”.  So then it could also be translated as "Will you take your son, your only son, whom you love--Isaac--and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you." 
Image courtesy of Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway
     To me, this was a very important distinction to make.  If God commands Abraham to kill his son then that is a God with a certain type of personality trait.  However if God asks Abraham whether he would kill his son for him.. then it puts the onus on Abraham to decide, and ideally to refuse to do so.  And conceivably God might be pleased that Abraham did not follow his command with blind obedience.  God - would you do this if I asked you? Abraham - no sorry I wouldn't do that God - good.

     Since I am somewhat of an obsessive type when beginning projects, I decided to ask a variety of Priests and Rabbi if this part were in fact a command or question.  The results were a bit surprising in that many would immediately state that it were a command, but then after I pressed them with the idea that it could be a question they would then kind of look at it anew and begin to become interested in that possibility.  In most cases though, the consensus was that it was indeed a command while some did feel it was a very polite one.  So long story short, the modernized narrative I created is based on the idea
Jo Ellsmere
that God commands Isaac to kill his son as a test of faith.  I have been asked to explain in detail the composition of this artwork for a class, so I will do a few more posts over the next  few weeks moving through the build and explaining the choice of scenes as well as the technical reason for designing it the way it is.  This build in particular, had to be created to walk the line between being newbie friendly (the vast majority of visitors to the Museum have never seen a virtual space before and first must learn to walk) as well as being interesting for the experienced Second Life user who expects.. no demands a certain level of sophistication when exploring an artwork.

And I will end this post with Iono Allens wonderful machinima of the work.

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