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The Jewish Museum, Berlin (Daniel Libeskind).            






’Everything tilts…’ Like the set of the film, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Cagliari’, one of the earliest experimental films and (like the experimental Jewish Museum) also an act of mourning (as well as a warning) - mourning another, prior, Holocaust, World War I and its disastrous aftermath – part of which… the rise of Fascism. Everything tilts.


In the (new) building everything tilts. Even the slashes that appear to have assaulted it from the outside, making it appear as if a victim of a crazed knife attack (if not an attempt to saw a way out from within…).


Late-modernist design elements (not least ‘deconstructive’ forms) often do not ‘work’ (that is, they mean a lot less than their designers would like them to; see Paris, Park de la Villette, by Tschumi, for example): but this one does. The details throughout are thought through and meaningful, yet in an open, non-dogmatic (nor non-naive) open-ended manner… A general sense of instability and discontinuity prevails, a map made up of broken lines and incomplete spaces, or discontinuous patterns, abrupt changes of direction – performed by the building design (the means of expression) as coded even into the smallest things and every feature, radical discontinuity, and a general sense of brokenness… and loss. The zig-zag and the blind alley. A line of history … broken. The places of absence; lit and unlit. A reconstruction of a culture… lost.


Garden of Exile: everything tilts… Looking up: and indeed heaven awaits, green as the Garden of Eden and equally far away, equally out of reach. The grid of pillars, ‘pillars of’ order and reason, are experienced as… destabilising, uncomfortable. In fact another’s reason, here abstract and dominant, leaves us at the bottom, looking up (looking up for our Reason), as Kafka’s supplicant before the Law, we, down here, below the light,  down among one of the less welcome aspects of the Enlightenment, the worship of reason,  - without asking (and so hiding), whose reason… Whose? And so to what ends? Whose ends? Nor ours anyway, we feel as we look up. Looking up at the long climb up to the green world of promise, as we subsist in a concrete maze, in all its rational disposition a product of reason, yet skew-if… all at angles, both right (rational, 90 degree) and unreal (irrational in slant), not our reason, not rational then, not conducive to us… here at the base of order, seeing the foundations which are uneven, grid and cube all entirely inimical. Contrasted to the lure of green branches and sunlight above, the garden of the heavens, the place of ideals, all still above… but distant… so mourning this distance, this loss. In exile from the Garden.


Tower: (Again) Looking up: inexorably, as with a Greek temple, or a Gothic interior, the eyes are drawn upwards… but here the hypsosis is negative, the eye raising to the heavens is replaced by a shock, a black, lightless, even light absorbing (or so it seems) space above us, blocking out the light and foreclosing our lines of sight… Chimney… the smoke of our thought, with our eyes, rising up, to be blocked by … absence, the swirling smoke that blocks out ingress of light and exit of our thoughts to a higher place… a strange not-space where the heavens should be, where heaven should be… all disappears… foreclosure on the easiest answer to death and loss, the comfort of religion… non-such on offer…  The thin line of natural light permitted in acts as a safety light, or a bed-side light, something to help infants go to sleep… sole hope against the total encroachment of night. This slim entry of light is, ironically, in part responsible for the very blackness of the sky place… as absence… The corner light makes the space where the sky should be all the darker… Black sky with no reflection, like gazing upon the surface of a Black Hole, knowing that nothing we see there, comes from there… comes from anywhere. Like looking at the process from the wrong end. Irreversible (like history). Irredeemable?


Perhaps, but certainly memoralisable, and for the best of reasons, not only that of memory… the past claiming its share of the present; but also a warning… the best use of memory and memorials, in life, is to prevent the worst.


Memorial, Museum… or Theatre (site of ritual). The entrance to the main collection may well be through an underground passage… but the staff and others (scenery, props) leave through the surface level… like a theatre then, where the spectators (or in ritual terms, participants) observe one process of preparation; and the workers, the illusionists, quite another…But what is performed?  A history play. A repetition of an origin which has been (partly) lost. A representation, re-evocation (tropically speaking, a prosopopoiea) the calling up of what is absent… (lost, or dead).






In complete contrast to the sense of loss that pervades the permanent collection… When I visited (2011) there was a special exhibition; ‘Radical Jewish Culture: the Music Scene in New York, from 1990’ in which music provided a strong positive element… In effect an exhibition of ‘Radical Jewish Music’, as Klesmer meets Jazz and avant-garde experimentation… (John Zorn, after Ornette Coleman et al). Always life-enhancing and positive; a living, creative tradition that lives on, today … in new forms… the latest (at the time, 1990s), fusion of post-modern recycling, creative fusion, or hybridity… Also another re-birth of the Jazz tradition, this time due to fusion of ‘folk’ themes and modes with (Miles Davis type) experimental Jazz  - in its re-fusion of one of the ‘fusion’ styles that replaced that avant-garde… by a new avant-garde. and so the process of ‘colliding’ style\s, a veritable Hadron Collider of creativity, continues. An almost unlistenable, abstract tradition produces surprisingly listenable, even joyous, music… The (partial) antidote to Late-modern mourning; Post-modern creativity.







© Peter Nesteruk, 2011