Opening speech on the exhibition “Ways of Jewish history”
With works by Irina Gerschmann on 16. March 2017 at the town hall Erlangen
“Irina Gerschmanns Ways of Jewish history – a Journey to Identity”
Dr. Kerstin F. M. Blum
From me dark dance music,
My soul cracks in a thousand pieces;
The devil gets my mishap,
To push it to the broadband heart.
The roses are flying out of my hair
And my life rushes on all sides,
So I’ve been dancing for a thousand years,
Since my first ages.
In her poem “Mein Tanzlied”, the German-Jewish poet else Lasker-pupil ¹ describes the tension between the female individual and the social order with a powerful intensity of words. As in the religious ecstasy of a dervish dance, the lyrical I is delivered to the fateful circle movement, the individual fragments “in a thousand pieces” as it has been happening since “a thousand years, since my first Eternals”.
The words of the poet make images appear in the listener’s head. Huge images, intense images, powerfully coloured images of an unrestrained wild dancing woman, a woman who becomes the symbol of a millennia culture, in the center of a powerful grinding stream from which she cannot escape. A woman with roses in her flying hair. A woman whose soul splinters into many small colored mosaic stones. A woman who stands in the midst of life and is shrouded in eternal destiny. When I look at Irina Gerschmanns women’s painting “On her Way”, “Perspicientia” or “Liberata est”, I inevitably get the comparison with else Laske-pupil’s poem.
¹ 1869-1945, representative of avant-garde modernism and expressionism in literature. Kleist Price 1932
In search of their own Jewish, female identities, both artists expand their search for identity, explore parallels to the lives of other female protagonists, and seek to open up a nine-way access to their roots, which is also in their journey to itself.
For Irina Gerschmann, the confrontation with his own history also means the confrontation with her Jewish heritage and the realization of being a small mosaic stone in the long way of Jewish history. The large-format textile collage “The Train of Jewish history” from the year 2008, which you can marvel at here, was by far not the first work in which Irina Gerschmann dealt with her Jewish heritage. However, it is certainly the most complex and is at the beginning of an intensive occupation with a complex of topics in which the artist is very much located.
When her focus was more outward in earlier years, the artist’s gaze is now increasingly turning inward. She takes roles by grappling with archetypes and stereotypes. It puts itself into new contexts by transplanting its historical and artistic alter egos into new environments. It goes distance to itself by setting the level of the visual artist. She looks at the overview by looking at the data and facts of her inherited culture. She studies her role models in art, culture and history and effortlessly combines them into new personal pictorial stories. If you believe in a picture a homage to El Greco or to Botticelli to discover, you see correctly. As an academically trained artist, Gerschmann uses her role models. She plays with the mixture of familiar and new, and challenges the viewer to decipher the stories behind the images. The original context of the loans, as well as the personal context of the modern artist, are incorporated and the new pictorial language is created.
Irina Gerschmanns both worlds, fashion and the visual arts, combine in her work into a new art form in which portraits, still lifes, acts and landscapes turn into Abstraktornamentalen compositions. When I look at the oeuvre of Irina Gerschmann, I see a variety of different works that seem to have little in common at first sight. I see works that are in themselves the currents of different cultures, genera, fabric and motif circles. Irina Gerschmann herself says: “When I have worked in textile for a while, I long for canvas and paint, when I have worked with paint, I am craving to draw.” From this quote speaks the passion of the versatile artist to express herself in the materials and techniques of her profession. Be it the simple immediacy of the drawing, the storm of your shining paintings or the woven complexity of your textile collages.
The monumental work “The Train of Jewish history” of 2008 is oriented in its combination of narrowly described text and pictorial scenes from the history of the Jewish people strongly in the detailed thought of the transfer of knowledge of the tradition of “Biblia Pauperum “Who in the Christian Middle Ages should bring to people who were not aware of reading the biblical stories. And in fact, the detailed illustrations can be read like pictorial stories, which summarize several thousand years of the history of the Jewish people in individual episodes. In densely consecutive scenic representations Irina Gerschmann tells of important stations of Jewish history, from the origins to the present day, from the dispersion into the diaspora to the 21st century. Century. Kaleidoscope are cited as key scenes from historical events, rites and customs and interpreted artistically in the style of the individual epochs. Names and portraits of important personalities of the world culture of art, music, literature, philosophy and religion, economy and technology merge into large-scale image units, which the viewer experiences as an abstract form play – or as an informative Image text flow can be decrypted.
The withdrawn colour and the sparingly used, symbolicly charged colour accents also give an impression of old and historical weight. Due to the overwhelmingly oversized design and the organic flow of pictorial narration, the comparison with early fresco depictions of the last judgement, such as Nardo di Ciones frescoes in the cappella Strozzi in Florence, is also very useful. .
If you look back even further, you will come across the amazing Jewish frescoes of the synagogue of Dura-Europos, an ancient city in present-day Syria. Century after Christ belonged to the Roman Empire. Dura-Europos is therefore of particular importance as it is the only preserved ancient synagogue painted with figural mural painting. The frescoes can be seen today at the National Museum of Damascus and it is to be hoped that they will survive these difficult times as well. The murals in the synagogue aroused enormous sensations, because it is the largest antique painting cycle that is preserved. These frescoes are also important in the history of religion, as the Jewish communities there were initially regarded as hostile to images. In the Jerusalem Talmud ², however, it is reported that at that time one began to paint the walls of synagogues. At the latest it became clear that the picture ban ³ in Late antiquity, which was pronounced in the Jewish literature, was not understood as absolute. The impulse for representation presumably came from the people, who understood the ban on images less strictly and only rejected cult images. The paintings were tolerated by the rabbis. We can speculate for a long time what older tradition stands behind these image cycles, whether there were other, unpreserved role models or whether they were individual phenomena.
² Mischnatraktat Avoda Sara[Götzendienst] III 3/42A
³ Exodus 20, 4f and Dtn 5, 8f
Perhaps they were born from the need of the believers, who are influenced by a pagan world of images, to make the scriptures graphically independent of the written text. A thought that may be close to the diaspora. In this case, the Bible cycles in Dura-Europos would also be a kind of “Biblia pauperum”.
One can therefore say that Irina Gerschmanns “paths to Jewish history” have a concrete historical role model in the Jewish Bible cycles of Dura-Europos. In the style of old frescoes, the viewer can deepen into the artistic dense artistic portrayal and lose in the precise picture montages. The technique of the material collage, with its play of coarse and fine, harmonious and destroyed structures, emphasizes the materiality and thus the reality of the works vividly and leads both the collective fate of the Jewish people within the great World events, as well as the significance and importance of the individual members of the religious community.
Irina Gerschmanns painted textile collages represent a convincing combination of unfigurative-expressively cut material and material parts and from realistic to abstracting painted independent image elements and picture quotations. They offer the viewer the experience of moving freely between several layers of images and multi-layered pictorial spaces, thus providing a multitude of personal impressions and images, in order to focus on the effect and the statement of the overall compositions Engage. The works oscillate between linearly constructed Tableaus, which recall in their muted colour and organic structure of cave portraits, expressive monochrome drawings as well as expressive pictorial colour explosions, which are related to the construction and The resolution of patterns and structures. The textile design background, the familiarity with materiality and the language of the fabric, enable Irina Gerschmann to weave her own contribution into the fabric of history.
The younger, Kleinformatigeren works, which Irina Gerschmann now shows in the context of this exhibition, have in comparison a reduced pictorial language. However, the relationship to the model is clear: fabric residues are applied to a substrate of fabric, supplemented by simple drawings. In addition, small objects such as safety pins, sewing needles or small amulets are added to the new works, which are comments on the production of the works of art and one of the historically accepted professions for people of Jewish faith. Thread and string already played a role in “The Eternal Procession of Jewish history”, so they are now moving to the fore. Perhaps inspired by the history of the Swiss franc-born inventor of the blue jeans Levis Strauss, to whom the artist living in Middle Franconia dedicated a work, Gerschmann now also uses denim fabric. The dominant colours of the new cycle are thus blue and red – two colours, which still have a great importance in Judaism. In the Torah, the Israelites are called upon to dye the threads of their Tallit in remembrance of God in heaven with the indigo Blue extracted from the crimson snail. Scarlet and Carmine, on the other hand, symbolize the blood and thus life. Accordingly, red and blue wool threads are drawn by some of Gerschmanns small pieces of history. The strips and cords of the Tallit become a basic design element in Gerschmanns pictorial language and the red or blue thread of narration. The sky and the blood of Judaism determine the cycle not only in terms of content but also visually.
In addition to the interpretations of Western stories, Irina Gerschmann also deals with themes of passion such as Calvary and the Judas ‘ kiss in her works. But also scenes of everyday life, the relationship between man and woman as well as her childhood in Odessa employ the artist thematically and find input into her works.
The path of Jewish history is a way of migration, the search for the better life. Because of her own immigrant background, Irina Gerschmann is able to understand this aspect well – the small feeling of strangeness, even after all these years, which is revealed not least by the charming accent. “We ourselves call ourselves ‘ newcomers ‘ or ‘ immigrants ‘.” With these words, Hannah Arendt 1943 begins her essay “We Refugees”. It analyses the position of refugees, the situation of people whose lives are reduced to pure existence, which exist in a legally grey zone and depend on the benevolence – or arbitrariness – of other people. Arendt refers in her text to the Jews who had fled to the United States before the Nazi regime. It is particularly evident in our time today that your words can generally be related to the situation of refugees and many migrants. Refugee status brings with it the reduction of a complex life with all its experiences and hopes for the status of the refugee – including the implied social devaluation. Arendt describes the traumatic devaluation of life so far in a situation in which one needs all the strength to face the challenges of exile in order to build a new life, because the old one had to leave behind.
Social issues such as “how important is the place where I live?”, “What is Homeland?” or “What gives me identity?” push to the fore. Emotions such as fear, frustration and the need for success insulate the creative fire, which is especially necessary for the artist. Nothing is more valuable for a person with an idea than the inclined look, the benevolent place, the interested attention. For this reason, we have come together today – in order to let Irina Gerschmann work on us with open senses, to open up new thoughts and topics and to enter into dialogue. The pictorial language, the ornamentation, the technique, the themes. These are all aspects that characterise Irina Gerschmann’s works, as well as how they have shaped their lives.
In Germany, we know – exaggeratedly – only Catholics and Protestants, other religious communities fall into the realm of the unknown, their religious and cultural customs are alien. What is strange is often perceived as disturbing, even frightening. What is strange is being rejected and hostile again just today. Especially in the case of Jewish culture and religion, this is a major omission, especially in Germany. Yes, we have dealt with our history, we have knowledge of the historical situation. Prejudices are, as you know, not degraded by impersonal facts. Only the personal interpersonal contact is able to create differences from the world, to reduce fears and to make the stranger familiar.
A few years ago I had the honour to lead the descendants of displaced Jews through my residence Adelsdorf in the district of Erlangen-Höchstadt, through the place where their ancestors had grown up, through the place which had expelled their ancestors. I have to confess, I was very nervous – what if I unwittingly step into fat wells? What if I snub your Jewish culture and religion in my ignorance? My worries were unfounded. We met as human beings, exchanged ourselves openly and also very emotionally, and our lives were then richer in profound experience.
The annual motto of the Societies for Christian-Jewish cooperation, which also includes the week of Brotherhood, is “Now go and learn”. This also includes overcoming our uncertainties, our prejudices and our fears of the stranger. The fear of a foreign culture, of a different religion, of a millennia history, of an unknown and complex art.
This exhibition brings together the entire range of creativity of an extremely versatile artist, whose works at first glance irritate and overwhelm in their diversity and in their detail-loving intensity. The unifying artistic element of the works is the love of the creators of artistic expression in line, form, colour and material, while in substance they are completely researching the interpersonal in general and against the backdrop of the eternal Repeating history of humanity and its personal history.
“Jewishness means to be carried by the flow of the ancient Jewish River, which continues to flow. The journey continues “says the Polish-American Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg.
Now follow Irina Gerschmann and her journey on the Paths of Jewish history.
Dr. Kerstin F. M. Blum
(Comparative literature, Italian, English) Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg/University of South Carolina