Tag Archives: Ilya Schor

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-10

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

We began on December 5 and every other day since we have posted a grouping of contributions on A Year of Positive Thinking. We thank our contributors and readers for living through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

This is the last post of the final issue.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor

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Susan Bee

This final issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G brings back memories of our first issue, which came out in December 1986. At that time, I was a young artist and a new mother, working at freelance jobs as an editor and graphic designer. I had a baby at home and was full of optimism. Emma was born in May of 1985 and tragically she died 23 years later in 2008. I was 33 when she was born and Mira and I started to think of starting our own arts publication.

Susan Bee, "Non Finito," 2016. Oil on linen, 24" x 30".

Susan Bee, “Non Finito,” 2016. Oil on linen, 24″ x 30″.

In 1992, I had my first solo painting show, when I was 40-years-old. Now, I’m almost 65 and nearing the traditional retirement age with a 24-year-old son, Felix, and a 40-year marriage to the poet Charles Bernstein. I have been a member of the vibrant all-women artist’s collective, A.I.R. Gallery, for 20 years and will have a solo show of new paintings there in March 2017. I have been teaching, publishing artist’s books, and showing my art for many years.

This election has sent me into a tailspin. I hoped to be greeting a woman president in my lifetime, and now the possibility seems remote and I am heartbroken to be facing the next four years of this administration. As a secular Jewish feminist, artist, and professor, the future in this country that my immigrant artist parents, refugees from Berlin and Palestine, came to in 1947, looks bleaker than it did just a short time ago on Election Day. Since that day, I have been taking refuge in viewing art. Through the contemplation of art and poetry, I have been trying to escape the isolation and desolation of the present moment. I know that we need to fight on and that I need to work with my community to create a strong push back to the hatred and bigotry that surrounds us. My optimism is being sorely tested by the hatred that has been empowered in this country.

Susan Bee, "Afraid to Talk," 2016. Oil, enamel, and sand on linen, 24" x 30".

Susan Bee, “Afraid to Talk,” 2016. Oil, enamel, and sand on linen, 24″ x 30″.

Now, my 30-year editorial partnership with Mira is coming to an end. However, I have no plans to retire from art and life. I am grateful that we had the opportunity to publish over a hundred critics, poets, and artists. Hopefully, the artists, writers, and other creative spirits, who have nourished our project, M/E/A/N/I/N/G, for all these years, will continue to lead the way forward and point us to a future that will enrich us all.

November 2016

Susan Bee, "Pow," 2014. Oil, enamel, and sand on canvas, 30" x 24"

Susan Bee, “Pow,” 2014. Oil, enamel, and sand on canvas, 30″ x 24″

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Mira Schor

Written during the Preoccupation: Activism, Heroism, and Art.

A week after the election, a cold heavy rain struck New York in a kind of climatic embodiment of our political shock and misery. Wearing the depressing New York winter uniform of black down coat for the first time of the season, huddled in the small doorway of a fortune teller’s establishment on Lexington Avenue, I waited for a bus and I thought about what I would write about for this final issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G.

My first instinct was to consider the role of activism in relation to being an artist but immediately my mind made a leap from activism to heroism. In the seconds between these two words, I was in tears as two stories I had been told by my mother since my childhood sprang to mind, one of political bravery, the other of personal bravery.

Please bear with me as I retell these stories, because they frame my ideas about the role of activism and the role of art and the artist in a moment of political necessity for activism.

To begin with, the story of personal bravery: my mother was very proud of her friendship with one of the most important Jewish families in pre-war Poland, that of Rabbi Moses Schorr, a religious leader, a historian, and the first Jewish member of the Polish Senate. The Schorrs (no relation) were kind, wealthy, generous, noble in bearing and behavior. At the outbreak of WWII Rabbi Schorr fled Poland towards the East where he was captured, imprisoned, and tortured by the Russians, dying in a Russian labor camp in 1941 (for more on the relation of Russia with Germany at that time, with interesting echoes in recent weeks, see here). Rabbi Schorr’s daughters survived the war, and I knew one of them well, Fela, a beautiful, kind, imperious, and broken woman, all at once. The story I was told by my mother though I never spoke of it with Fela herself, was that Fela and her mother along with Fela’s two small sons and her small nephew, all children under the age of 10, were imprisoned by the Gestapo in France. It was announced that children who were orphans would not be deported to Auschwitz so Fela and her elderly mother determined to commit suicide. Her mother took poison and died, Fela jumped out a window but survived and was saved and sheltered by doctors until the end of the war a few months later. She and the three children in her care survived the war.

The circumstances of the story were hard to believe, because it made no sense that orphans would be spared deportation and because of the cruelty of the promise, but the randomness of genocide was embedded in my consciousness as well as the emblem of maternal courage. [This story is true, you can read more here.]

The story of political bravery was embodied for me in the name Bartoszek. Franciszek Bartoszek was a friend of my parents from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. He was a painter. And he was Polish. That is to say, he was not Jewish. This was central to the story, because that was a primary distinction my mother always made, a paradox at the center of her own patriotism. If she described someone simply as Polish she also was indicating that they were not Jewish, and it meant that Bartoszek’s bravery was motivated by more than personal survival. When my mother showed me the picture of him she always told me that he was a hero. She would tell me that he would risk his life just to bring a poor woman some small amount of butter. Her admiration for him was such that I have never been able to say his name without being overcome with tears, the emotional outlet of my more fierce and stoic mother. When I was able to research him online, the story was verified: Bartoszek was a renowned Polish patriot and hero of the Polish resistance, who died in a military action in Warsaw in 1943.

From l. to r., Ilya Schor, unknown woman, Franciszek Bartoszek, Paris, 1937.

From l. to r., Ilya Schor, unknown woman, Franciszek Bartoszek, Paris, 1937.

I have photographs of him with my father. They are in a park in Paris sometime shortly before the war, most likely in 1937. The photos are very small, so I blew up a detail of one to try to decipher if one could see the courage to come in the face of the man in the time approaching the crisis. When I sent this picture to Luka Rayski, a Polish artist who translated for me a stele erected in Poland in Bartoszek’s honor, he wrote back that it was “so hard to imagine, those last pre-war years.” But I thought no, it is not hard to imagine that time. Not, I hasten to add, that I think another Holocaust is coming, yet we are in such a time, a time I call the Preoccupation.

Photo detail, Bartoszek, Paris, c. 1937; Stele installed in Czarnow in 1964: Franciszek Bartoszek, “Jacek” [code name “Jack”] Born October 27, 1910 in Pieranie, spent his youth in Czarnow, Painter, Ardent Patriot, Colonel of People’s Guard, Died fighting Hitlerist occupiers, May 15, 1943 in Warsaw.

Photo detail, Bartoszek, Paris, c. 1937; Stele installed in Czarnow in 1964: Franciszek Bartoszek, “Jacek” [code name “Jack”] Born October 27, 1910 in Pieranie, spent his youth in Czarnow, Painter, Ardent Patriot, Colonel of People’s Guard, Died fighting Hitlerist occupiers, May 15, 1943 in Warsaw.

Years ago a non-Jewish friend of mine told me that she often wondered whether people would have saved her if she was a Jew during WWII. I found this strange since she was not Jewish and did not have my family’s history of the Shoah. More importantly, I had never really asked myself that question, not only because I couldn’t bear to contemplate the answer, but mostly because I was so consumed by its corollary opposite, that is, would I have the courage to risk my life in order to save someone else or in defense of a cause? From a very early age I was totally aware that if that was the test, I would fail.

The sine qua non of resistance is that you have to be prepared to die for freedom, even though of course there is a big gap between marching on Trump Tower holding “Pussy Power” signs and prison or death.

If heroism is summoned as the ultimate necessity for freedom, nevertheless practically speaking most of us who care about what is going on are considering activism. It is quite striking how many people at all levels of society are mobilizing, from the political leaders of the state of California to artists in New York City mobilizing to provide imagery and objects for the Women’s March on D.C. and beyond.

Susan and I decided to start M/E/A/N/I/N/G in 1986, during the Reagan administration. I remember the precise moment—standing near the corner of West Broadway and Canal Street in December 1980, a month after Reagan had been elected and a few days after John Lennon had been killed—when I had realized that a switch had been flipped. Something was over. If I didn’t grasp the full import of the switch in terms of where we have arrived now, I experienced that every value I had been imbued with had just been turned upside down, including in art. The 1980s was a very contentious decade, highly polemic and divisive but perhaps because of that it was also a bracing and inspiring time during which there was a lot of activism, including responses by artists to the AIDS crisis, to urban gentrification, and to the backlash against second wave feminism. The Guerrilla Girls’ first poster appeared overnight in Soho and Tribeca in 1985, we published the first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G in December 1986. But despite the political polarization, looking back, no matter what happened in politics in the ’80s, I didn’t feel that the end of the world as I had known it was upon us and like Susan I had the optimism that comes from the energy of youthful mid-life and from doing something constructive. I was 36 when we started the magazine. I had been out of art school for 13 years, I had had a full-time teaching job in Canada and had given it up to move back to New York, I had had gallery representation and my first one-person shows in New York and had lost that. M/E/A/N/I/N/G opened up my community and gave me a sense of place in the art world. It has been the only sustained collaboration I have been involved with and the many things Susan and I have in common and the differences between us, as well as the small scale of our operation–two people, two issues a year during our hard copy days–all worked for me. And when we ended our print run in 1996, if anything I felt more optimistic and confident about my own life than I had when we started.

Mira Schor, "Patriotism on the Blood of Women," 1989. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

Mira Schor, “Patriotism on the Blood of Women,” 1989. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

The word of the day in the ’80s was intervention, actions specific to a moment and which did not necessarily seek to become an institution, though inevitably many cultural interventions did. I saw editing M/E/A/N/I/N/G as a kind of activism that I was able to engage in. In that spirit, our final issue is one of many artistic responses to the election and one which, as we have always tried to accomplish in M/E/A/N/I/N/G, is an open format, non-didactic environment for artists, writers, poets, art historians and critics to express their views in any cultural or personal register that means something to them, unrelated to market concerns. As we bring our project to an end after thirty years, we feel it provides one model for long-term activism within an art community. It is small potatoes in terms of major resistance to oppression but it is something that we could do then and now. It did enlarge our community and I think it meant something to the individuals we published, whether professionally or just because they were given the opportunity to think about something and express their views or tell about their work.

Mira Schor," The Self, The work, The World," 2012. Oil and ink on gesso on linen, 18"x30"

Mira Schor,” The Self, The Work, The World,” 2012. Oil and ink on gesso on linen, 18″x30″

My sense of necessity to understand the changes in culture in the ’80s led me to my critical writings and changed the course of my work as an artist, though my work has from the start had a political underpinning, primarily feminist.  Some of my recent works have been visceral responses to the news.  But I also think that other aspects of my artistic heritage and inclinations have political valence, though they might seem to be the opposite of political, that is, that the intimate, the modest, the private, though apparently recessive in a time of spectacle, can be construed as political acts. The artist is a filter between the world and the work, as I tried to indicate in a painting I did in early 2012 right after Occupy Wall Street as I was trying to diagram the place of the private artist during a political upheaval.

MIra Schor, "'Power' Figure: No Dead Enough, 2016. Ink and gesso on tracing paper, 17"x 22 1/2"

Mira Schor, “‘Power’ Figure: Not Dead Enough,” 2016. Ink and gesso on tracing paper, 17″x 22 1/2″

Since the election I’ve noticed the pleasure, indeed the gratitude people have expressed if someone shares a beautiful work of art on social media, not necessarily an outwardly political one. We recognize and value the works that use representation, figuration, and language to openly announce their political intentions, but a painting of a flower, a small abstraction, or an ancient vase can evoke as much humanity as anything more overt and the importance of such works as heroic human activity can be intense.

Susan Bee, A Not So Still Life, 2016. Oil, sand, and enamel on linen, 30" x 24"

Susan Bee, “A Not So Still Life,” 2016. Oil, sand, and enamel on linen, 30″ x 24″

We conceived of this final issue a few days before I stood in that cold rain, during a visit right after the election to the Guggenheim museum to see the Agnes Martin exhibition. I was particularly interested in one small early painting of narrow vertical black and white lines of uneven length. In the face of the impulse, in response to the political atmosphere, for artists to start churning out Guernicas, the smallest of Martin’s abstract paintings packs as much of a punch about human endeavor and heroism as anything that would will itself to make a political statement. Though small, the painting has great tension and drama. To me it represents as much of the power of the universe as a model of the atom and it is heroic in the way that artworks can be, evidence of one individual artist’s search for perfection in a realm that seemingly has no specific utility to daily life.

Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1960.Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Gift of the Bayard and Harriet K. Ewing Collection

Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1960. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Gift of the Bayard and Harriet K. Ewing Collection

On our way up the ramp, we slipped through the keyhole-shaped door into the study library to watch two short films of interviews with Martin, filmed late in her life. It was very intimate to listen to her words in a small room. She spoke about her desire not to work from negativity, her efforts to empty her mind entirely when working, and about the role of inspiration.

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In one film she is shown carefully applying a thin reddish pink wash to the canvas. The soothing concentration on this simple activity generated enough calm and clarity for me that suddenly the puzzle of how to celebrate the 30th anniversary of M/E/A/N/I/N/G which had eluded us earlier in the year was solved: I have a blog, we could use my blog as an initial platform for a spontaneous, short deadline, final issue. I looked at Susan and mouthed, I have an idea. So we end as we began, with a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” production. It is the small activism of giving a few people a place for their voice, and we are grateful to all the artists and writers who found the time to respond to our call.

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Susan Bee and Mira Schor, M/E/A/N/I/N/G, December 1986-December 2016

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We would like to thank our many wonderful contributors to the final issue: Alexandria Smith, Altoon Sultan, Ann McCoy, Aviva Rahmani, Aziz+Cucher, Bailey Doogan, Beverly Naidus, Bradley Rubenstein, Charles Bernstein, Christen Clifford, Deborah Kass, Elaine Angelopoulos, Erica Hunt, Erik Moskowitz + Amanda Trager, Faith Wilding, Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Johanna Drucker, Joseph Nechvatal, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Julie Harrison, Kate Gilmore, Legacy Russell, Lenore Malen, LigoranoReese, Mary D. Garrard, Martha Wilson, Matthew Weinstein, Maureen Connor, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Nancy K. Miller, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer, Peter Rostovsky, Rachel Owens, Rit Premnath, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson, Sharon Louden, Sheila Pepe, Shirley Kaneda, Susanna Heller, Suzy Spence, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Tatiana Istomina, Toni Simon, William Villalongo.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

All of the installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking can be accessed by hitting the “older” button at the bottom of this post and they will be made available as a PDF on M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online.

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My generation and Paris

We were born in the safe interval between catastrophes. Which is worse? To have been born in a catastrophic moment and live life at all times informed by danger, fear, and the necessities of bare survival, or to have been born in a moment and place of relative safety and bounty. My generation, many of us the children of war refugees, Holocaust survivors, war survivors in Europe, or of survivors of the Great Depression, was steeped in the history of the previous catastrophic era, but we grew up in a golden moment of post-war middle class relative security and cultural possibility. Now darkness descends: fascism, austerity, poverty, war, extremism, the eradication of symbols of civilization by men and the eradication, by men, of the planet as a site for human existence. Is it worse for us born in an illusory moment of security or for those beginning their lives, born into a transitional moment of lingering entitlement but growing desperation?

Among responses to what happened yesterday evening in Paris, are shock, horror, grief, but also a condemnation of the West for its causative historical policies of colonialism and exploitation, its recent history of senseless war, and its lack of interest in anything that happens any place but at its core. Behind that lurks something else, a critique of the Enlightenment as the philosophical source of Eurocentric domination, something that one encounters more particularly in the one place that has any concern for the Enlightenment, that is to say academia. It is a contradictory discussion, whose terms are largely determined by Western thought, much of it emerging from Paris since the Seventeenth Century and particularly since the French Revolution. Last night the familiar meme, “Today we are all French, Today we are all Parisian…” began to appear, just as monuments around the world were illuminated in the tricolor of the French flag. And certainly anyone who critiques the Enlightenment, just as anyone who is interested in democracy, is going to use French thought to do so, which is to say, largely, Parisian thought.

I am not qualified to engage with the critique of the Enlightenment. But I did receive a French education. That was my “formation” (pronounced as the French word meaning education and training). I later turned away from it yet my mind was formed and marked by that education.

This morning I reached for some of the books from my education at the Lyçée Français de New York and then some of the other books that have been so central to so many of us.

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First I got on a little step ladder  to get down from an upper shelf my trusty Lagarde & Michard readers from high school at the Lyçée. I loved these books. Do I remember anything from them enough to discuss or teach? No, and yet when I open them I see the work that we did every week, reading these texts, doing “explication de texte,” being formed by thought and a detailed approach to language about thought itself. They do place human thought at the center of the world. The text most frequently quoted by my students the past few years is Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, where human agency and participation in events is decentered. This is an interesting and importantly egalitarian view, and yet the earlier human centered philosophy is still instructive and even necessary.

Yet here is Blaise Pascal‘s “Le Roseau Pensant,” which posits man as a frail thing, dignified only by his capacity to be self-aware of his mortality and to think. Below that, from the Lagarde & Michard reader, a holographic reproduction of a piece of paper found in the lining of Pascal’s jacket upon his death, the Memorial.

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Below that I found two copies of René Descartes’ Discours de la méthode.

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From my readings of the past three decades, in another part of my library:

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My generation grew up into the spirit of 1968. It was our time. We lived Paris and its philosophy through the films of Jean Luc Godard and also in a different way those of  François Truffaut and Éric Rohmer. The CalArts I attended in 1971, as I realized much later, represented the flowering, in America, of the spirit of ’68, in its approach to freedom within learning and teaching. Most graduate students today still read Debord‘s The Society of the Spectacle and thoughts on détournement are metaphorically traced over the street plan of Paris.

…and in this thread I am not even addressing the importance of French and French based visual art, but…

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&

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All graduate students in visual arts or media studies are assigned Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility.” Few immerse themselves in Benjamin’s Arcades Project, a massive, unfinished, mythical,  collection of research about the early years of commodity culture studied through the cultural history of Paris in the Nineteenth Century.

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I find that some things are hard wired to an extent that is surprising. I’ve never lived in Paris, have only spent a few weeks there my whole life, and for various reasons and tropisms I became as much of an Anglophile as my sister Naomi Schor became a Francophile, but its role in my parents life and in that of my sister–her red-covered arrondissement map of Paris was one of her most treasured possessions–and the particular role that it plays in the history of the civilization that was the focus of my education from first grade through the final year of the Lyçée, “Philo,” is evidently so deep that I feel a particular spike of hysteria and rage when I hear news of terrorist attacks in Paris. I feel rage at many of the violations of civilization that we experience, from the deep sin the USA committed in waging the Iraq War, for which we will pay for decades, to the destruction of Palmyra, to the near daily mass shootings in the USA. As it is, post 9/11, fear of terrorism inflects my movements in the city, and if that fear is realized in a manner like what has occurred in Paris and elsewhere around the world, I would be under the bed with fear. But apparently Paris occupies a special space in my imaginary.

My father Ilya Schor came to Paris on a grant from the Polish government in 1937. My mother Resia Schor joined him in 1938. Here they are that winter, Place de la République, near where one of the attacks in Paris took place last night.

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It is my belief that most likely they would have lived their life based in Paris, returning to Poland to visit family, if it were not for the war. They fled Paris in either late May or early June, 1940, a few days ahead of the German Army. One of the many things I forgot to ask my mother was which day, exactly. Her memory was excellent, particularly for those few weeks of their life, from their departure from Paris, by the Porte d’Orléans, on one of the last trains or the last Métro, then on foot through Orléans, down to Bordeaux, towards the Spanish border, to their arrival in Marseilles in August 1940, where they stayed until October or November 1941, then on through Spain to Lisbon, arriving in New York December 3, 1941.

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There are some books I have, but perhaps this is the moment to confess I have not read them.

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I will open to a page of Jacques Derrida‘s Archive Fever.

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Through chance operations I find this paragraph, in which “the process of archivization” matches and is matched by “anarchiving destruction.”

The news from Paris is one of the many blows to our sense of the loss of reason and hope of our time, yet the day is followed by the day, and one has to figure out how to make the days count even if the idea of accumulating material for the human archive is increasingly revealed as a fantasy.

 

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“Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor”-Lecture by Mira Schor

On the occasion of my mother Resia Schor‘s birthday today (b. December 5, 1910 near Lublin, Poland), I’d like to share a lecture I gave at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum August 20, 2013, in conjunction with the exhibition “Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor” at PAAM, August 16 – September 29, 2013

I take the liberty of sharing this video not just because I am proud of my parents’ extraordinary works-which I am!–but also because some of the histories, diverse traditions, and diverse methods of making that infuse their work are worth recalling now, and suggest models of art practice of interest and value even though they may belong to a very different era and philosophy of craft and art.

NOTE: comments during the lecture about the quality of the slide projections refer to issues that have been corrected in this version of the video.

The catalogue of exhibition available here

Selected installation images:

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Resia Schor, Lockerbie, 1990, and Ilya Schor, Lovers, c.1958

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Letter from a schoolgirl c.1960

In a documentary about 2014 Nobel Prize for literature author Patrick Modiano, historian Henry Rousso says, “Il a..interiorisé quelque chose qu’il na pas vécu”–“he interiorized something he did not live through.” This is the story of the way in which trauma, here the historical trauma of the German Occupation of France during the Second World War, filters through generations and shapes creativity and thought.

The texture of the world at every given moment is riven with traumas, personal, political, historical and at times they compete in ways that compound the psychic damage.

For my sister Naomi and me, my father’s Hasidic background, our parents’ experience of the Second World War, their massive personal losses in the Shoah and their miraculous survival were the past we had not lived but that we lived with, that we interiorized.

Today October 10, 2014 would have been my sister’s seventy-first birthday. She died in 2001 at the age of 58, which seems very young, particularly since I was the younger sister but am now older than that age, so I like to mark her birthday each year in some way.

Ilya Schor, The Tzadik, 1950s, wood engraving

Ilya Schor, The Tzadik, 1950s, wood engraving

A few weeks ago I found a torn scrap of paper among a box of her things: it is the draft of a letter she wrote to André Schwartz-Bart, the author of the 1959 novel Le Dernier des Justes (The Last of the Just). I have not read the novel but perhaps because of Schwartz-Bart’s book and the discussions that took place around it in my childhood, and in particular because the theme of the novel and its title was the theme of a major work from 1956 by my father Ilya Schor, I am haunted by the Talmudic notion of the Lamed Vav Tzadikim, the thirty-six “”hidden righteous ones,” whose existence redeems and preserves the world, their identities hidden to others and even, perhaps most especially, to themselves.

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My sister’s handwriting was distinctive and sometimes hard to decipher, this letter for some reason more so than usual: here it is in French and then in English, with cross outs left intact to show the process of writing and certain passages marked […] as undecipherable by me.

Cher Mr. Schwartz-Bart,

Je voudrais, tout simplement, vous remercier d’avoir écrit “Le Dernier des Justes,” Je voudrais vous remercier d’avoir raconté avec tant de poésie et de simplicité cette triste histoire de la famille Lévy, et par extension de tout notre peuple. Je voudrais vous remercie d’avoir exprimé ce que nous sentons tous.

Je me demande […]  si d’autres que nous peuvent sentir ce que nous sentons. Le succès de votre livre en France et ici en Amérique semble indiquer que oui. J’espère que grace à vous et d’autres comme vous qui auront pu lutter contre notre sort – non les […], les cris, la résignation, mais l’art des moyens artistiques, les générations futures de notre peuples pourront vivre, inutile de le dire, en paix.

Je suis une jeune étudiante (17 ans) au Lycée Français de New York. Mes parents, des artistes d’origine Polonaise, ont fui Paris la veille de l’arrivée de Hitler, ont traversé la France, passe deux ans à Marseille et sont enfin venu en Amérique.  Eux, ils ont échappé mais toute leur famille, leur amis ont péri. Mon père peint son petit village polonaise avec sa synagogue, ses hommes, ses femmes: je connais bien le visage de mes ancêtres et confrères disparus et je ne peus dire le vide que je ressens à ne pouvoir jamais jamais connaitre les modèles dont s’inspire mon père.

Mon père travaille aussi fait aussi des objets religieux et décoratifs en argent,  parmi eux il a fait une porte pour une synagogue dont le thème était les Lahmed Vov, les 36…

J’essaye seulement de vous dire que je suis sure que partout où un cœur juif bat votre livre sera chéri et pleure là-dessus.

Respectueusement

Naomi Schor

YEar-Naomi-Schor-Letter-to-SchwartzBart-60-p2detail-

 

Ilya Schor, 1950s, Steps to Women's Gallery of Synagogue at Zloczow. Gouache.

Ilya Schor, 1950s, Steps to Women’s Gallery of Synagogue at Zloczow. Gouache.

Catalogue for Ilya Schor, 1956, The Doors of the 36, Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, NY

Catalogue for Ilya Schor, 1956, The Doors of the 36, Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, NY

Dear Mr. Schwartz-Bart,

I would very simply like to thank you for having written “The Last of the Just”, I would like to thank you for having told with so much poetry and simplicity this sad story of the family Levy and, by extension, that of our whole people. I would like to thank you for expressing what we all feel.

I wonder if others can feel what we feel. The success of your book in France and in America seems to indicate yes. I hope that thanks to you and others like you who have been able to fight against our fate, not the …, not the cries, the resignation, but [through] artistic means future generations of our people will be able to live, needless to say, in peace.

I am a young schoolgirl (17 years old) at the Lycée Français de New York. My parents, artists of Polish origin, fled Paris just before the arrival of Hitler, they crossed France, spent two years in Marseille and finally arrived in America. They survived but their whole families, their friends perished. My father paints his small Polish village with its synagogue, its men, its women: I know well the face of my lost ancestors and brethren and I cannot express the emptiness I feel to never never be able to know the models that inspire my father.

My father also makes religious and decorative objects out of silver, among these he made a door for a synagogue, whose theme was the Lahmed Vov, the 36…

I just want to tell you that I am sure that everywhere a Jewish heart beats your book will be cherished and wept over.

Respectfully

Naomi Schor

I don’t know if my sister sent the letter. Based on its contents it was written between her seventeenth birthday October 10, 1960 and my father’s death in June 1961, because in the letter she refers to my father as living.

Ilya Schor and Naomi Schor, Provincetown, Summer 1960, Photo: Ryszard Horowitz

Ilya Schor and Naomi Schor, Provincetown, Summer 1960, Photo: Ryszard Horowitz

 

 

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Craft and Process: Tools and “wild ‘reserves’ for enlightened knowledge.”

I begin with a picture of me, but one where I am only an incidental subject.

I am sitting in the studio of Chaim Gross at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation in Greenwich Village during an event on Chaim’s birthday March 17 (b.1902-1991). Because of a lifelong friendship with the Gross family, I feel I am at home in a space where I will not be judged, so I am comfortable sitting alone without feeling any necessity to fill the social space with small talk with strangers. I can take a few minutes of contemplation in Chaim’s studio. This space, even cleaned up and staged for its function in a museum, is a different kind of studio than the ones I often visit in my professional capacity as a teacher, where such tools are not available to the artist, both for practical reasons and also, sometimes, for ideological ones. I  am surrounded by Chaim’s artworks, some of his art collection, and by his wonderful tools. I am surrounded by color and materiality and the purpose of craft.This is officially a historical space, a museum; it is an encapsulation or a representation of a practice which is not only historic but historicized. Someone has caught me unawares, as I consider how I am being historicized through my own craft practice, as “someone who uses art supplies to make art,” as a friend has recently described my rare and dying breed, through my knowledge of these spaces and the practices that took place within them, through such associations that I cannot erase, that is, historicized through that inevitable but shocking process wherein the valuable knowledge one acquires over a life time is suddenly held by some as irrelevant to the problems of the present and the future.

A few moments after this picture was taken, I turned my head slightly and focused on a chair.

It is just a chair, an earlier era’s successful design for a work chair of adjustable height. It is also delicately ornate, with an art nouveau line. And it is old, so the wood and metal framework have a patina that maybe were not part of its original condition, but the curving lines, the darkened metal, and the worn and stained wood concentrate my attention: here is something that offers an alternative to the current design of chairs favored by institutions.

Theoretical discourse does not elect to keep practices at a distance, so that first it has to leave its own place to analyze them and then by simply inverting them may find itself at home. The partitioning (découpage) that it carries out, it also repeats. This partitioning is imposed on it by history. Procedures without discourse are collected and located in an area organized by the past and giving them the role, a determining one for theory, of being constituted as wild “reserves” for enlightened knowledge. (Michel de Certeau, p64 The Practice of Everyday Life)

Some of Chaim’s tools are on view,

The studio is in an order and a degree of cleanliness that is a function of its being a museum, not a place of current work. But Chaim was a professional man and a craftsman so I am sure that his tools were kept in good order in this system he worked out for himself.

Chaim was one of the three men in my childhood who I was able to observe at work or at least was able to observe the working studios of.

The painter Jack Tworkov was another. He too cared deeply about quality of craftsmanship, whether it was how to construct the surface of a painting or restore the surface of an old oak table or bone and stuff a leg of lamb, and his tools were remarkably well organized and maintained.

The first and most important artist I was able to observe at work was my father Ilya Schor. Today is his birthday: he was born in Zloczow, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, April 16, 1904.

As a teenager he was apprenticed to an engraver and goldsmith before he went to art school. This seems to have been the remainder of a European craft guild system and the tools were probably closer to those of the 15th century than to today’s. For example, soldering was done by propelling the flame through a tube using with one’s own breath. My father used to smoke 4 packs a day in those years, but, a young man, he could do that.

Ilya Schor c.1920 (at the left)

In 1937 he brought this drill from Poland to Paris, where he still used it, and from Paris to Marseilles, and from Marseilles to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to New York. This drill survived the Holocaust. Of course he did not use it anymore when I watched him work, he had an electric drill. But he showed me how the old one worked. It was clear that it was archaic, even for him, but it created a living bridge bringing me as close to when men made fire by striking two flints together as to the technologies of my own time.

Watching him engrave on hardwood was a great show: his movements were careful, accurate, but also swift and deft. I loved watching him roll out the thick black printer’s ink on a piece of glass, and I loved the rounded wood tool that rubbed the paper against the block to catch the ink smoothly, and finally I loved the revelation of the reverse image when the paper was pulled from the block.

To hold small silver objects secure while he engraved them, he embedded them into tar, which he softened with the flame of a Bunsen burner. The tar formed the top surface of a T-shaped block of wood which fit into the slot of a heavy base which he could swivel with his left hand while engraving with his right. The two part base is made of solid metal, the spherical section is like the turning orb of the earth, and with a similar density, I’m pretty sure it is made of lead.

This was all a long time ago. Around the world, artisans today may still use similar tools but technological transformations in the production of sculpture, images, and objects of all kinds are always privileged signs of contemporaneity. If they were starting out their art lives today, these three artists, born within four years of each other, all from the area of the pale of settlement, Chaim, Jack, and Ilya, would most likely be at the forefront of technological innovation, bringing as much ability and ingenuity to new methods of production as they exhibited with the tools they were given. People sometimes ask me if I am tempted to take up my father’s tools, the way my mother did after my father died, but the craft is in fact very hard, physically arduous, and without much beyond the most basic training even harder, and if I sometimes consider having some of my mother’s jewelry produced as multiples (another story for another day), I think more in terms of 3D printing in plastic! But if they would have opted for the new, if I too would opt for the new, nevertheless there was a tremendous satisfaction for them in their ability to manipulate materials, of a job well done in the working day, and there was tremendous pleasure for me in watching them work. I still love watching things being made. And most importantly, it was evident even to me as a child that there was an intelligence in the craft, in the gesture.

Returning to the chair in Chaim’s studio, it became a figure in a painting, in which furniture of the “hot desk” studio of the present/future and of the old painting studio of the past exist in a perpetually reversible relation of metaphoric temperature.

 

 

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