Friday, July 21, 2017
"In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art" at the Contemporary Jewish Museum
The Contemporary Jewish Museum rethinks the ancient practice of havruta—the study of religious texts by people in pairs—for the contemporary art community. In their current show In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art, the museum has brought Bay Area artists together with a scholar, scientist, writer, or other professional of his or her choice for a ten-week fellowship in creativity. The resulting collaborations are presented in The Museum’s Sala Webb Education Center.
The current show is a dialogue between Allison Smith, a local artist and Christina Zetterlund, a craft and design historian and theoretician based at the Konstfack in Sweden.. Their work is informed by a quote from the Talmud that two shcolars working together sharpen each other.
"Smith was born and raised in Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., where her father has long been employed by the Central Intelligence Agency. “He makes spy gadgets and does a lot of Internet stuff he can’t tell me about,” she says. As a child, she would travel with her accountant mother, a folk-art buff, to juried craft fairs along the East Coast. Her father’s job brought the family to Iran in the late 1970s. There, they lived on a small American base with a large geodesic dome, which Smith later learned housed a satellite dish and was her father’s workplace until the family was evacuated in advance of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.” Artnews, 2015
Smith has created a number of projects that consider traditional craft and historical reenactments in the context of the United States. Smith first met Zetterlund during her recent residency in Stockholm and they discovered a shared interest in the politics of handcraft and its use in both progressive and conservative social movements. Through a series of emails, shared texts, Skype sessions, and in-person visits in Stockholm and San Francisco, their exchanges have explored the role of traditional craft in constructions of nationalism and processes of colonization, and have specifically delved into the writings and teachings of the Jewish Swedish educator, Otto Salomon (1849–1907; born in Gothenburg, Sweden), whose work focused on the concept of sljöd (pronounced sloyd), a term which can be defined as “craft” or manual “skill.” Slöjd, also known as Educational sloyd, was a system of handicraft-based education started by Uno Cygnaeus in Finland in 1865. The system was further refined and promoted worldwide, including adoption in the United States, until the early 20th Century.
The new work created for this exhibition, titled Models for a System, will be presented in an installation that plays with the conventions of period rooms and living history museums.
Smith has exhibited her work nationally and internationally since 1995. She has produced over twenty-five solo exhibitions, installations, performances, and artist-led participatory projects for venues such as SFMoMA, Public Art Fund, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, The Arts Club of Chicago, among many others. Smith has exhibited her work in group exhibitions at galleries and museums including MoMA P.S.1; Palais de Tokyo; the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art; Mass MoCA; The Andy Warhol Museum; and the Tang Museum. She was, until recently, Associate Professor and Chair of the Sculpture Program at California College of the Arts and is now Associate Professor of Art at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art in Pittsburgh.