JQ revisits Melissa Shiff’s Passover-themed exhibition
The Medium is the Matzo is an installation in which every inch of every gallery wall has been lined with actual square pieces of matzo; 4000 pieces to be exact! The project has been described as a three dimensional Haggadah.
Visitors to the gallery begin their virtual journey out of Egypt in a space with a ten plagues theme. Next, they travel through the Mitzrayim tunnel, lined with matzo to create a darker environment. As well as being the Hebrew name for Egpyt, Mitzrayim also means narrow spaces, and as visitors move through it, they feel a confinement symbolic of that experienced by the Jews when in slavery.
Exiting the tunnel, they are met by a real-time superimposition of themselves inserted into Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, specifically the point at which the Israelites cross the parting Red Sea. After this ‘miracle’, they enter the Elijah Lounge, an open space of liberation, where they refresh themselves with cool water at the Miriam Bar. While in the Lounge, visitors are invited to recline upon Shiff’s pop art-style Crush Oppression Matzo Pillows, onto which the image of a piece of matzo has been silk-screened.
The final space is the Matzo Ball Activist store, where all are encouraged to purchase a pillow to take home to lounge upon at their own Seder. In the spirit of Passover, an element of activism is involved, with a share of the profits donated to an organisation that fights hunger. Empty matzo boxes have been turned into Matzo Ball Activist kits, each of which comes with a mini pillow, as well as literature recounting the history of activist Sedarim.
This is not Shiff’s first art activist Seder. In 2002, she staged her Times Square Seder: Featuring The Matzo Ball Soup Kitchen, where she enacted the famous line from the Haggadah which invites ‘all who are hungry to come in and eat’.
Melissa Shiff activates ritual via contemporary art. Her own performance art wedding was made into a film and was screened at Jewish festivals around the world. Her most acclaimed project to date is ARK, which was commissioned by the Jewish Museum in Prague for their centennial celebration in 2006. Shiff’s art activist website is at www.japshopper.com and more of her work can be seen at www.melissashiff.com