A new exhibit has just opened at the Jewish Museum Berlin↑. Titled Obedience, it portrays, deconstructs, and contemporizes a story handed down in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theologies of Abraham – a man commanded by God to kill his son Isaac (or Ismael).
The Museum’s notes describe this as an examination of the question “Which is stronger – God’s command or the love of a father? And where can the modern subject be found between the priorities of obedience and trust?“
A PDF download which accompanies the installation interestingly (to me) begins with Leonard Cohen’s Story of Isaac↑. It refers as well to comments he made in 1969, when the song was released and the Vietnam War was in full glory. At the time he said he wrote it for those “who feel it is within their right to sacrifice the young for some purpose they conceive to be holy or just”.
The exhibit is by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway. Saskia you will know in Second Life as Rose Borchovski↑. Peter you should know as an award winning film director↑ (among other notable achievements).
This is the Museum’s very short trailer.
The most relevant aspect of this installation, for those of us in the virtual world, is the Second Life contribution displayed on monitors throughout the Museum. Created by Bryn Oh↑ and Jo Ellsmere↑, the virtual component is now open on LEA1↑ and will remain, throughout the span of the physical world exhibit, until September 13.
As part of the crossover from virtual to real, attendees at the Museum in Berlin will be able to explore the inworld build using avatars created for that purpose. If you see Isaak001 or Ismael001 as you make your way through this creation, remember they are being controlled by interested onlookers in Germany.
In an experience similar to that of the physical installation, we are drawn through a series of “rooms” – the virtual allows for a more loose interpretation of that concept of course.
Bryn has modernized the telling of the story and explores the way in which we might interpret it if presented in a setting more familiar to us. For example, what if God spoke to Abraham through the television? She has also set the scene in an apartment complex called Moriah Towers, rather than the traditional mountain on which Abraham was to sacrifice his son.
Jo has brought us the 24 Elders mentioned in the Book of Revelations – her creations are fascinating. Although they are bots, they are not static nor are they without personality.
You’ll find yourself standing with other visitors watching them as they do their thing. This includes occasionally standing up and crossing the floor to bow to their God. I’ve said before that scripters perform magic and this is a wonderful example.
The tale of Abraham and Isaac is not a “nice” story, and Bryn doesn’t shrink from the very disturbing aspects. She emphasizes the impending horror by showing the bond between father and son – from the time they come into each other’s lives and as the one raises the other.
The moment where the father is prepared to obey his God is stark, dramatic, and all too contemporary. I’ll spoil it for you though and say that God stops him before he does the deed. If you go through the door next to that scene, and use the light to teleport, you’ll wind up where Abraham tries to explain himself.
This is an installation worth visiting for many reasons: it is a high profile use of our virtual world in conjunction with a major physical art installation; it is a beautifully rendered work of immersive art; it includes the use of scripts which bring uniqueness to seemingly cardboard characters; and it provides a truly disturbing basis for some really interesting discussions.
I’ll finish by sharing Bryn’s trailer for the virtual component of the hybrid installation. Go see Obedience↑ and think of those museum-goers in Berlin who will start to understand what we know about art in Second Life.