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Dream Text: Gaza Walks

Performances in Broken Pieces

For Mazen Rabia and the Addar House


Text: A.S. Bruckstein Çoruh / House of Taswir


Robert Yerachmel Sniderman, Counter-Ruin 1, 11:34. 22 June 2018, Photograph by Nina Berfelde, Courtesy of the artist


July 29, 2018. A performance artist walks through Berlin. He reminds me of New Age Hasidim and Jewish flower children of the 1980s in Philadelphia and New York, together with their dancing and singing dervish rabbis. The artist makes his way through the city, singing a Hasidic song without words and holding a handful of stones in his hand. With his right hand slightly extended, he bears them as if they were little loaves of bread. Now and then the artist puts down a stone—placing it on a grave at the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee or on the square behind the arch at Anhalter Bahnhof, where the Nazis’ trains transported Berlin’s Jewish inhabitants to Auschwitz. The artist wears a white shirt. On his back, handwritten in large Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew letters, is the word GAZA. A rusty exhaust pipe, which he calls “spleen,” hangs on his chest. The rusty spleen swings on his chest with every step he takes. Spleen comes from the Greek word splēn; in ancient Greece it was an allegory of anger, annoyance, and bad sentiments. “This is my father’s spleen,” says the artist in German, using the German word Milz for the bodily organ. “It was ruptured in an accident. My father lost his spleen by accident, and I had found this exhaust pipe by chance. Chance and accidents and fear—they belong together. I remember that my father's father mistreated and beat my grandmother. He also chose to be cremated, something our tradition does not do,” said the artist. He walks on, steadfast, following his own rhythm, wearing a rusty exhaust pipe on his white shirt, with stones in his right hand, Gaza on his back, and singing a Hassidic song without words. It is summer.


July 28, 2018. A fax is received by the chief of police in Berlin.

State Office of Criminal Investigation.


Its content reads:

Application Form for Assemblies and Processions (Paragraph 14 of the Public Gathering Act).

Applicant: Institute for Art in Context, University of the Arts, Berlin.

Artist’s name: Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman.

Artist’s address and telephone number: [such and such].

Topic of assembly: Artist action on the subject of Gaza by a Jewish artist.

Assembly date: 7/29/2018. [Next to the artist’s name, a handwritten annotation reads: BORN Zadek. FROM Posnań.]

Place of assembly: In this artistic action the artist, an American citizen [. . .] will walk from the Israeli Embassy to the American Embassy and then to the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee. With the word GAZA written on the back of his shirt, he will carry stones in one of his hands and a piece of concrete in the other. A rusty pipe will be tied to his stomach.

Expected number of participants: One.

Use of vehicles: None.


A performance artist walks through Berlin. He wears a rusty exhaust pipe on his chest, GAZA in three languages on his back, and he sings a Hassidic song without words. He carries stones from Anhalter Bahnhof to Weissensee Cemetery. The artist walks through the Arab and Turkish district via Sonnenallee in Neukölln, passes the American Embassy and the Brandenburg Gate, and he also finds a place to deposit the stones at the Israeli Embassy. The rusty exhaust pipe, or spleen, he discovered in front of his German father-in-law’s house. The Talmudic scholars translate the Greek word splēn with the word luz, referring to the coccyx, or tailbone of the spine, the part that is next to the sacrum. It is here that the spirit is located, they claim. What is special about the luz when it comes to the dead? Luz is immortal; it glows from each grave in the cemetery from under the earth. The dead emerge from it when they rise from their graves—when it is time, when the day comes. Without luz, the dead cannot rise. And what about cremation? The artist’s grandfather, who chose to be cremated and who beat his wife, Bashya, does not have a glowing mark on his grave.


because for me, a lot of it was about address. the way an act becomes an address without you knowing it. the address is not for the reader. it’s for the lover. it is real. the address is real. it’s a non-performance. it’s the refusal to perform.

  the first principle is the principle of lostness. and for me this is—this was the Jewish diasporic condition—but now it’s wrapped—it’s strangled by the logic of annihilation.

RYS à deux with Shulamit Bruckstein, House of Taswir, Nov. 9, 2023


May 14, 2018. The Great March of Return. The artist takes the train from Warsaw to Berlin. Warsaw is the city in which his great grandmother, Sarah, mother of the one who chose to be cremated and beat his wife, Bashya, was born.

May 14, 2018, falls into the period of the Great March of Return, the Friday demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, which started on March 30, 2018, and went on for nearly two years until December 27, 2019. Initiated by a broad alliance of Gazan people in protest of the Israeli blockade of land, air, and sea, as well as the United States’ designation of Jerusalem as the country’s capital, the demonstrations called for the return of all refugees to a free Palestine. The protest culminated on May 14, the day the artist was taking the train from Warsaw to Berlin, the day the US assigned its embassy to Jerusalem, the day that Israel marked seventy years to the founding of the State. One Israeli soldier was wounded, and sixty-two Palestinian protesters were killed by the Israeli army that day, and there were thirty-five thousand people walking in protest. Israeli snipers aimed for their arms and legs, crippling hundreds, wounding thousands. On the way from Warsaw to Berlin, the artist imagined a counter-ruin: a Jewish counter-ruin, dedicated to the dead and wounded in Gaza, and commemorating the liquidated communities of his own ancestors in Eastern Europe.


Will we one day learn how to live in a place we do not inhabit, so that it does not turn into a ruin when we leave it?

-Jalal Toufic


What would this counter-ruin look like?


The artist imagined people carrying stones from the ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof and placing them on Jewish graves, declaring, “Never again is now!”—thinking of the Great March of Return in Gaza. As a Jewish artist of Eastern European descent, he carries GAZA on his back. But how do we do it? How to Carry the World on One’s Back?[1] He wants to share the fear and the chance, and the protest against occupation, destruction, and the denial of freedom by precariously exposing his own body to the whims of Berlin city. The artist carries GAZA on his back in the capital of Germany, where undoing the guilt of German fascism means adhesion to an ethno-racist state, telling the diasporic Jew by the power of the (German) state to never scream out again against genocide, apartheid, occupation, and colonial violence when it comes to Israel. Without the literary, artistic, and mental techniques of displacement, uprooting, and undoing foundations, Jews can no longer inhabit Jewish tradition because this tradition has been hijacked, raped, and defiled by violence, betrayal, fascism, and a relentless death machine acting in the name of the Jewish state. To speak with the Lebanese thinker, artist, writer, and filmmaker Jalal Toufic, Jewish tradition is subject to what he calls The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster.[2] Does the artist carrying the word GAZA on his back embody Gaza? No. Of course not. What does he embody then? The artist walks in protest against the instrumentalization of Jewish deaths amid a seventy-five-year state alliance blind to its own layers of denial, and against the linear transposition of the (German) blame.

As an Ashkenazi man with a US passport, I aimed to intervene in a racist transnational discourse that exploits my body, and my family history, to ghettoize and disappear Palestinian life.[3]

On May 14, 2018, on the train from Warsaw to Berlin, the artist decides to do a performance in three acts in the capital of Germany: Gaza Walks, also called Spleen or Counter-Ruins. The third and final act entailed a twenty-six-kilometer walk, taking place on August 13, 2019.

A performance artist walks through Berlin. He wears a rusty exhaust pipe on his chest, GAZA written in three languages on his back, and he is singing a Hassidic song without words. He carries stones from Anhalter Bahnhof to the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee: The sprawling, tree-bedecked cemetery bears witness to the German genocide of the European Jews. Hundreds of names and dates are inscribed on hundreds of commemorative stones in German, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. In commemoration of his own family history, the artist then passes the American Embassy and the Brandenburg Gate, and he also finds a place to deposit his stones at the Israeli Embassy. There someone distributes flyers to passerby. Flyers on which is written:

This Jewish body walks in solidarity with Palestinians’ right of return. His ancestors are from eradicated communities of Warszawa, Chişinǎu, Dnipro, and Seirijai.


when someone leaves a stone on a grave, my understanding is that it’s a reference to the shepherds keeping the stones in their pocket. one stone for every animal. so that when an animal is killed or lost—they would know. because they had more stones than there were animals.

it’s counting the dead. it’s being responsible for the dead. so then the question for me was—what does it mean—being responsible for the dead? it’s not—it’s not that—it’s actually not their job. it’s not their job to talk about Gaza. the dead. it’s my job. it’s my job.

RYS à deux with Shulamit Bruckstein, House of Taswir, Nov. 9, 2023


Michaël Borremans, Fire from the Sun (Two Figures, One Hand), 2017, Oil on canvas, 205 x 280 cm, Private Collection


In an imaginary convention of mourners, the poets speak simultaneously and in unison:


only sadness, and desperation

which generation will be able to forgive?

mine is lost

departed

burnt

killed

denied

humiliated

silenced—

drenched in blood

fuck your two-state solution

free us from this living hell

 

Jassem Hindi


in my deep dreams

cries the earth

blood

[. . .]

through your fear

in the air

[. . .]

soon

your dreams fall

into nowhere

 

Rose Ausländer


I am from here, I am from there, yet am neither here nor there.

I will have to throw many roses before I reach a rose in Galilee.

 

Mahmoud Darwish


It is night

. . .

In every heart there is fire,

in every silent hut, sorrow,

and everywhere, a soul crying in the dark.

[. . .]

Humanity protests against the crimes of death.

[. . .]

Even the gravedigger has succumbed,

the muezzin is dead,

and who will eulogize the dead?

O Egypt, my heart is torn by the ravages of death.

 

Nazik al-Malaika


What happens to our work when humanity is raped by violence and genocide?


Joseph Sassoon Semah, I Loved a Country ... a Country ... did not Love Me, EReTz  AHaVTI....... EReTz...... OTI  LO  AHaVaH, 1976, Ink on paper, 30 x 21 cm, Courtesy of the artist


Prayer for the Dead

(KaDISh)[4]

 

One man

bowed out.

Now

the quorum of ten (Minian)

only

has

nine.

One

too few.

קדיש

קד

איש

מני

אז

מנין

תשע

בו

פחות

אחד


June 1, 2017, Theatre HAU Berlin. The Palestinian artist Jassem Hindi reads “Laundry of Legends” in Studio 2. He creates a warm space of privacy in the middle of the public, and welcomes his guests with sketches, drawings, books, photographs, peppermint water, raki, and piles of fruit. Guests and host sit on the floor. Hindi reads excerpts from poems by Iraqi poet Nazik al-Malaika. With a rare gist of generosity, he creates an intimate community of mourners, transforming the poet’s final wish, to be remembered, not to be forgotten, into a gift for people present. Is there a need for the artist to read poems by the legendary poet Nazik al-Malaika in Berlin for her to be remembered, not forgotten? Obviously not. What does the artist do then? He transforms the ancient sentiment of splēn: of pain, rage, anger, outrage into something generous, into the gift of giving. He works a miracle in public. He creates tenderness in place of rage and produces compassion by way of sharing. What is being shared is poetries of lament. What is being granted is final wishes. What is being objected to is an excruciating form of violence. By “mourning the dead and fighting like hell for the living,”[5] the artist, in his own words, remains true to the joie de vivre of his beloved region of the Middle East.


I want this to be a shimmering sea, the living memorial of a precious underground world.

 

Jassem Hindi


We live as wandering spirits

with no memory

no dreams, no longings, no hopes.

[. . .]

[we] know not of sadness.

We wish to be dead, and refused by the graves.

We wish to write history by the years

If only we knew what it is to be bound to a place

If only snow could bring us winter

[. . .]

If only memory, or hope, or regret

could one day block our country from its path

If only we feared madness

If only our lives could be disturbed by travel

or shock

or the sadness of an impossible love.

If only we could die like other people.


Joseph Sassoon Semah, I Loved a Country ... a Country ... did not Love Me, EReTz  AHaVTI....... EReTz...... OTI  LO  AHaVaH, 1976, Ink on paper, 30 x 21 cm, Courtesy of the artist


Where is our solidarity with strangers? In a resistance against its disappearance, the artist is mourning the hospitality of his mothers and fathers. In his Laundry of Legends, Jassem Hindi buries old rituals of mourning and veils their disappearance in the celebration of a public reappearance framed by contemporary art. What do we call such a displaced gesture of uprooting and of undoing foundations? How do we study it? How do we learn how to perform it in situ and in actu?


When creating a ritual, I become the house that is open to all.

(Jassem Hindi)

 

I become the House that is open to all. The House—that is ev in Turkish. The House—that is addar in Arabic.

 

In Jassem Hindi’s house, poems, drawings, books, and texts by others are inner doors, pathways of creation. Jassem Hindi, Rose Ausländer, Mahmoud Darwish, Nazik El Malaika, Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman, Joseph Sassoon Semah, Joanna Rajkowska, Ana Sontag, Mazen Rabia: doors in the House That Is Open to All.

 

And what about us?


Jassem Hindi, Places we left behind, 2023, Mixed media on paper, 59 x 84 cm, Courtesy of the artist


May 14, 2018. Bashya. The other Bashya. An artist takes the train from Warsaw to Berlin. In Warsaw he meets the artist Joanna Rajkowska.[6] She tells him about her walk through the Polish town of Świecie in 2009. Świecie is 250 kilometers north of Łódź, 300 kilometers northwest of Warsaw, 200 kilometers northeast of Poznań, and 50 kilometers northeast of Bydgoszcz, which was called Bromberg in German. In Świecie, her mother spent a long time in the dreaded psychiatric ward of the Józef Bednarz Provincial Clinic for Mental Illnesses, before being transferred to the home where she died in 2006.

  In her 2009 Świecie performance, which is dedicated to the life, illness, and death of her mother Bashya, the artist walks aimlessly through the city. She wears flannel pajama bottoms, a flannel hospital robe, and rough, open wooden clogs of the type that patients often wear in psychiatric wards, with her mother’s beloved black handbag under her arm, with a hidden camera. Acting in the stead of her mother, the aimless walk results in a fifteen-minute video titled Bashya.[7] In it, she, Joanna, acts as her mother. Joanna is now Bashya. The artist reaches the bank of the Vistula River. She approaches and enters the water. Steadfast, she makes her way, dripping wet and cold, through the town. At a bus stop, a woman speaks to her, worried about the silent Bashya. “God loves you, Bashya,” says the woman. “The Eternal One sees the pain in your soul.” The kind woman calls two policemen and an ambulance. Joanna alias Bashya is taken to the psychiatrist ward of a clinic, where she succeeds in escaping. Does the artist now understand how to make a difference in the repetition? Or how to avoid the swing of the club? In her savoir-faire in dealing with the repetition, the artist adds a variation to the vicious circle, a crack for escape—one that is imperceptible, not strategic. One that happens by chance, by accident.

  Chance, accident, fear, and lies are methods in dealing with the repetition.


the pipe that I had—I had an exhaust pipe from a car that was rusted off—and I found it on the walk. But you see—this is the thing—that the accident is very important—the accident—the anxiety—these are the methods—these are the mediums for the performance—the anxiety and the accident—and this is the lostness—the lostness provokes a sensitivity to anxiety and to accident

how do you use the power of a place to make the work through you—how do you collaborate with a place to make a work—but not just to make a work for art history—but to make a work for Bashya—for her mother—because she escaped for her mother—you know—and showed that you can’t escape—that’s what she showed us—she ended up in the hospital—and at that time I thought that I could perform a Jewish solidarity with the right of return based upon a radical universal principle—and say—f*ck you—we all deserve the right of return—and nothing has been resolved—by the creation of the state—and I think that’s what has to be resisted—by everyone

RYS à deux with Shulamit Bruckstein, House of Taswir, Nov. 9, 2023


Summer, 2016. Lost in the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee Berlin.

It is a summer day on a Friday afternoon. The artist loses his way in one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in postwar Europe, the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee. Walking among the graves of the 116 thousand who have been buried here since 1880, he is unable to find the exit. The day is drawing to a close, it is almost Shabbat, and the gates will soon close. The artist is terrified: in Berlin, where everything Jewish is closely monitored, the police will think that he has been desecrating graves if he escapes over the wall. “If that happens, I will say: My grandfather is buried here, I am American, and I was looking for his grave.” His name? “Friedrich S. The one who beat my grandmother, Bashya, and who wanted to be cremated, and whose luz does not shine under his grave.” The one whose son’s spleen will vibrate on the artist’s white shirt.

  There are no graves for cremated people at the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee—or are there?

  If the police come, I will say, My grandfather is buried here, I am American, and I was looking for his grave.

  Chance, accident, fear, and lies. These are the methods for the savoir-faire in dealing with the repetition,[8] these are the methods for creating gaps and holes in walls of separation, for lines of flight and escape ways we have no idea about yet.

 

In other words:

  Now that a grave for cremated people actually does exist in the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee, now that Joanna’s mother, Bashya, actually has been liberated from the provincial psychiatric clinic in Świecie,

 

now what about Gaza? What about Gaza?


Taysir Batniji, Gaza Walls, 2001/2021, Series of 64 color photographs, Inkjet prints on paper, 40x60 cm (each), Courtesy of the artist and of Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut/Hamburg


Two years later, on May 14, 2018, the artist returns from Warsaw to Berlin.

 

July 29, 2018. A performance artist walks through Berlin. He reminds me of the New Age Hasidim and Jewish flower children of the 1980s in Philadelphia and New York. The artist makes his way through the city, singing a Hasidic song without words and holding a handful of stones in his hand. Now and then the artist puts down a stone—placing it on a grave at the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee or on the square behind the arch at Anhalter Bahnhof, where the Nazis’ trains transported Berlin’s Jewish inhabitants to Auschwitz. The artist wears a white shirt. On his back, written in large letters in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew, is the word GAZA. A rusty exhaust pipe, which he calls “spleen,” hangs on his chest. The rusty spleen swings on his chest with every step he takes. Spleen—anger, annoyance, and bad sentiments in ancient Greece. “This is my father’s spleen,” says the artist in German, using the German word Milz. “It was injured in an accident. I found this exhaust pipe by chance. Chance and accidents and fear—they belong together. My father lost his spleen in an accident. His father mistreated and beat my grandmother and chose to be cremated,” said the artist. He walks on, steadfast, following his own rhythm, wearing a rusty exhaust pipe on his white shirt, with stones in his hand, Gaza on his back, and singing Hasidic songs without words. It is summer.

  Bashya is free. Friedrich S. is buried in Weissensee.

 

And what about GAZA?


the German ideology is rooted in a desperate clinging that the Israeli project works—that it’s secular—that it’s democratic—that it works—because this is what they gave us—but they did not give us this—they gave us annihilation—they didn’t give us anything—they gave us—they gave us the same—they gave us the same thing—it hasn’t ended—that’s the thing

RYS à deux with Shulamit Bruckstein, House of Taswir, Nov. 9, 2023


Robert Yerachmel Sniderman, Counter-Ruin 1, 11:51. 22 June 2018, Photograph by Nina Berfelde, Courtesy of the artist


 

[1] Title of the groundbreaking exhibition conceived by Georges Didi-Huberman, Atlas: How to Carry the World on One’s Back? shown in Madrid, Karlsruhe, and Hamburg in 2011. Georges Didi-Huberman, ed., Atlas: How to Carry the World on One’s Back? (Madrid: Museo Reina Sofía and TF Editores, 2010).

[2] Jalal Toufic, The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster (forthcoming books, 2009). A free download is available through the artist’s generosity at https://jalaltoufic.com/downloads/Jalal_Toufic,_The_Withdrawal_of_Tradition_Past_a_Surpassing_Disaster.pdf. House of Taswir has published a German edition, Jalal Toufic, Vom Rückzug der Tradition nach einem unermesslichen Desaster, translated by Christoph Nöthlings (Berlin: August Verlag, 2011). House of Taswir has also published various essays on “The Withdrawal of [Jewish] Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster,” a phenomena it has observed for more than a decade, far before October 7.

[3] Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman, “Counter-Ruin,” in: Protocols #3 (Borders), Online Journal,  n.d.

[4]Kaddish is the name of hymns in praise of God specific to Jewish rituals. It is also included as part of Jewish mourning rituals at funerals and memorial ceremonies.

[5] A social media trope in the context of protesting the current genocidal violence exerted by Israel in the Gaza strip.

[6] Reference to Joanna Rajkowska (important Polish sculpture, painter, performer)

[7] This video was shown at the new Museum on the Vistula in 2017.

[8] A line by the psychoanalytic theorist and Lacan scholar Geneviève Morel, which was part of the poetry thread in the Wednesday Society exhibition The Couch of Meret O., curated by House of Taswir at Artam Museum Istanbul as part of the 16th International Istanbul Biennial in 2019. See also House of Taswir, eds., Wednesday Society: The Couch of Meret O. (Istanbul: Art Unlimited Special Edition, 2023).


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