Author Archives: Asya Gefter

From Pop Art to Community Arts

It has been an absolute joy to work with Peter Young on a film ‘From Pop Art to Community Arts: Hackney in the 1970s-80s’ commissioned for A British Museum Partnership exhibition ‘Warhol to Walker: American prints from pop art to today’.

This special exhibition explores the influence print movements have had on Hackney. Starting with the explosion of pop art in the 1960s, the exhibition displays works on loan from the British Museum by celebrated artists including Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Kara Walker alongside Hackney artists.

The film is displayed at the Hackney Museum from 11 July till 16 September 2017. Once the exhibition is over, the film will be available online. Watch this space!

I can’t thank enough our interviewees, the most wonderful Hackney activists, artists and researchers – Jess Baines, Neil Martinson, Alan May, Ingrid Pollard, Rene Rice, Red Saunders and Rebecca Wilson.

© Asya Gefter

My Europe

The end of the era perhaps? A new chapter? Of history. Of my history.

I spent my twenties struggling and fighting to get the European passport. I finally did, just weeks after I turned 30. Inner drive to be at home in Europe was huge – would not have had the energy and the resources now. London happened to become my adopted home. Not just for my love of bricks, but for its extraordinary diversity of people from all possible walks of life, of all ethnicities, beliefs, ways of thinking, seeing, listening, feeling.

Over the years, I have discovered lots of peculiarities about this fascinating island. I loved this particular joke – “Gales in Channel. Continent isolated.”  Will we able to keep on joking about being an island and not being part of the EU? Of Europe?

I have recently watched a wonderful film ‘Play me something’ by Timothy Neat and John Berger. Here is what John Berger said in the interview for ‘Scotland on Sunday’ in October 1988:

“I think this film would have been impossible to make in England. People won’t sit and listen to a story because they happen to find themselves together like that.” The Scots, he said,  are different in many ways – less complacent, less parochial. “Most importantly maybe for storytelling, the dead are present to them. Not just their personal dead, father or wife. I mean the living experience of the past. In England as in some other consumer-rich societies they have come to believe that although they are part of history they are exempt from it. What connects them to all other people who have lived is lessened”.

I felt the same all these 14 years I lived in the UK. I always wanted to prove myself wrong.

Acacias Bloom

Last year I have been awarded an Asylum Arts Grant to collaborate with a Ukrainian musician Olesya Zdorovetska to research Debora Vogel, an overlooked Polish Yiddish writer of poetry, prose, literary and art criticism from the 1930s avant-garde Lviv.

And so in July 2016, supported by the Asylum Arts (US) and a-n Travel Bursary  (UK) off we went on our audio-visual journey to Galicia of Debora Vogel. The time has flown by fast – it has been an enriching and wonderful experience that we hope to build upon by making a film next year.

In the meantime, I will be sharing the various steps of our research process in the A-n blog and on my vimeo channel.

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‘Seed to Harvest’ Sukkot performance

Thanks to the continuing support of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, I have been able to organise a Sukkot meal and live performance event in Dublin on October 16, 2016. The Quartet (Olesya Zdorovetska – voice, Nick Roth – saxophones, Olie Brice – double bass, Matthew Jacobson – percussion) performed Seeds II, a study of plant genetics composed by Nick Roth, followed by a free improvisation. The visuals for the performance were created from the material I collected in Lviv and the Carpathians during my recent research trip funded by the Asylum Arts (US) and a-n Travel Bursary (UK).

The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays of the year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to as Z’man Simchateinu (זְמַן שִׂמְחָתֵנוּ), the Season of Rejoicing.

The origins of Sukkot are both historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest.

Sukkot foods are all about the autumn harvest – apples, pears, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables that are readily available this time of year. On each day of the holiday it is mandatory to perform a waving ceremony with the Four Species: fronds from the myrtle, date, willow trees, along with a yellow etrog (the citron fruit).

Happiness doubles when you share it. Joined by people from Australia, England, Finland, Iran, Ireland, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine we had a memorable evening full of music, visuals, food, conversations and singing.

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Ukraine..August 24

Today is August 24 and Ukraine celebrates 25th anniversary of Independence Day. On a personal note, my grandfather was born on this day 98 years ago, in 1918. Interestingly, The Ukrainian People’s Republic, a predecessor of modern Ukraine, proclaimed its independence on 25 January 1918 (simple maths means he was a 2months baby in the womb then). His grandparents were from Kherson and so was his mother and uncles. Though my granddad was born in Crimea. His mother, cousin and uncle were tragically killed, by Nazis in Crimea and by Soviets in Moscow. I will never tire of repeating my graddad’s words – Holocaust is a genocide against everyone (Холокост это геноцид против всех).

Having just spent 5 weeks in Ukraine with most wonderful people, I would like to thank all those on the pictures below and those whom I was too shy to photograph. There was no single time that my Moscow Russian dialect (accent) made anyone frown. Everyone was so patient with my misunderstandings (or often complete lack of understanding) of beautiful Ukrainian language. And so many people helped me and Olesya in our research of Debora Vogel. I will be back in Lviv in a couple of weeks and today I will go to the Armenian cemetery in Moscow where half of my Jewish family is buried. Those, who once lived in Mariupol, Simferopol, Dnepropetrovsk, Kyiv and ended up in Moscow. And I’m so grateful to be able to be here today with my dad.

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Betya Rechister and Boris Dorfman

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Alexandra Somish

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Jason Francisco

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Olga Pogribna-Kokh

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Jurko Kokh

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Pani Stefa

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Taras Beniakh

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Dana Pinczewska

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Danylo Pertsov

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Olga Kupchinskaya

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Jurko Prohasko

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in Burshtyn

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Olga Sukha and Olesya Zdorovetska

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Justik

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Edward Pastukh

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Alexandra Scherbakova

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Irina Garasinyak

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Alina Datsko

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Obsolete & Discontinued

This post is about my involvement in the Obsolete & Discontinued project driven every step of the way by Mike Crawford, London based photographer and expert printer. O&D has just had its first exhibition in the former textile plant warehouse Can Manyer at the Releva-T analogue photography festival in Vilassar de Dalt, Spain.

I met Mike Crawford a few years ago at PhotoChats darkroom where I have been involved in the archival project about the history of Chats Palace and the community arts in East London. Last year I was fixing the darkroom in the basement of what used be the Nevill Arms pub in Stoke Newington, and asked Mike to pop over. That chilly day in March I discovered a few packets of old photographic paper and was printing some tests.

And here comes Mike saying he has been been given boxes of expired paper (at least 20 or 30 years old) by a client from his late uncle’s darkroom. Mike shows me his first test prints to investigate the condition of the paper – some are in fine condition, others have heavy fog. The latter turn out to be amenable to lith developer – something that I later try with the foggy paper I found at the Nevill.

Mike says that he is currently having discussions with the London Alternative Photography Collective to share out the paper amongst the members. After seeing these results and putting together a comprehensive proposal, Mike unveils the idea at the LAPC meeting to give out batches of paper to photographic artists with an open brief to produce any type of work they wish. The idea is immediately appealing and many sign up to participate in the project, myself included. The rest is history!

My Crimea
In Autumn 2010 I am visiting a friend in Crimea. I go for long walks in the mountains overlooking the sea. Here and then I photograph and think about my grandfather who was born and grew up near by. What was it like? I know so little about his early years and so my imagination fills the void.

A few years later I am sitting in my uncle’s house going through the family archives. I find postcards sent by my great-grandmother in Summer 1941. In the last one she writes about not wanting to leave her home and part with the piano. I also find a letter from which I learn that in 1940 during his summer break from uni my grandfather came to visit his mother together with his then girl-friend (who then became his wife and my grandmother). It was the last time he saw his mother who was tragically killed a year later when Crimea was occupied. It is the first time that I hear that my great-grandmother was a piano teacher and that she was murdered. From what I know my grandfather never talked about his past with his sons. I ask my dad – he thinks that for my grandfather there was life ‘before’ and life ‘after’.

Mike mentions Kodak Bromide Grade 2 is possibly of military issue and so I decide to print the Crimea photograph taken in 2010 at the time when I did not know about my family past nor what was to come between Russia and Ukraine.

Obsolete and discontinued_Asya Gefter

Between land and sea

Happy to be part of the Inundation group exhibition at the Greenhouse Gallery that runs 13th May – 12th June and is part of Norfolk and Norwich Festival and Open Studios.

Dialogue between land and sea

Dialogue between land and sea. Norfolk coast, November 2015

The tide comes in and changes the border of the land

The tide comes in and changes the border of the land. Norfolk coast, November 2015

In the footsteps of Hanukkah

In the footsteps of Hanukkah

Having grown up in Moscow in an assimilated environment I experienced mixed feelings about the traditions of my grandparents. I moved away from my family at the age of 21 in the attempt to make a new home, first in the Netherlands and then in the UK. It took me many years to discover the medium to express my thoughts and feelings.

My cousin Anya has not moved away to make a new home in a different country. She still lives in Moscow researching Music of Yiddishkayt and performing in Klezmer ensembles. I grew up hearing her play and sing in Russian, later in Yiddish. The sound of her voice is one the dearest memories I have from my ‘Russian Jewish’ childhood. Unprocessed personal and historical traumas in our families and in our country of origin prompt us to search for self-identification through creative narrative of people and places, music and art.

This project’s idea to break down the Ashkenazi Jewish music structure, to look for the beginning is something that might help me to engage with family history and identity, reconnect with my roots and find music within me. By interweaving musical and visual language, we hope to create a dialogue between us and the audience, past and present. And last but not least, we are looking forward to the opportunity to share our journeys with our families and friends, in our home town of Moscow.

Thanks a million to everyone involved and especially to The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and ROI Community  for their generous support of this project.

And so it comes – our first concert together on December 23, Moscow!

UPDATE December 26: watch this space for the video recordings (two available already, more to come soon)! And here are a few pictures from the concert:

According to this article, some Sephardic Jews with roots in Aleppo, Syria, have a special Hanukkah custom. On each of the eight nights of the holiday, they light an extra flame. This custom has been passed down in families whose ancestors were forced to flee Spain as refugees, when the Alhambra Decree of 1492 set in motion their expulsion for no other reason than their religious identity. Lighting the extra flame has become a hallmark of these Jews; it represents their gratitude for the safety and tolerance they encountered in their adopted homeland: Syria.

Today, Syrian Jewish communities — a blend of these Spanish refugees and others who had been living in that region since ancient times — have been resettled completely because of oppression and migration. Syria, as we know, is now also the source of a horrifying civil war and refugee crisis. Despite the adversity that Jews have faced in Syria, the lighting of an additional flame each night of Hanukkah can still serve to sensitize us to the plight of Syrian refugees, because we, too, were refugees who benefited from the compassion, acceptance and tolerance of strangers in that very land.

And so an extra flame in the video is my response to what happened in the past and is happening now.

Filmmaking and Hackney

Open Cinema festival

I am contributing  a video piece for the 24h Hackney film as well as the Hackney archive showreel to the Open Cinema film festival on Saturday November 21 at Open School East, 43 De Beauvoir Rd, N1 5SQ. Do come along if free and up for some quirky, serious, funny, contemporary and historical footage about Hackney.
Read more here
Update (December 2): You are welcome to watch some of the footage on my ‘Film’ page. More films will be available soon on the Open School East website!