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 organised 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 Ukraine during my 2016 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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London Pride

Bright, festive, proud, out-spoken, warm, open, welcoming..

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!

Crimea of my family. Three generations of not asking and not telling. 

In September 2010 I was visiting a friend in Crimea. I went for long walks in the mountains overlooking the sea. Here and then I photographed and thought about my grandfather who was born and grew up near by. What was it like? I knew so little about his early years and so my imagination filled the void.

In April 2015, out of the blue, an email from my uncle popped up. Attached were the scans of four postcards sent by my great-grandmother shortly before she was killed in the mass-murder of Jewish population in Crimea in December 1941. It was the first time I heard about her. She had a name. She was a piano teacher.

Mike mentioned Kodak Bromide Grade 2 was possibly of military issue and so I decided 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

East End markets

Bishopsgate Institute asked me to join Diane Burstein, London guide and author of ‘London Then and Now’, on today’s Sunday morning stroll around the East End markets – Petticoat Lane, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Cheshire Street, Columbia Road. Mind-blowing how the area and the markets have changed since I moved to London 12 years ago. But then again, many people keep reminding me how different it was decades ago. London is always on the move..

Impromptu from the Carpathians

Last month I reconnected with the places of my childhood holidays – Lviv and the Carpathian mountains in Western Ukraine. This area (former Galicia) was for centuries on the crossroads between Middle and Eastern Europe, and so it is small wonder that it has become a melting pot of people and cultures – Ukrainian, Jewish, Polish, Armenian, Belorussian, Lithuanian, Romanian, German.

The outbound trip started with an early flight from Stansted to Rzeszow (the most south-eastern Ryanair destination town of Poland) followed by a 2hour bus journey to Przemyśl. There I found a cozy little cafe with the titles of dishes scribbled on the wall (in Polish only) and after a few minutes of hesitated multi-lingual interaction I was presented with some superb soup followed by a much needed delicious coffee. Next leg of the journey involved a mini-bus to the Polish-Ukranian border that I crossed by foot. All that was rather emotional for me – as a 14-year old I crossed the border of Ukraine and Slovakia on my first Russian passport (Soviet template actually). It was my first ever time travelling to *Europe* and the excitement was overwhelming. Now, 20 years later, I was travelling the opposite direction on my British passport reliving childhood memories in the light of two decades of wanderings. I boarded another mini-bus on the Ukrainian side and was told that in an hour and a half I would arrive in Lviv where I was to join my friend Olesya, the very one who prompted me to come here and now.

To follow were days of peeping into courtyards of old Lviv, walking the cobble streets, climbing onto the roofs opposite the former Golden Rose synagogue in Staroyevreyska street, wandering in the Lychakivskiy Cemetery reading mournful tributes inscribed in Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish, Armenian, Latin. And of course there were poetry readings, music and late night discussions. Olesya bought a newly printed Ukrainian edition of Debora Vogel poetry with illustrations and that was the start of our collaboration, our voyage to explore text, images and sounds of Vogel’s work and life.

Work sample 4-6290  Work sample 4-6310  Work sample 4-6336

Debora Vogel was born in 1902 in Burshtyn (Galicia) in a non-observant, Polish-speaking home. During WWI the family fled to Vienna and later moved to Lviv. She traveled extensively in Europe and was part of the vibrant Polish modernist scene of the interwar period. It was in Lviv where Vogel wrote poems in Yiddish in the 1930s that reflected the radical and minimalistic outlook that all art aspired toward during this period in history. Her experiment in poetry was mostly about fusing poetry and art. She called this technique ‘white words’ and described it as an attempt to “create a new lyric poetry of the urban condition”. Together with her husband and son, Vogel was killed in the Lviv ghetto in 1942.

Around 1930 Debora Vogel became acquainted with the Polish Jewish writer and artist Bruno Schulz who was as yet unpublished. The two developed a close relationship and carried on an intensive correspondence. It was Fogel who encouraged Schulz to develop the lyrical postscripts to his letters, passages that became the basis for his first publication “Cinnamon Shops” (1934), published in English as “Street of the Crocodiles.” Half a century later brothers Quay created a stop-motion animation based on this short novel. Ironically, Vogel is better known today for her connection with Schulz than for her own unique and innovative poetic vision. Very little of her work has been translated into Russian and Ukrainian, none into English.

The first letter (survived and translated into Russian by Dana Pinczewska) Vogel sent to Schulz starts like this:

21.V.1938 Бруно! Декорация этого письма – Сколе.

Bruno! The background scenery of this letter is Skole.

And here I am, on the early morning train from Lviv to the Carpathian mountains, not yet knowing of this letter, following my own story reconnecting with the places of my childhood. I doze off and when I open my eyes I am blinded by the sun breaking through the clouds, next what I see is the station building with ‘Skole’ on it exactly how I remember it when I was a kid.

The letter continues:

Твое последнее письмо вернуло мне давний образ осеннего ландо, на котором мы должны были вместе уехать в красочную страну. Запах путешествия обладает неотразимым очарованием и странным образом всегда ассоциируется с образом кого-то другого, спутника. Затем оказывается, что хорошо быть одному, совсем хорошо быть более чем одному — быть одиноким, оставленным, безнадежно отданным на милость оставленности и бездомности. Тогда «видится» хорошо.

Your last letter brought back the distant image of the autumnal landau which should have taken us to a beautiful far away land. The smell of the journey has an irresistible charm, and strangely, it makes me think of someone else, of a companion. But then it turns out that it is so good to be on my own, and what is even better is to be alone, deserted, left at the mercy of abandonment and homelessness. Then one can ‘see’ well.

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