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.

collage

Alexandra Palace commission

During June and July 2015 Alexandra Palace commissioned me to run a photography course ‘Give Your Future a Shot” for young people 16-25 as a part of their ‘War on the Home Front’ exhibition. This project, inspired by the use of Alexandra Palace as a refugee and internment camp during the First World War, was aimed at teaching participants how to use photography to give themselves a voice, uniting and intertwining this interesting period of history with the lives, experiences, and stories of young people today. Read more here.

© Asya Gefter / Alexandra Palace, 2015
© Asya Gefter / Alexandra Palace, 2015

London Radical Book Fair

The London Radical Bookfair 2015 in their second year running championed radical publishing – from its independent bookshops and publishers to its DIY-ers; the small press, self-publishers, and zinesters.

The LRB took over Bishopsgate Institute last year as the first event of its kind to bring together UK’s radical publishing and self-publishing communities. It was a joy and a privilege to be asked by Nik Górecki from Housmans Bookshop to document the fair once again, this time in a renovated Victorian warehouse at 47/49 Tanner Street near Tower Bridge.

Tales from the Ditch

Alan Gilbey, curator/guide, BAFTA Award-winning writer and East End guru:
‘Tales From The Ditch’ is an anthology of tales less told from London’s ‘little bit of rough’, as narrated by an eclectic selection of local authors, historians, storytellers and musicians, who were hidden in all the nooks and crannies of the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. Each of these performances is a miniature, lasting five minutes, before bells are rung and you have to move on to find the next one. It’s a bit like speed dating, except you don’t have an awkward bit at the end where London history tries to get your phone number.

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Dan Jones has painted East End scenes for four decades; writer, youth worker and human rights campaigner.

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‘Oh Mr Wu..’ In an opium den Stefan Dickers sang of the scarcity of opium dens in the real Chinese Limehouse.

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In a secret room Keith Jones tells the classified story of Tommy Flowers, the Poplar telephone engineer who played a major part in cracking the Enigma Code and ending WW2.

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Chris Lilly and Tim Smith in the musical melodrama about ‘A Child Of The Jago.’

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Tim Smith in the musical melodrama about ‘A Child Of The Jago.’

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In a dark, damp cellar Debbie Scott tells the story of her great grandfather, who saved a great many men from drowning in the docks but was never honoured for his courage.

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In a dark, damp cellar Debbie Scott tells the story of her great grandfather, who saved a great many men from drowning in the docks but was never honoured for his courage.

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In the clinic of Anna Stokes you could receive sun lamp treatment and hear of Shoreditch Councils progressive health policies in the nineteen twenties. 'More power! More light!'

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© Asya Gefter

There was a pub and a bit of a sing-song. An opium den clouded with myth. A musical melodrama about ‘A Child Of The Jago.’ A clinic where you could feel the health giving powers of electricity and sunlight.

Who created the Ditch? Perhaps Shoreditch Council just sheered the tops off a lot of Victorian houses and dumped an Edwardian Town Hall on top?  With its winding corridors and sudden dead ends, secret staircases and non-sequiter windows, it is the perfect geophysical venue for a myth defying night of Eastside stories.

All together…

‘It’s the rich wot get the pleasure and the poor wot get the rich.
All of us are lying in the gutter, but some of us are dreaming of The Ditch.’