12 Bernstein

It was in the Summer 2016 when I first encountered the story of the derelict building at 12 Sholem Aleichem street (formerly Bernstein street). I came to Lviv to research Debora Vogel and her literary and artistic circles of the inter-war period. Wherever I turned I seemed to hear about the building – Google, resources at the Lviv Centre for Urban History, ad-hoc chats with people at the Centre.

Off I went to find the building. The door was locked. A sign БIБЛIОТЕКА (‘library’) on the adjacent building №14 was my route in – I walked in and sneaked at the back. 

14 Bernstein street, 21 July 2016 (photos by Asya Gefter)

Crumbling walls separating the two buildings №14 and №12, a relatively recent  (January 2015) communist newspaper with a picture of Lenin, some sort of a target shooting board, bits and pieces scattered around.

A couple weeks later Alena Andronatiy called and announced she got the keys to the building. The three of us – Alena, Olesya and myself – met. The world outside stopped to exist when we entered. I lost the sense of time. But we live in the digital age when everything is recorded. The first photograph was taken at 16:30:08, the last one at 17:27:47. It lasted less than an hour what seems a century. The building became a character in our project and film. 

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The Lviv Jewish museum was opened on 17 June 1934 in the building of the Jewish community on 12 Bernstein street. It immediately became a noticeable phenomenon in the cultural life of the multiethnic Galicia. Its collection included religious artefacts of the 17th-19th centuries (Maksymilian Goldstein Judaica collection) andmodern art.

The custodian of the museum was Ludwik Lille, artist and connoisseur of Jewish relics. He joined Artes, an avant-garde art group which tried surrealism, symbolism, abstractionism, cubism, constructivism and other movements which were in fashion in the European art of that timeheld exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and Vogel wrote about matters close to their area of interests; Henryk Streng, another member of Artes, illuminated Vogel’s prose collection Acacias Blooms well as her poetry books Day Figures and Mannequins.

In early 1940 the communist regime liquidated the Jewish Museum, and its holdings were transferred to the collections of the Industrial Museum and other museums in LvivDespite all the efforts of the Museum administration to save Goldstein and his family, thewere murdered during the Aktion of November 1942.

The same fate as of Debora Vogel and her family.

Ukrainian employees of the Industrial museum saved the artifacts by hiding them in the basement. In 1944 they visited Pavlo Zholtovsky, the director of the newly created Museum of Ethnography and Arts and Crafts, and presented him with the antiquities. In 1948, after the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union issued the resolution “On the Struggle against Rootless Cosmopolitanism,” Zholtovsky received an order to destroy all Jewish artifacts. The Ukrainian scholar, risking his freedom and life, issued to the NKVD a false certificate attesting to the destruction of the antiquities, and then hid them in the attic of the museum.

The people of Lviv discovered the twice-saved collection only in 1990, when the art historian Dr. Faina Petryakova unveiled an exhibit dedicated to the Jewish material and spiritual heritage.

‘Relics of the Jewish World of Galicia’ exhibition is currently on display at the Lviv Ethnography Museum – the very collection that was housed at the Lviv Jewish Museum in the 1930s.

The building of the former Jewish Museum survived too but has become a victim of difficult politics in the Lviv Religious Jewish community in the post-Soviet independent Ukraine.

Will be history obliterated and all memory erased yet again by the recent 2017/18 controversial renovation that might result in turning it into a hotel?

‘sano-r, sana-ris, sana-tur’, 12 Bernstein street, 7 August 2016 (photo by Asya Gefter)

Lviv-London Double Impact

Join us at Pushkin House, London on November 14 for a special evening of imagery, history, words and music with London resident Asya Gefter, who has just launched the ‘Fragments of Memory’ project in Lviv, and Lviv resident Mark Tokar, double bass player and a key figure in the Ukrainian free jazz scene.

Over the past two years, Asya Gefter and Olesya Zdorovetska had been on a journey to discover Debora Vogel, an overlooked intellectual, writer, art critic, the Gertrude Stein of inter-war Lviv. They walked the places Vogel inhabited, exhibited and wrote about. They met people who survived the war and went on living, or were born long after and reconnected with the vanished world. They encountered the story of the former Lviv Jewish museum, a derelict building presently at risk. The work that resulted from this voyage is concerned with the presence and absence of people, with a discontinuous perception of poetic and physical spaces, with personal stories pointing to Lemberg/Lwow/Lviv for present and future generations.

Vogel’s experimental poetry, all written in the 1920s-30s, was, in the spirit of early 20th century European literature, radically avant-garde and attuned to all the modernist minimalisms. Being skilled in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish, she published essays covering Lviv’s intellectual life and urban landscape, the role of women in society and art. Yet, her name has always been connected with the Polish prose stylist Bruno Schulz. Vogel’s own work received little attention during her life and after her death in Lviv ghetto in 1942.

‘Fragments of Memory’ exhibition at the Lviv Museum of Ideas, September 2017 (photo by Asya Gefter)

The multimedia exhibition was launched at the Lviv Museum of Ideas during the International Book Forum in September 2017. Project research and Lviv exhibition were supported by A-n Travel bursary (UK), Asylum Arts ‘Small Grant’ (US), Kickstarter Crowdfunding campaign, Lviv Book Forum and Lviv Museum of Ideas. The plan is to tour the exhibition and develop a website with project material in English, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Yiddish.

Lviv is not only about the past but also about the present. Mark Tokar will play and talk about contemporary music scene in Ukraine, his collaborations in Ukraine and internationally, including the multi-genre projects (visualisations, literature, performance) with Yuri Andrukhovych, one of the leading Ukrainian authors writing today. Among these projects: Endless Journey or Aeneid (multimedia collage based on Yuri Andrukhovych-Ivan Kotliarevskiy with the elements of lecture, concert and banquet). Albert, or the Highest Form of Execution (Albert was created on the base of eponymous story written by Yuri Andrukhovych. In the center of action there is the story of ingenious cheater Albert Vyrozemskiy who agrees to sell his soul to the devil to avoid death penalty. However, the agreement signed with blood did not work. One autumn day in 1641, he was publicly burned in the middle of the Rynok Square in Lviv.

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

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.

Acacias Bloom collage1 Acacias Bloom collage2 Acacias Bloom collage3 Acacias Bloom collage4

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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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.

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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