While immersing myself within the JDC photographic archive, I became captivated by images of faces. Faces wearing knowing smiles and fearful glances, faces bearing the burden of fatigue and the stares of silent strength. I became lost in the details -- the glint of an eye, the turn of a head, the clench of a jaw, the furrow on a forehead. Men. Women. Children. Suspicious. Embarrassed. Ecstatic. Indifferent. In study, at play, working, in pain, or glowing with hope. Faces of innocence, faces of wisdom, faces of experience. Jewish faces.
The more I looked, the more these faces began to grow on me. Beyond the particular countries, towns and individual histories that distinguished us, and despite the chasms of time that separated us, there was something about each and all of them that felt ineffably familiar. It slowly dawned on me that many of these anonymous faces could easily be members of my family. And then it struck me. A warm shock of recognition. They are my family.
A time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together.
A Video Installation by Alan Berliner
Using photographs and motion picture imagery gathered from the remarkable archival collection of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, GATHERING STONES will be a participatory video installation that gives renewed dignity to these myriad Jewish faces, and inspires remembrance of them as our collective ancestors -- acknowledging our enduring bond then, now and always, as a community of destiny.
Upon entering the installation space, the museum visitor will encounter the sculptural presence of a large open photo-album, composed entirely of black pebbles and white rocks resting solemnly on the gallery floor. Five video projectors suspended from the ceiling will beam film and/or photographic images upon five separate rectangles of white stones, which will serve as photographic "screen surfaces." Arrayed in a composition approximating an actual photo album, the images projected upon the five rectangles of white stones (surrounded and framed by a background of black pebbles) will transform the idea of a book of remembrance -- something familiar and ordinary -- into a kind of ceremonial sacred site.
At the entrance to the installation, there will also be a pile of small white stones. A sign on the wall will instruct each visitor (if they wish) to take a stone from this pile and add it to any of the white stone rectangles resting on the floor. By borrowing and appropriating the Jewish ritual practice of placing small stones on tombstones when visiting cemeteries, GATHERING STONES seeks to engage the visitor (Jew and non-Jew alike) in a real time gesture of connection with Jewish history, memory and community. Between the living and the dead. The faces and immediate families of those pictured in the installation are certainly no longer with us. The houses they lived in no longer exist. The communities they shared are long gone. Their daily way of life has long ago been eulogized. And yet their culture lives on, one way or another in each of us. Like the old, worn-out photo-albums that safeguard our own private family histories, GATHERING STONES celebrates the idea that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee photo/film archive is, ultimately, a "family album" for all of us.