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Jack Jano – SoferStam – Hebrew Installation

Past Exhibition

10.09.2009 - 05.11.2009

Jack Jano: Complex Hybridization between Religion and Secularity

by David Sperber | Edited by Tzachi Mezoman

Recently, the notion of “post-secularity” emerges, suggesting that “secularity” and “religion” are not contradictory concepts, but are rather related to each other by an inseparable bond. The newly resurgent folklore field, that up to now was not addressed at all, has also recently become a commonly discussed issue in contemporary art, fertilizing its Jewish discourse.

This new spirit strives to allow a living religion or magical discourse to take place – a branch previously excluded and suppressed from the field of art. Jack Jano’s work fits in with this spirit. His body of work does not conform to the conventional dichotomy between the worlds of religion and art. During his active years, Jano hybridized between disciplines and challenged both the dominant secular discourse and the marginal religious culture. His works also consistently blur the common distinctions between a secular humanist world, focusing on human being as its center, and a pre-modern world, in which God is paramount; in Jano’s work, ‘I am the LORD, thy God’ is merged with the personal ‘I am’, and is hybridized with the ‘me’.

‘Lucky is

The simple person

Who is his own master,

Who has a self that is also an ‘I am’,

That in turn is me.’

In his works, Jano creates models of tombs and synagogues made of rusty and disintegrating iron, worn-out books, melted wax, yahrzeit candles, and other materials. All these are fused into a sculptural design that revives the various elements and gives them both a religious and artistic validity. The pictures of the righteous persons and the portraits made by Jano are a kind of an experiment in practical magic, while raising questions regarding identity and connection with popular ritual tradition. In the works inspired by a trip to Morocco, the artist’s land of birth, popular folklore is reflected, too, through a post-orientalistic view, free of any exotics. His ‘journey’ works – wheelbarrows in which books or ritual articles are stacked, as well as his works based oh wheelchairs – do not express a journey derived from a deep nostalgia towards the Diasporaand in the footsteps of the ‘generation of the wilderness’, but rather an internal journey of self-exploration. The arched structures created by Jano, a combination of models of tombs of righteous Jewish persons and of Arab sheikhs, undermine the dichotomy between ‘Arab’ and ‘Jewish’ in order to make the relationship between them visible, a relationship that the Israeli society t keeps strictly oppressed and excluded.

In Jewish and Israeli art the written letters are widely employed, often as a part of quoting Jewish traditional texts. The welded iron letters on the gallery floor in Jano’s present exhibition do not emerge as signifiers of language or sound, but rather as a separate metaphysical quality that is connected to the Jewish tradition, derived from sages of blessed memory and from the Kabala, that tells that the world was created of words, followed by formation as a combination of words. This self-awareness of the complexity of this hybridization is also evident in the video work ‘Babylon’ screened at the exhibition (editor: Nurit Malkin), in which Jano changes identities in a humoristic theatrical manner, and presents various stereotypes and clichés.

Thus, Jano’s work draws upon the world of Jewish tradition, and in his objects, the border between an aesthetic object and a magical one is sometimes blurred. ‘My studio is like a synagogue. There I pray to God to help me find my truth, so I can become one with what I do’ testifies the artist.

Thus, Jano’s deployment of artifacts from the religious world is not an act of defamiliarization but an act of hybridization, pointing to the difficulty of placing traditionalism within a definite sociological framework. This difficulty emerges from the refusal of Jews from Arab countries to be classified by the European categories of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’. Against this background, Jano’s work succeeds in capturing complex hybridization between religion and secularity, and not just replacing one of them with the other. In this, actually, lies its true power.

Press here to view Jack Jano’s available works