The Digital Liberation of G-d, 2004
Digital Interactive Installation
Beit Midrash, Second Floor
Helène Aylon inscribes herself in a long tradition of Torah commentators devoted to questioning and probing the words, and the spaces between the words, in the Five Books of Moses. Unlike prior commentators, she provides no answers. Her artwork poses questions, and invites her audience to enter its spirit of open inquiry.
Aylon has used a pink highlighter to draw attention to passages "where patriarchal attitudes have been projected onto G-d as though man has the right to have dominion even over G-d… between words in the empty spaces where a female presence has been omitted, where only the father's name is recorded as the parent who begot the offspring; and over words of vengeance, deception, cruelty and misogyny, words attributed to G-d."
While the original Liberation of G-d installation, now in the collection of The Jewish Museum in New York, served as a platform for national dialogues between the artist, viewers, and theologians, The Digital Liberation of G-d at the JCCSF is the first time viewers are able to study Aylon's textual critique in depth: thanks to digital technology, they can read the entire highlighted Torah and respond to it by clicking on any of the pink highlights in the text on an adjacent commentary computer station.
About Helène Aylon
Helène Aylon is perhaps the only artist equally conversant in the ways of the Old World and the Art World. Born, raised and schooled in Boro Park, Brooklyn, at age eighteen she married an Orthodox rabbi and had two children shortly thereafter. She dutifully complied with all the rules and roles of the orthodox rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) until the death of her husband in 1961. Meanwhile, Aylon studied art under painter Ad Reinhardt at Brooklyn College, and executed a mural commission for a Jewish chapel at New York's Kennedy Airport. In the 1970s she returned to school to pursue graduate work in Women's Studies at Antioch College West. Her artworks of the Seventies were process-based paintings made in such a way that they "changed with time;" the work of the Eighties was a feminist call for reverence for the Earth and an end to nuclear escalation and the Cold War. Only in the Nineties did she return to her own personal roots in Judaism, and take on the work of reconciling her soul's principles with the language of the Torah. She has been highlighting the texts ever since.
Aylon has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards including two Pollock Krasner Foundation grants, a Yaddo MacArthur Foundation grant, several awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, and the 2002 National Foundation for Jewish Culture Annual Visual Arts Award.
Her work is represented in numerous public and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Brandeis University Women's Studies Center.
Scriptures that are the backbone of our People and that have withstood the test of the centuries come under new scrutiny when subjected to modern humanist appraisal. Add a feminist lens and the dissonance becomes more acute. What are we to do with this discrepancy? Ignore it or probe it? Treat the entire Torah as revealed text or dismiss the excesses of the past as historical artifacts? Between these two approaches lies a third path, one that takes the holy writings passed down from our forefathers as a point of departure for what it means to be a Jew today, and what Jewish values might be in the light and shadow of our heritage.
Assoc. Curator of Education
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art