Interview: Mel Alexenberg

January 31st, 2007 by Menachem Wecker

My review of Mel Alexenberg’s new book, The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness is in this week’s Forward, titled “The Jewish McLuhan.”

I talk about his installations which do everything from tying tzitzit strings to the corners of the United States to sending “Cyber-angels” (derived from Rembrandt) across the world by fax. And perhaps most provocatively, his Holocaust memorial honoring the 6 million Jews in Israel “incinerated by an Iranian nuclear bomb that is Iran’s prelude to global conquest in the service of a mad ideology.”

Here’s the email interview I conducted with Alexenberg, pictured (wearing a hat with the ambassadors of Israel and the U.S. at the opening of his exhibit, Cyberangels: Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East, at the Prague Jewish Museum ):

MW: I find your ability to not only map the Torah out over postmodern/deconstruction theory but also to create numerous artworks that attends to those discoveries quite fascinating. I wonder, though, is there any limit in your mind to cooperation between Jewish texts/theology and technology? Is there ever a danger of creating towers of Babel?

MA: I discuss the greatest transgression in building the Tower of Babel as defying the Divine will to revere and applaud the differences between peoples (pages 150-151). With rapidly developing translation programs on the Internet, people can retain their different languages and cultures while communicating to each other freely. Internet translation programs that promise to be perfected in the next decade provide unprecedented opportunities to be both unified and different simultaneously.

MW: Along similar lines, it strikes me that close inspection of any text, not only the Torah, would yield striking aspects that are relevant to postmodernism and the digital age. Do you agree with that? If so, what is it about Judaism that makes the postmodern investigation particularly fruit worthy?

MA: On pages 21-22, I discuss McLuhan’s important concept that the medium is an integral part of the message in relation to the hypertext Internet-like design of the Talmud that demands that it be studied in multiple ways unlike the one-way linear reading of other books. The text of the Talmud itself repeats the mantra that there are 70 facets to the Torah (p. 14). It invites us to read between the lines. See the section “From Deconstruction to Reconstruction” (pages 84-88). On pages 41-42, 89, I explore the endless flow of the spiral Torah scroll in contrast with the same content trapped between the covers in a codex book form. The medium is so central that the same content is not read from a rectangular book if the Torah is not available in a scroll form.

MW: You make a big deal out of the paradigm shift from Hellenism to Hebraic perspectives, but it seems you are far more interested in the Hebraic space once you get there than in the evolution. Are there not many aspects of Hellenistic thought that also be compared with new media developments?

MA: The book is about the future of art which is confluent with the Hebraic structure of consciousness not past paradigms. To use Boman’s words (p. 9) Hellenism = static, peaceful, moderate, harmonious = art from Renaissance to modernism. Hebraic thinking = dynamic, vigorous, passionate, explosive = new media art.

MW: You have done a lot of art projects that develop upon your
writings. Do you see the theory/concept as the most important part? The artwork? Do you sometimes feel like you are rushing to finish things so as to adopt new projects?

MA: Theory/concept is vital in my work both as an artist and professor of art and Jewish thought. However, I am not a philosophy professor who does not have to realize his theories in the real world. As an artist, I am always seeking new ways to realize theory/concept in space and time. I never completely finish art projects that are part of a continuous dialogue between concept and realization. My art projects overlap each other and re-emerge in an ongoing process of creative discovery.

MW: Your memorial to 6 million Israelis who could be killed by Iran is intriguing. Is there fear of casting an evil eye? What exactly is the memorial you want to make? Are there plans to develop it?

MA: The website is a prioric and dialogic work of Internet art in itself (see chapter on semiotics in my book and explanation in text of website itself). I am also exploring creating a memorial artwork using digital animation technologies in large-scale nighttime projections covering the exterior surface of buildings worldwide. What I’m doing is using my abilities as a new media artist to issue a wake up call to an indifferent world and to Jews with their heads in the sand and warn of a horrific danger facing Israel and all the free world. To hell with an evil eye. It is evil to sit back and do nothing.

MW: I like your art models designed to respond to the Arab-Israeli
conflict and to find common ground. Do you think it is realistic that art can help people resolve their political differences? Do you have any experiences that lead you to believe that art can make that difference?

MA: Why not try art when politics is failing? In my Prague exhibition proposing an aesthetic peace plan for the Middle East drawing on Islamic art and thought, I opened a constructive dialog with Islamic leaders. (pages 54-57).

My Legacy Throne artwork exemplifies using art together people (Hispanic, African-American, Jewish) of different cultural values in a common enterprise (pages 26-30). Perhaps similar collaborative Jewish-Arab artworks could ease tensions.

MW: Finally, your work relies heavily upon kabbalah and other
mysticism. Do you think these sorts of theories are within the experience of real Jews living in the world today? Is your investigation more interested in the theology or in how people have and do interpret that theology in their own lives? I imagine many Jews would find your work either too esoteric in its attention to Judaism or new media. Have you heard feedback in this regard?

MA: There is worldwide popularization of kabbalah among both Jews and non-Jews while people in the developed world have no choice but to become computer savvy and attend to new media. I make it clear in Chapter 3 that kabbalah is a down-to-earth mysticism to encounter everyday life unlike other mystical traditions that draw away from the mundane material world.

WordPress database error: [Table './db6196_iconia/wp_comments' is marked as crashed and last (automatic?) repair failed]
SELECT * FROM wp_comments WHERE comment_post_ID = '126' AND comment_approved = '1' ORDER BY comment_date

4 Responses to “Interview: Mel Alexenberg”

Feed for this Entry Trackback Address
  1. No Comments

Leave a Reply

XHTML: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>