Obedience is a new, mixed-media installation at the Jüdisches Museum, Berlin, created by Saskia Boddeke (Rose Borchovski in Second Life) and Peter Greenaway, which has an interesting cross-over with our virtual world.
The installation takes as its theme the story of Abraham and Isaac; a story which raises questions which are addressed differently by the three major religions – Jewish, Islamic and Christian – in which it can be found.
As the tale goes, Abraham is commanded by God to offer his son in sacrifice as proof of his devotion. Thus, the first question is framed: which is the stronger – devotion to the will of God, or the love of a father for his son? Within this sits a second question, one which holds relevance to us all today regardless of our religious leanings: which is the more important to us – obedience or trust, and where can the balance between the two be found?
Obedience seeks to explore these issues by leading the visitor through fifteen rooms in which Boddeke and Greenaway retell the sorry using a variety of mediums and approaches. In doing so, they offer a means of taking the narrative apart, creating emotionally charged scenes and vignettes which focus the visitor’s eye and thoughts.
The cross-over with Second Life comes via a special installation created by Bryn Oh and Jo Ellesmere at LEA 1, also entitled Obedience.
As with the exhibit at the Jüdisches Museum, visitors to the LEA 1 installation are encouraged to explore a series of “rooms” in which the story of Abraham and Isaac is presented through a set of distinct vignettes, all of which are given a contemporary turn – Abraham, see initially as a doting father, appears to hear the Voice of God through his television, for example, while the mountain range of Moriah from the Book of Genesis becomes a series of tall buildings called Moriah Towers.
“This is a very important exhibition in that it is a high profile use of Second Life as an artistic medium and its mere presence within a museum of this calibre legitimises the virtual space as an art medium for some, who before now may not have associated it in this way,” Bryn states in her own introduction to the LEA 1 installation and its link to the Berlin work. “Credit for this should be given to both Saskia and Peter who are staunch supporters and believers in this medium, they could easily have created the work without using the virtual space yet pushed the idea on the Museum directors and have them interested as well. ”
The link comes not only in the presentation of the Abraham and Isaac story individually in the physical and virtual spaces, but also in fact that the virtual environment we can explore at LEA 1 is being shown on monitors within the Museum, and visitors there have the opportunity to to join us in-world and explore the installation here; through the use of two avatars, isaak001 and ishmael001. So if you see either of them wandering through the LEA 1 space, do keep in mind they are visitors to Second life from the Jüdisches Museum.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is not an easy read, and by bringing the story into a modern setting, Bryn underlines some of the more uncomfortable elements within it, whilst also drawing attention to the broader question of obedience and trust. It also raises an further uncomfortable questions, which I’ll come to anon. In terms of obedience and trust, the contemporary approach taken here offers potentially broader interpretations than the purely Biblical.
Take Abraham’s hearing the voice of God through his television. Here there seems to be a question lurking as to our relationship with the media upon which we rely; just how far can it be trusted? And what if it – say, as a state apparatus – demanded obedience? There are other possible subtleties here as well, such as the Lovecraftian nature of the chair in which Abraham sits, which seems to open doors into other lines of thought.
Nor does Bryn doesn’t stop short on showing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, either. This scene takes place atop of the aforementioned Moriah Towers,s and is brutal in its and terrifying in its vivid portrayal, despite God’s intervention, Abraham’s faith and trust having been demonstrated.
However, this is not the most powerful and poignant scene in the series. That comes last of all – providing you take the time to locate the teleport to reach it. Bryn carries the story forward in what, to me, is the most poignant scene of all. Here we see the aftermath of events. Abraham may well have proven his faith in God, but he has betrayed the trust of his son, who cowers against a wall, terrified. “What happens once Gods presence has withdrawn after testing Abraham’s faith?” Bryn asks, “How might the moments go when Abraham and Isaac are now alone and words are needed to explain?”