Contemporary art unraveling the Dead Sea Scrolls

June 27, 2009 to March 28, 2010
Koffler Gallery Off-Site
Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park
Curator: Mona Filip

Presented by the Institute for Contemporary Culture and the Koffler Gallery

Concurrent with the ROM’s major exhibition Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World, Margins is a newly commissioned installation and the first Canadian exhibition by acclaimed New York-based artist Joshua Neustein. Engaging visual art in a poetic reflection on writing, religion and archaeology, Neustein’s project shapes a dialogue with the historical and cultural contexts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among these ancient manuscripts are the oldest-known copies of the Hebrew Bible, hymns, prayers and other writings providing a link to the origins of Judaic, Christian and Islamic faiths.

Positioning the thematic of the Scrolls within a contemporary discourse, Margins references prominent Jewish poet Edmond Jabès and his critical texts concerned with the nature of writing, of silence, of God, and the Book. Jabès’s mysterious meditations, the revealed knowledge of the historical texts and Neustein’s own visual vocabulary converge in an installation that conveys the passion and impossibility of writing.

Through drawing, sculptural and textual elements, Neustein’s installation re-enacts the emergence of the word piercing the silence with luminous presence. A sumptuous chandelier embedded into the gallery wall radiates as the core of the work — a strange archaeological relic excavated into visibility. Unraveling towards its brightness, transparent acrylic sheets lay collapsed on the floor, bearing shimmering texts. Drawn out by light, handwriting becomes typography, coalescing words into crystallized form. The script escapes the page, crossing margins into the space where writing struggles to uncover the unwritten.

Archaeology unearths dormant traces of history. Writing pushes at the edge of silence to bring forth the unsaid. Similarly, Margins explores manifest and concealed ideas of the Dead Sea Scrolls, exposing them to the light of our times.

Joshua Neustein (born 1940, Poland) is a contemporary visual artist currently living and working in New York. He is known primarily for his environmental installations and Post Minimalist torn paper works, as well as his series of large-scale map paintings. After immigrating to Israel in 1964, Neustein quickly made a significant impact on the cultural scene and is considered to be among the founding figures of Environmental and Conceptual Art in Israel. In 1995, Neustein represented Israel at the Venice Biennale with a monumental intervention that encased and intruded into the Israel Pavilion. He has exhibited in museums and galleries around the world including the Chelsea Museum (New York), Israel Museum (Jerusalem), Albright Knox Gallery (Buffalo, New York), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, California), Rose Art Museum (Waltham, Massachusetts), Tel Aviv Museum (Tel Aviv), and the Zacheta National Gallery of Contemporary Art (Warsaw Poland).