Artist Project: The Medium is the Matzo by Melissa Shiff
Melissa Shiff's video performance and installation The Medium is the Matzo
The Medium is the Matzo is Melissa Shiff’s multi-media revisioning of the Passover story. This Passover project was installed at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University from April 8th until May 2nd, 2005. With this installation, Shiff used close to 4000 pieces of Matzo to create what she calls a “three dimensional living Haggadah.” The installation took on the character of a Sukkah for Passover so that visitors could “live in the Mitzvah” as one orthodox person observed.
For this installation Shiff also created 600 pillows that contained the central message of the installation. Each pillow was stuffed with a piece of Matzo in a zip lock bag and each pillow was placed on the floor so that the shoeless visitor had to walk over this sea of pillows. Shiff states: “On each pillow is a silk screened images of a piece of matzo with the words “Crush Oppression” overlaid. So as the visitor walks through the different spaces they are walking on these pillows and are constantly Crushing Oppression.”
Shiff created six distinct spaces for this installation,—the plagues room, the Matzo Mitzrayim tunnel (the narrow spaces/Egypt), the Passover Projections space, the Elijah Lounge, the Miriam Bar and finally the Matzo Ball activist corner.
Matzo Ball Activism:
In the last space of her installation Shiff set up a store where she sold her new Passover ritual objects—her “Crush Oppression” pillows-- and her Matzo ball activist kits. For the Matzo Ball activist kits, Shiff recycled the empty Matzo boxes from the matzo she used to construct her installation, and stuffed each kit with a mini Crush Oppression pillow and literature about the tradition of social activist Seders. She refers to these activist boxes as “Seder Enhancement Kits”—and encourages people to introduce the crush oppression pillow as a new ritual object at their seder and to incorporate some of the readings about Passover activism at the seder as well. A percentage of the profits from each kit sold was donated to the organization Mazon—a Jewish response to hunger.
Another component of Shiff’s activist installation is her Matzo-Ball soup wall. On the last day of the show (May 2nd, 2005) all 120 jars of Manuschewitz soup were transported to the Hebrew Union College Soup kitchen and soup was doled out to the hungry.
Still from Melissa Shiff's video performance and installationThe Medium is the Matzo
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Shiff refers to her installation as a living three dimensional Haggadah what do you think she means by this? What Passover symbolism is Shiff utilizing? What lines in the Haggadah is Shiff actualizing with her installation?
How has Shiff brought the Passover ritual into the contemporary moment?
How is Shiff playing off of the McCluhan maxim and for what aims?
How is Shiff updating the Plagues?
What do you think Shiff is trying to achieve by superimposing the viewer/participant into the miraculous scene where the Red Sea parts in Cecil B. DeMille’s iconic film “The Ten Commandments”? How is she referencing the traditional Haggadah?
Why do you think Shiff has introduced the Miriam Bar to the Passover narrative? How does this extend the new ritual of Miriam’s cup?
What is the symbolism Shiff is using in the Elijah Lounge? Why has she used the fireplace as the structuring device for imagery related to Elijah?
At a Seder one is supposed to recline in order to signify freedom. How has Shiff utilized this idea in her installation? And how has she transformed this action into something beyond mere rememberance?
Matzo Ball Activism
How can you transform your own Seder from a story that is told to a story that is acted upon?
To view panoramas and to take avirtual tour through The Medium is the Matzo please visit:
To read reviews by Jeffrey Feldman and Douglas Rushkoff of the Medium is the Matzo at NYU please visit:
To read about and to view video Melissa Shiff’s art activist Times Square Seder ( 2002) on line, please visit:
On April 27th, 2005 Avoda Arts sponsored a special Artist Seder which took place inside Melissa Shiff’s installation. This event featured performances and presentations by visual artists Tobi Kahn and Melissa Shiff, Hip Hop Klezmer artist Socalled (Josh Dolgin) and Susan Hoffman Watts and NYU student performers.
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