A year ago I reconnected with the places of my childhood holidays – Lviv and the Carpathian mountains in Western Ukraine. This area (former Galicia) was for centuries on the crossroads between Middle and Eastern Europe, a cultural melting pot that before WWII was home to Poles, Jews, Armenians, Germans, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Lithuanians, Romanians.
While attending the 2015 International Lviv Book Forum I learnt about Debora Vogel, an overlooked female writer, art critic and philosopher, who was part of the 1920s-30s artistic and literary avant-garde Lviv (more on that here). Together with Olesya Zdorovetska, a Ukrainian composer now based in Dublin, we decided to come back and research the life and work of Vogel through visuals, sounds, poetry, and interviews.
And so in July 2016, supported by the Asylum Arts (US) and a-n Travel Bursary (UK) off we went on our audio-visual journey to Galicia of Debora Vogel. The time has flown by so fast – it has been an enriching and wonderful experience that we hope to build upon by making a film next year. In the meantime, I will be sharing the various steps of our research process here in the blog.
Tog-Figurn (Day-Figures, 1930)
Debora Vogel was born on the 4th of January. And to mark this day here is a short piece referring to her Top-Figurn poetry collection, an example of literary Cubism with its characteristic play of contours, colours and geometrical figures.
Geometry art is the way for Vogel to understand the reality.
Geometry offers borders, it offers limits, it offers Vogel a refuge.
Grey is the dominant colour of Vogel’s work.
Lines of the “grey rectangle” stand in for the monotonous repetition of gestures, of time, of roads.
Vogel describes the melancholy of the modern city. She is manifesting a constant need to experience the geometric form that will offer the escape from the monotonous urban life.
Manekinen (Mannequins, 1934)
Manekinen collection is a subtle and ironic criticism of the state of society – the world of goods and advertising where objects become autonomous, mass produced, alienated from human agency. The border between what is real and what is represented (in the shopping windows) is blurred – women in public spaces resemble the mannequins in the shopping windows, not the other way round. Mannequins are the walking dolls in the street, and people feel more mechanic than their copies. The commodities shout at you, they want to seduce you and want you to look like themselves.
Vogel speaks of the visual spectacle of commodity and of the role of women in public sphere – emancipated women are now allowed to walk the streets but they are subjected to logic of capitalism and mass produced fashion. They depend on this and loose their independence.
While walking the streets of Lviv during our Summer research trip, we were drawn to the orchids in the windows wherever we went. Those omnipresent orchids and mannequins in Lviv of 2016 made us reflect on Vogel’ Lviv of 1934.
While at the university Debora Vogel wrote German poetry, but gradually became familiar with Yiddish literature and began to write in that language encouraged by her friend and colleague Rachel Auerbakh. She became active in Yiddish literary circles and wrote articles for various local Yiddish and Polish journals. She collaborated in the Lwów Yiddish journal of literature and art Tsushtayer (1929–1931), contributing a two-part essay on the art of Marc Chagall and other art reviews, besides her own poems and essays on poetry.
Vogel published two books of Yiddish poetry — Tog-Figurn (Day-Figures, 1930) and Manekinen (Mannequins, 1934), and a book of short sketches, Akatsyes Bliyen (Acacias Bloom, 1935) in both Polish and Yiddish. Her poems, prose and essays appeared in in the New York Introspectivist monthly journal Inzikh (1936, 1937, 1938) and in the quarterly Bodn (1937).
Tog-figurn collection is an example of literary Cubism with its characteristic play of contours, colours and geometrical figures, like, for instance, lines of the “grey rectangle” that stands in for the monotony of modern cityscapes. These “stylistic attempts” transition into the Constructivism of Manekinen, the reflections of the “decorative and consumption-oriented worldview”, where on the streets of Paris, Berlin or Lviv a person transforms into a mannequin, a half-mechanical, half-live decoration, combining a “machinic-mechanical basis” of life with “live matter”.
‘Seed to Harvest’ Sukkot meal and live performance I organised in Dublin last Sunday is a side story from the trip to Ukraine. The Quartet (Olesya Zdorovetska – voice, Nick Roth – saxophones, Olie Brice – double bass, Matthew Jacobson – percussion) performed Seeds II, a study of plant genetics composed by Nick Roth, followed by a free improvisation. The visuals for the performance were created from the material collected in Lviv and the Carpathians.
The origins of Sukkot are both historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest.
Sukkot foods are all about the autumn harvest – apples, pears, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables that are readily available this time of year. On each day of the holiday it is mandatory to perform a waving ceremony with the Four Species: fronds from the myrtle, date, willow trees, along with a yellow etrog (the citron fruit).
Happiness doubles when you share it. Joined by people from Australia, England, Finland, Iran, Ireland, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine we had a memorable evening full of music, visuals, food, conversations and singing. This event was made possible through the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s #MakeItHappen initiative.