MIKVAH AT THE WHITE STORK SYNAGOGUE, WROCŁAW (PL)
The installation by Israeli artist Noa Heyne created in Wrocław mikvah invites us to the bathhouse and extends the experience, engaging more senses than just sight. The construction, consisting of tiles installed on a hydraulic system, refers to the elements of the bathhouse architecture and requires the interaction of the audience who is invited to activate it and thus become its essential part. In the ritual of purification in mikvah, similarly as in the installation, the water plays a fundamental function as a universal symbol of change and force.
Objects and places become authentic and concrete when they are experienced with all senses and with active, reflective thinking. The places are sometimes devoid of reality, because we know them only from the outside perspective, through the eyes of a tourist, readings or stories. For many of us, Wrocław mikvah is such a place. It used to be frequently visited, yet nowadays the water fills it only a few times a year. It has been an essential place for the Jewish community in Wrocław, unique in terms of architecture, yet, at the same time, often absent from the maps of the city inhabitants, and its ritual function remains vague. The interactive installation by Noa Heyne makes mikvah a physically tangible space. It invites us to the bathhouse and extends the experience, engages the senses, triggers more than just visual cognitive processes. The installation is comprised of a hydraulic system and sculptural elements that refer to the surrounding architecture as well as to the human body. As part of the hydraulic system, wooden platforms are placed in and around the pool. The installation requires the interaction of the audience who is invited to activate it. When visitors climb a platform and let their weight push against it, the sound of water is heard, and the sculptures move.
In the ritual of purification, similarly as in the installation, the water plays a fundamental function as an universal symbol of change and force. The object created by the artist binds both of these meanings together; the water, set in motion by the pressure makes the floor move. It is possible due to the pipe system hidden under the platforms, inspired by the architectural solutions in a ritual bathhouse, which allows kosher water to be brought into the pool and mixed with ordinary water. The hydraulic system, although invisible, becomes a crucial element in Heyne's installation. It enables a head-to-toe experience. It is not only sight, but also movement, touch, sound that allow us to experience spatial qualities of the mikvah and understand the essence of the place differently than in a rational way.
The installation strongly emphasizes the dependence of our spatial orientation on a body posture, which, through its verticality, expresses control over the environment and the gravity. Our posture gives also a sense of confidence of being in an organized world whose essential part is also the ground under the feet. It refers not only to a physical and always present reference point, but also to the culturally and psychologically conditioned need for stability and grounding. The installation disturbs the pattern of moving forward and backward, forces submission to the up-down movement, which resembles submerging in the waters of the mikvah and at the same time disrupts the feeling of the stable ground. The moving floor introduces a sense of uniqueness, the impression of destabilization, simultaneously referring to accumulated and complex events from the past, or even secrets related to the place, hidden under the surface. The installation evokes sensual sensations, causes the body to adapt to it and perform. A kind of sensual activity and symmetry of the object, space and participants' body invited to interaction arise.
UNDERCURRENT is imperceptible on the surface, though intense deep-sea water current. It refers to the inaccessible to the eyesight power of the waters of the seas and oceans, which affects the entire ecosystem, regardless of whether we are aware of it or not.