With you, it will be all right

2017, Installation (HD-video, 10´30 min, 5 wooden benches)

At the heart of the work "With you, it will be all right" are interviews with schoolchildren of Birobidzhan Lyceum No. 23, conducted by the artist in April 2017. This is the only public school in the city where Jewish history and traditions are studied, as well as the basics of Yiddish and Hebrew. The pupils were asked questions about their attitude towards Birobidzhan, about the future of the city and about their personal plans. The teenagers resemble the protagonists of a propaganda film that attracts the viewer with the freshness and beauty of youth. At the same time, their answers testify to the openness and immediacy of the children and reflect the internal fragility and inconsistency of their age. Most schoolchildren are neither children of ethnic or religious Jews, and the study of Jewish culture leads them to a very specific perception of modern European history of the 20th century and the Holocaust in particular. In the description of the children there is a shift of the concepts "us" and "others", sometimes reaching their full merging.

The benches designed by the artist are part of the installation and are made of wood, the same material from which the houses of the first settlers were once built. After the exhibition, they will be donated to the city, thereby closing the circle between the past and the future.

In the exhibition:

Birobidzhan: an artistic study of the Russian Federation’s Jewish Autonomous Oblast

Venue: Birobidzhan Regional Philharmonic, Birobidzhan
Concept: Simon Mraz
Exhibition dates: 8th September – 8th October 2017
Opening in Birobidzhan: 7th September 2017
Presentation of the project in Moscow: 26th September 2017, Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre

Founded by the Soviet government in 1934, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast became an official self-determined Jewish entity long before the establishment of the State of Israel. Too often dismissed today as a “Jewish state without Jews”, the Autonomous Oblast nevertheless has a unique history. Beginning with the founding of the Soviet city-cum-Jewish-homeland and the associated propaganda campaign in the early 1930s, the story of the JAO goes from the almost unimaginable achievements of small groups of impoverished settlers, their taming of the wilderness, creation of collective farms and construction of whole cities from scratch, to the tragic Stalinist repressions that began in the same decade, and the tenacity of those who stayed and remain there to this day.

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, established on the very frontier of Russia’s Far East, bordering China, is a unique place. Having been created as a Jewish state this is a place where Muslim market traders think nothing of calling their stalls Shalom, where Chinese schoolchildren rehearse Yiddish children's songs, where the newspaper Birobidzhan Shtern is still published in Yiddish and in Russian, and where a small but steadfast Jewish community preserves the cultural heritage and identity of this small corner of the world, striving to keep it going into the future.

The “Birobidzhan” exhibition project is the first international artistic study of the cultural history and contemporary situation of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast and its centre - the city of Birobidzhan. Artists from Austria, Israel, the United States and Russia visited Birobidzhan to acquaint themselves with the JAO, its past and its stories, and, based on their impressions, have created the works featuring in this exhibition project.

The exhibition forms part of the official programme of the 13th International Festival of Jewish Culture and Art, as well as the celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the diplomatic mission of the first Austrian envoy to Muscovy, Sigismund von Herberstein.

As a continuation of the exhibition project, a publication is planned for release in Russian and English, containing previously unpublished photographs of the late 1920s and early 1930s from the collections of the Russian Museum of Ethnography in Saint Petersburg, alongside the first ever English/Russian publication of a text originally released in 1932 in Minsk concerning the Jewish Autonomous Oblast’s IKOR Commune — an institution similar to the kibbutz and one of the first such concept settlements to have been implemented. The introductory article has been written by an expert on Birobidzhan, Professor Robert Weinberg (Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA).

Participating artists:

Ekaterina Anokhina (Russia)
Tatiana Efrussi (Russia)
Anton Ginzburg (USA)
Nir Evron and Omer Krieger (Israel)
Yevgeniy Fiks (Russia/USA), Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss (Serbia/USA) and Seo Hee Lee (South Korea)
Leopold Kessler (Austria)
Yuri Palmin (Russia)
Ekateriana Shapiro-Obermair (Austria)
Haim Sokol (Russia/Israel)

Opening: September 7, 4 pm

Project Organisers:

Government of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria
Austrian Cultural Forum Moscow
Embassy of the State of Israel in the Russian Federation
Birobidzhan Regional Philharmonic
Society for the Study of the Cultural and Historical Heritage
of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Birobidzhan Jewish Community Centre Freud
Russian Ethnographic Museum St. Petersburg
The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre Moscow
Jewish Museum Vienna
Vienna Museum
Moscow International Experimental Film Festival