ABSTRACT

What does an explicit engagement with Jewish identity give to an art practice and what does such a practice tell us of our lived relations as Jews – in our multifarious ways of relating to that term? The urgency of this question can be understood within a context of multiculturalism where art is seen as a key component in the production of culture. The post war model for art funding has revolved around the idea that art has an impact on society and therefore can be of use in improving it; art projects are often funded on the basis of their direct impact on local neighborhoods and their communities.1 Recent governments have seen the visual arts as central to developing economic regeneration and social cohesion in multicultural cities (Fisher 2011: 63). This is an instrumentalist vision of what art does and I suggest in this essay that art can stimulate change in a more subtle and profound way through the way it forms an understanding of the subject that is not altogether coherent or in line with a putative community. My aim is not to find artists who confirm a special relationship to victimhood, nor who celebrate Judaism particularly. Alongside many contemporary thinkers such as Stuart Hall or Judith Butler, and building on their work, I am concerned with posing questions that address what possibilities are constituted through thinking about identity as an ongoing and negotiated articulation of lived relations. Judith Butler has famously posited that “the subject is produced in discourse” (Bell 1999:

164), arguing that there is no fixed, authentic or stable core of the self, but that the coercive norms of society form you, the subject, in a way that is constantly being rearticulated with and through the world. In that sense, identity is an effect of reiterative practices. If, then, identity is unstable, art must take account of the provisional subject that arises out of instability, in order to tell us something that is relevant to our sense of self in the viewing. In thinking about reiterative instability or what I might in a more positive vein call reiterative

provisionality (as what is provisional is only ever for-the-moment and to be changed later), Walter Benjamin can be usefully drawn from, through his text The Storyteller (Benjamin 1999). Benjamin pits the experiential and interpretative value of storytelling through repetition and assimilation against the verifiability of information, such as journalism. Benjamin argues that a story “does not expend itself” unlike information. Information, he states, is ephemeral and overrun by the next latest news bulletin. The value of storytelling is ongoing, likening this figure of the storyteller to teachers and sages (Benjamin 1999: 83-107).