ARE WE THERE YET? — At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, March 31st – July 31st

5000 Years of Answering Questions with Questions
A responsive sound installation by artists Ken Goldberg and Gil Gershoni
At the Contemporary Jewish Museum

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

It’s a classic joke. A man asks a rabbi: “Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?” The rabbi answers: “Do we?” Bay Area artists Ken Goldberg and Gil Gershoni present a contemporary take on the inquisitive impulse with a new media installation at the Contemporary Jewish Museum March 31st through July 31st. Are We There Yet? combines the latest in intelligent cameras and acoustics to create a reactive sound environment that encourages visitors to reconsider the history and future of curiosity.

Search and questioning are at the core of Jewish identity. Jewish children ask the Four Questions at the Seder table, and a Yiddish proverb states: “One who does not ask, does not know.”  The Talmud (the primary source of Jewish religious law) is a book of questions and arguments, not answers.

“Finally the military has abandoned the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, but it persists in many areas of government, economics, the environment,” says Goldberg. “It’s important for all of us to keep asking questions. Like friction, they provide the resistance that pushes us forward.”

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THE YUD GALLERY. Contemporary Jewish Museum
Photo, Mark Darley

The installation is located in the Museum’s soaring Yud Gallery. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, the Yud acknowledges the 2nd Commandment, which forbids the creation of idols and representational images. The space emphasizes the auditory over the visual and is linked with Kabalistic symbolism. This unorthodox environment led the artists to think about interactions between embodied movement, auditory perception, and the process of questioning.

As they enter, visitors encounter a voice asking a question such as: “Can we talk?” After a pause, other questions emerge: “Do you love me?” or “Is that all there is?” As visitors move farther into the space, the questions become increasingly contemplative. “How big is the step between believing and knowing?” or “If not now, when?” The questions begin to take on new contexts and meanings. Visitors realize that they create their own experiences as they move through space.

“Each visitor discovers his or her own path—how you experience the questions is up to you—the process of exploration is what defines identity for Jews and non-Jews,” says Gershoni.

The ability of the installation to generate a unique auditory experience for each visitor is an exciting first, using new robotic algorithms and software that allow cameras to instantly adapt and spatialize audio to the movements of each visitor. Goldberg and Gershoni are working with a high-tech team that includes Perrin Meyer of Meyer Sound, the renowned Emeryville-based company that designed the sound for the Beijing Olympics and Cirque du Soleil.

Some familiar personalities such as KQED’s Michael Krasny and NPR’s Laura Sydell will be among the inquisitive voices included in the installation. Hundreds of questions have been gleaned from sources including the Torah, literature, and popular culture. Visitors to the gallery will also be able to propose new questions and see questions displayed via custom iPad-based kiosks with video animation.

The public can also participate in the exhibition by visiting the project website, are-we-there-yet.org , which launches March 31st and will remain active to the end of the exhibition. “Jews have a tradition of participation in dialogue. Social technologies are a part of our palette. Combining tradition with technology is at the core of this installation,” says Gershoni.
The combination of cutting edge technology and Jewish ideas was appealing to Museum Director Connie Wolf. “It’s exciting to have two leading artists and thinkers using technology in new ways to explore something fundamental to Jewish identity and doing it in a way that can be experienced and appreciated by anyone – Jewish or not, young or old,” she says. “It’s particularly meaningful that this work responds directly to the symbolism of our extraordinary building. It will be a unique experience that audiences won’t soon forget.”

“The experience is like the title,” says Goldberg. “It can be funny or philosophical. Gil and I want visitors to consider their own questions about what is and what is not being questioned.”

About the Artists

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Gil Gershoni and Ken Goldberg
Artists and creators of Are We There Yet?
Photo, Megan Bayley

Ken Goldberg is an artist and professor of Robotics at UC Berkeley, where he founded the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium and co-founded the Berkeley Center for New Media. His artwork has been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, Pompidou Center (Paris), Ars Electronica (Austria), and the ICC Biennale (Tokyo), among other leading arts venues. He is co-writer (with Tiffany Shlain) of The Tribe, an acclaimed documentary about American Jewish identity, and two other documentaries selected for the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. Goldberg earned his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, has published over 150 research papers with his students, and has held visiting positions at San Francisco Art Institute, MIT Media Lab, and Pasadena Art Center. Goldberg was awarded the White House Presidential Faculty Fellowship in 1995, named IEEE Fellow in 2005, and appointed craigslist Distinguished Professor of New Media in 2009.

Gil Gershoni is an artist and founder and creative director of Gershoni Creative, an award-winning agency based in San Francisco. For over 17 years, Gershoni has led integrated branding and emerging media projects for clients like AOL, The BBC, Nike, The Patrón Spirits Company, and others. Gershoni’s work has won many awards and has been featured in publications such as Communication Arts, Print, and How and has appeared at venues such as the Whitney Biennial and Sundance Film Festival. A noted lecturer, Gil Gershoni acted as art director for the film The Tribe, and is currently a member of International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and an advisor to national design schools.

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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