Multimedia installation is not a novelty on the contemporary art scene. Even the inventive fusing of avant-garde couture, architecture and video is not without precedent. However, The Jewish Museum’s exhibition “threeASFOUR: MER KA BA,” is hallowed ground. This is space made sacred by its fervid devotion to intricate detail and the purity of its spiritual vision. The effect is disorienting and ethereal.
The installation by the fashion collective threeASFOUR occupies a modest-sized gallery, adjacent to the more expansive Chagall exhibit. The central focus is a “temple,” or a structure designed in the shape of a three-dimensional, six -pointed star. It can be viewed from the outside and explored from within. The star shape is completed by the patterned floor of mirrors on which the temple is placed and a video projection in the diagonal corner. Several dresses, all of which use archetypal geometric patterns and avant garde materials, are suspended in the air. These one of a kind garments, some conceived by 3-D printers, others incorporating origami or resin, were modeled on fashion week’s runways just days before. They link the tactile to the lofty, the human figure to the transcendent.
The elusive Merkava of the title alludes to a prophetic vision and a mystical strain within Judaism. It also refers to the Kaaba, one of Islam’s holiest sites, while Muraqaba is a form of Sufi meditation. The exhibit notes tell us that the origins of the word derive from an even older atavism. In ancient Egypt, mer is rotating light, ka is spirit and ba is body. When the three are assembled, “they describe the energy field through which the soul enters the body and ascends to higher planes.”
A closer inspection of the intricate patterns of the dresses reveals an interplay of shapes and symbols central to the three Abrahamic faiths, while drawing upon a pagan tradition of sacred geometry. This amalgam of sources explains why this particular assemblage of materials, shapes and designs conjures a transformative experience for the viewer.
The three designers, Gabriel Asfour, Adi Gil and Angela Donhauser were born in Lebanon, Israel and Tajikistan respectively. This is multimedia installation and wearable art. It is also a socially-conscious approach to the possible implications of architecture and fashion. Theirs is a shared genius for formal harmony that preserves subtle distinctions, resulting in an aesthetic experience with spiritual insight. It is after all this creative sensibility deeply rooted in details of tradition that inspires all faiths and infuses our worship in the temple of art and design with lasting meaning.
threeASFOUR: MER,KA,BA, is on view at the Jewish Museum from September 15,th to February 2, 2014 with related public programs.
Susan Reimer Torn, a writer who lives in New York City, blogs at susanrtorn.wordpress.com .