Anyone passing by the JCC in Manhattan over the course of Sukkot would happen upon a peculiar sight – a skeletally crafted hut with maize as a ceiling and bubbling, whirring bottles of variously hued greens embedded in its walls. This is the JCC’s outdoor sukkah, an extension of a larger exhibition “Incubating Ideas and Cultivating Connections: The Greenhouse of Ein Shemer,” present in the center’s lobby and roof.
A soft noise hisses through plastic piping as organically green liquids bubble in recycled one liter bottles in what is known as an algae bioreactor. Constructed by artist and kibbutznik Avital Geva, these embedded bioreactors, present in the exhibit’s algae wall, outdoor sukkah, and Roberts Family Rooftop Sukkah, provides a biologically active environment to the algae growing inside it. Algae (plural of alga), meaning seaweed in Latin, are tiny aquatic organisms that consume CO2 and sunlight and produce biomass (thus removing CO2 from the atmosphere) providing the base for most marine food chains. These tiny green organisms are key instruments in the exhibition’s focus on shmita, an agricultural sabbatical year where land must lie fallow.
Shmita, according to the exhibition, reminds us to “treat the earth with care, reverence and humility.” The holiday of Sukkot involves these themes as the actual sukkah displaces home dwellers one into an outdoor-esque environment, fit with a vegetated roof (schach), and often an unfurnished floor. It is therefore fitting for an exhibition focusing on man’s connection to nature to incorporate a phytoremediation project (the use of vegetation to heal the environment) into its display.
The demonstration of this connection is furthered indoors in the JCC’s Laurie M. Tisch Gallery. Photos by Frédéric Brenner and Dana Meirson line the walls in large complementary plots, focusing on the nature and agriculture present in the greenhouses of Israel. A biofilter cascades soothingly in the periphery as an algae wall turbidly bubbles its healing effect. Opposite, plants grow silently on elongated and slanted stacked wooden shelves, maximizing crops per square foot, an optimum system for greenhouses with little space. The exhibit’s sound, color, movement and scenes bid a green and organic experience offering respite for the urbanites who view it.
Certainly, the movement and color of the outdoor bioreactors captivate all those who glance over. It is not something even a jaded Manhattanite would expect to see on Amsterdam Avenue.
“Incubating Ideas and Cultivating Connections: The Greenhouse of Ein Shemer,”is free and will be on view until November 1 at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery at the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave.
Yaakov Bressler is a local Brooklyn artist and writer who currently attends Brooklyn College in pursuit of entry into medical school.