‘Fallen Fruit of the Skirball’: A labor of love
An installation titled “Fallen Fruit of the Skirball,” currently on display in the Ruby Gallery of the Skirball Cultural Center, presents the various dimensions of love and relationships, using fruit as a catalyst.
“Fallen Fruit” is a collaborative that was originated in 2004 by Matias Viegener, Austin Young and David Burns. Young and Burns have continued the work together since 2013. Part of their early work involved informing people about fruit that was available for the taking on trees in public places.
“So, the origins of our project were looking at fruit as a system of knowledge, or a way of experiencing the world,” Burns, acting as spokesperson for the duo, recalled. “Since that time, the work that we do, or the projects we work on, has expanded in scope and scale and material. So we always use fruit as a connector, however, the way we present that to a public or a museum will be different every time.”
For their Skirball commission, they looked through the institution’s permanent collection of artifacts and were particularly intrigued by a 17th-century ketubbah, or marriage contract. Ketubbahs date back to biblical times and spell out certain protections for the bride — particularly necessary during the days when women were considered virtual property — in case she is widowed or divorced.
Ketubbah. Busseto, Italy, 1677. Ink, gouache, gold paint and cutout on parchment. Courtesy of the Salli Kirschstein Collection, Skirball Cultural Center
The artists, who are not Jewish, knew nothing about ketubbahs and got help with their research from the historians at the Skirball. The particular ketubbah they found was hand-illustrated with ornamentation, vegetation and scenes from biblical stories, including the story of Adam and Eve, who appear to be holding a pomegranate. Burns said they knew that the fruit has meaning for several cultures.
In Jewish culture, according to Linde Lehtinen, the exhibition’s curator, the symbolism of the pomegranate is multilayered. “It’s referenced as one of the first fruits; it’s used on Rosh Hashanah as part of that Jewish holiday. There were pomegranates that were shaped almost like bells that were attached to the robes of some of the rabbis.”
Lehtinen said the exhibition unfolded in stages. For the first stage, the artists used custom-designed wallpaper illustrated with pomegranates to line the Ruby Gallery, a lobby gallery that the museum uses as an experimental space, and can be visited free to the public.
They then took the installation to the next stage.
“We asked people to submit statements or language about how to have a great relationship with someone,” Burns said, explaining that the theme of the project is love. “We asked all kinds of people. We asked people in the museum; we asked people in the world as we traveled; we asked people from the Internet, via Facebook and other things.”
Lehtinen said they got back a plethora of postcards for display. “This example,” she said, reading one of the cards, “starts with ‘Cherish the others in your life — spouse, family, friends. Celebrate their good qualities. Forgive any faults. See through their eyes. Laugh often. Give hugs.’ And then someone signed, ‘Married 56 years — 4 children — 5 grandchildren. Very, very blessed.’ ”
The artists used the responses to create a document they called a “love score,” which contains three different voices — the voice of wisdom, of reason and of everyday actions.
“They distinguished the three voices in three different fonts,” Lehtinen said. “And you basically have to follow the fonts in order to read the correct sequence of phrases and match the different voices.”
The first phrase from the voice of wisdom says, “If there’s something you love about someone, chances are that same thing will manifest itself in a way that you don’t like, so remember it’s the same thing that you enjoy.”
The artists also put out a call for pictures. One photo they received is of a young girl sitting with her father, who wears a military uniform. Captioned “Daddy and Sugar,” the photo was taken in 1946 when the girl was 2 years old. They were in Shreveport, La., where she had been born in an Army Air Corps hospital.
Lehtinen read from the story that accompanied the picture: “My mother died, hemorrhaging shortly after I was born, and for several months it was difficult for my father to hold me, until my grandmother placed me in his arms and momentarily walked away. Obviously he overcame his reticence, and we had a very close, loving relationship. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful daddy.”
“Some of them got to be incredibly emotional,” Lehtinen said.
The exhibition reflects a kind of cycle of life, she said. And, Burns added, while love can be simple and natural, it’s also complex.
“The way we make art, and the way we express our feelings and our relationships with people, can move through time and space,” Burns said. “It can come with us in life, and that was the goal of the work in the project we made, [to show] that love doesn’t stop. And it can keep changing effortlessly as you get older and as life goes forward.”
And it all started with fruit.
“Fallen Fruit of the Skirball”, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
Hours: Tues.–Fri., 12:00–5 p.m., Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Closed Mondays