‘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.

phone: 310-440-4500

Hours: Tues.–Fri., 12:00–5 p.m., Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Closed Mondays

Admission: Free

Keeping Your Head If Your Child Intermarries

When you first learn that your child is — or might be — marrying someone who’s not Jewish, you may not feel like celebrating. This can be a difficult and stressful occasion instead of the joyous one you had hoped for. To help you, here are a series of tips from people whose children have intermarried, as well as from outreach professionals and counselors.

  • When your child first tells you about her engagement, congratulate her and express your love for her. First impressions are very powerful, and if you react coldly to the news, your child may remember your response for a long time.
  • As soon as you have an opportunity, congratulate your child’s partner and express your love for him. This can be a powerful way to welcome your child’s partner into your family.
  • Treat your child as an adult. If he feels that you are speaking to him as one adult to another, and not as an anxious parent to a child, he’ll be more receptive of your opinions.
  • Assume that your child has good judgment. If you think she is ignoring something, don’t tell her. Ask her if she has thought of it. You won’t always agree, but knowing that she and her partner are thinking things through will help. Don’t lecture or be judgmental.
  • Accept your child’s partner for who he is. Pushing people to be different creates resistance to change. People are much more likely to change when they feel respected and accepted.
  • Remember that it’s not your fault. If your child chooses a partner of a different religion; it’s not because you didn’t give her a strong Jewish identity or because she’s rejecting you. She’s choosing a partner of a different religion because she fell in love with the partner, and the partner’s religion — or your parenting — had very little to do with that decision.
  • Learn about the religion and background of your child’s partner. The more you know about where your child’s partner came from, the better you will understand your child’s and his partner’s religious decisions. If you are knowledgeable about your child’s partner’s religion, it’s more likely your child will listen to your perspective. Notice any and all similarities between their values and your Jewish values and discuss these similarities with your child’s fiancee and her family.
  • Let your child know you want to be involved in her life. Ask what her plans are and ask to be included and informed. Be truthful about what you would like, but understand that your wishes won’t always be fulfilled.
  • Be honest about your feelings for Judaism and talk about them. Let your child and her partner hear how Judaism works in your life and why it has an important place for you. Before you discuss what Judaism means to you, it may be helpful to make a list of those Jewish practices and values which are meaningful to you.Once you clarify for yourself where your commitments to the Jewish religion and the Jewish people lie, you are better able to communicate with your children on this important and sensitive subject. Also be honest about your doubts and complaints about Judaism.
  • Invite your child and his partner to share in your holiday observances and celebrations and to accompany you to temple when you go. Invite them to help you prepare for these occasions, thus providing an opportunity to teach about the holidays, their rituals and symbolic foods. You can be an ambassador to Judaism.
  • Celebrate your child and her partner’s efforts to participate in Jewish rituals. Don’t criticize them for not observing the way you do.
  • If possible, invite the family of your child’s partner for a small gathering just before or just after the wedding. Both are good opportunities to share your mutual joy over your children’s wedding.
  • If your child is having an interfaith wedding ceremony, offer to assist with one of the interfaith aspects, like helping them find someone who will create an interfaith ketubbah (marriage contract). This gesture of acceptance can create a lot of good will.
  • Don’t bring up grandchildren immediately. Your child has enough to worry about with planning a wedding, and this may add to the stress level or touch on a sore subject between you and him. However, if your child and his partner have started talking about children, it is OK to offer your input about how you would like them raised. Our children do want to please us and gently explaining your wishes can affect your child’s decisions.

(Compiled by the staff of InterfaithFamily.com.)