January 16, 2019

Building a Queer, Communist, Yiddish Commune in Space

“One morose and rainy Sunday afternoon in late November, the kind that presages the final days of a New York autumn, a motley group of intellectuals and connoisseurs of Yiddish gathered on the Lower East Side. The Russian-American conceptual artist Yevgeniy Fiks was on hand to deliver an artist talk and personalized tour of his charming exhibition “Yiddish Cosmos” (through Dec. 16), a playful historical jaunt through the history of the Jewish aspects of the Soviet space program. The exhibition was arranged on the second floor of the Stanton Street Shul, one of the last functioning Orthodox synagogues in the neighborhood. Beneath stylish prints of the Soviet cosmonaut Boris Volynov—who was the first Jew in space, and would have been one of the very first men in space if his historical flight along with Yuri Gagarin on the first Voskhod rocket mission had not been bumped because of his ethnicity—were futurist Yiddish slogans. A striking half portrait cleaved together the faces of Gagarin and Sholem Aleichem. The exhibition demanded an answer to the question of whether the Jewish utopia was to be found in Manhattan, Israel, the Soviet Union, or somewhere in the farthest reaches of the Milky Way.

Fiks is in his mid-40s and of medium height and is possessed of an angelic face. He was dressed in a minimalist black ensemble and possessed of a calm and grounded-seeming demeanor. Listening to Fiks softly discuss the relationship between Soviet Yiddish literary magazines, 1920s Lower East Side anarchist-Yiddishists, and the legacy of the Soviet cosmonauts, one could very easily begin to believe in a future of Yiddish-speaking space colonies.

For close to a decade I have been following the progression of Fiks’ career as he has built up a thematically and conceptually coherent oeuvre predicated on a rigorous melding of immigrant concerns, LGBT themes, and a probing post-Soviet search for a usable future. It is a playful artistic endeavor built on an archeological search for a future refashioned from the tarnished fragments of a broken utopian past. It is also represents a thoughtful and liberal response to the Soviet past by a gay Jew: two categories of people that the Soviet Union had a complex relationship with.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"In a bid to create new space for green industries and fossil-free energy production, greater Copenhagen wants to build an entirely new business and infrastructure district on the city’s southwestern edge."

Donald Trump ran for president saying that he would be a shrewd businessman with a propensity for making deals. Why, then, are we in the longest government shutdown on record?

"There isn’t an Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the way that many outsiders seem to think... In the Israeli view, no peacemaker can bring the two sides together because there aren’t just two sides. There are many, many sides."

"I've always wondered what fans see in her. After debating with a friend about her “merits” for over half a decade now, I thought I had found the one thing that could probably change my opinion of the pop star: the Reputation tour documentary..."

"Even if the economy is on a roll, many Americans aren’t feeling the benefit... In fact, when adjusted for cost of living increases, real wages actually declined 1.3% since the end of 2017, PayScale found."

"Cutting ties with Facebook would mean consciously cutting ties with my own community, and I can't bring myself to do it. When I asked my connections on Facebook why they were staying, their answers were very similar to mine..."

Fear of the news; fear of climate change, fear of touch screens... these New Yorker cartoons portray the modern phobias that are driving us crazy.

"Texts replaced authors as the privileged objects of scholarly knowledge, and the performance of critical operations on texts became essential to the scholar’s identity."

"When I speak to parents’ groups about kids who are addicted to Fortnite and other video games, I tell them that it is the parents’ job to limit, govern and guide their kids’ use of video games..."

"Startups like Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce say they're helping to reduce food waste in America. Critics say they're deceiving their customers and making the problem worse."

"Scholars are now interested in whether having a vocabulary item for a concept influences thought in domains far from language, such as visual perception."

"The much-documented anti-Semitism of the British Labor party leader is no accident... Jeremy Corbyn reminds us that anti-Semitism is not just an irrational hatred, harbored by madmen at the fringes of British society."