Review of Celebration, Tradition, & Change by Marc Michael Epstein
photos by Aaron Flacke
Marc Michael Epstein, Professor of Religion, Vassar College,
2013-14 Corcoran Visiting Chair of Jewish-Christian Relations, Boston College,
author of The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination, a Times of London Literary Supplement "Book of the Year"
"Asherah Cinnamon is an artist whose work is conscious, protective and celebratory of the natural environment, resonant and deeply in tune with Jewish themes, and viewable and understandable....Indeed, Cinnamon accomplishes simultaneously in her current show at the Maine Jewish Museum what some artists dream of doing for lifetimes and never accomplish.... The organic forms that Cinnamon discovers and meditates upon, then adopts and adapts are effectively harnessed to produce work that is both subtle and strong, neither overwhelming one with its explicitness, nor forcing one to seek obscure meanings. Her interventions, even when radical, seem subtle and natural. She creates in true harmony with her media, and-more impressively-her media serve the meaning of her work in a manner that feels similarly organic and unforced. 'Trees,' she says, 'connect me with the earth.' But in creating her powerful, poetic, and moving pieces, Cinnamon is able to give back to the earth-melding the intensity of nature in all its wildness and unpredictability with the nurture of an ancient tradition, some six thousand years of story-telling.... She is a storyteller through ritual, and a ritualist through the telling of stories.
"All her work has the quality of ineluctable utility-that is, it all feels as if it can be used to a purpose that is simultaneously intellectually and actively/ritually fulfilling. The ritual content is often surprising, startling us into thinking beyond the box: the work done for the Jewish Art Kibbutz this past summer, for instance, involved-in the words of the organization's website 'scouring the woodlands of the campgrounds, the hills surrounding the glacial lake collecting the branches, roots and saplings...used to construct a twelve foot shin representing the Shema: Listen which [w]as... moved from the studio toward the lakeside. At sunset it was launched and set afloat on the lake. Its vibrations will long remain in this valley.' Here there is a melding of visual with aural, metaphoric and (literally) incandescent.
"Much of her oeuvre explores dual themes: the whimsical yet affecting 'Shall We Fight or Dance,' imagines an encounter between forms simultaneously animal and botanical-yet clearly metaphoric for human encounters-in which the tension between the aggressive and the erotic is elegantly manifested, what Freud called 'a love story in aggressive garb.' The Chair series, (2005-present) is neo-Platonic in essence: it mines the tension between the ideal, the practical and the metaphoric, the world of forms and their manifestations both as objects and symbols, expressing the various meanings of anchoredness, rest, and flight of fancy with skillful beauty.... We have 'Miriam's Vessel,' simultaneously protective and interpenetrable...., an openwork sukkah/Tabernacle, even more joyfully susceptible to the interventions of nature and weather than most ...., and a huppah that is delicate yet strong, celebrating the idea that in union there is most stability-a theme as intrinsic to the American project as it is to the Jewish one.
"Uncharacteristically of single-artist exhibitions (which tend to ebb as much as they flow), the modest yet impressive selection of sculptures and installations exhibited in this handsomely-curated and well-laid-out show is a body of work that is consistently impressive, uniformly inspiring in its seriousness and deep meaningfulness, and often surprising and delightful in both its wittiness and learnedness. Cinnamon describes herself as an artist committed to both pursuing justice and healing the world. Her vibrant, thoughtful and clever work - deeply connected both to the forests, fields, hills and plains from which its elements are drawn and to the wellsprings of biblical and post-biblical Jewish tradition -demonstrate her commitment to both principles. This is an exhibition in which the artist has lived up to her commitments, to both the delight and the edification of the viewer."