Wednesday, March 3, 2021 (San Francisco, CA) – The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) is proud to present GOLEM: A Call to Action, a digital exhibition in three parts by Los Angeles–based artist Julie Weitz. The exhibition includes three distinct video artworks by Weitz: Golem v. Golem, My Golem as a Wildland Firefighter, and Prayer for Burnt Forests, which will debut online and in alignment with three different holidays in spring 2021. These artworks evolve from Weitz’s ongoing My Golem project—a performance series begun in 2017 in response to the protests and violence that took place in Charlottesville, VA, focusing on the artist’s embodiment of a folkloric Jewish humanoid. GOLEM: A Call to Action will be the first new exhibition to open at The CJM following The Museum’s reopening on April 17.
Golem v. Golem, an eight-episode social media engagement produced by Asylum Arts for the program Dwelling in a Time of Plagues supported by CANVAS, will premiere the week of Passover (March 28–April 4, 2021) on The CJM’s Instagram account, where a new video will debut each day. My Golem as a Wildland Firefighter, a multimedia presentation, will open on thecjm.org on April 22, Earth Day, and will be followed by the June 21, summer solstice, premiere of Prayer for Burnt Forests. Both My Golem as a Wildland Firefighter and A Prayer for Burnt Forests will also open in person at The CJM on June 24 in a newly dedicated black box gallery that will be free to the public.
“After a successful re-opening last fall, we feel confident in the safety protocols that we have in place, and we’re grateful to be able to bring in-person art experiences back to the public,” said Kerry King, Interim Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of The Contemporary Jewish Museum. “We have new exhibitions planned for the year and see this re-opening as an important milestone in realizing our 2021 exhibition and programming plans. As the spring unfolds, I am particularly excited to welcome both in-person and virtual guests to see an exciting new exhibition series by contemporary artist Julie Weitz that will be free to the public, both in person and online.”
The eight video episodes of Golem v. Golem present an unfolding narrative inspired by the Passover story’s struggle between tyranny and freedom. Through the series, Weitz reexamines the multi-year My Golem project, exploring Golem’s creation story, her activism, and how the character has been received and (mis)interpreted by different audiences in various contexts.
Over the past four years, My Golem has evolved from Instagram videos to performances at protests to creative collaborations—in the process, taking on a life of her own. Weitz’s journey through her previous work as both creator and creation in Golem v. Golem requires a retelling and reframing of her past, and ultimately leads her to question her connection to God. The project’s eight videos weave the themes of Passover throughout this dialogue, and explore the possibility of both psychological and spiritual liberation within all of us.
The two multimedia artworks, My Golem as a Wildland Firefighter and Prayer for Burnt Forests—also both facets of Weitz’s My Golem project—bring together photography, film, documentary content, and educational programming to confront the ecological disaster of the rampant wildfires in California. My Golem as a Wildland Firefighter is a selection of brief “public service announcements” promoting healthy fire ecology, and instructional videos for wildland firefighter training, in which Weitz’s golem trains in the Tahoe National Forest, and discovers the generative nature of fire. As a result, she becomes an advocate for controlled burns, a method long used by California’s Indigenous communities, and seeks to educate the public about their efficacy managing megafires. Prayer for Burnt Forests is a newly commissioned video that ritualizes the golem’s training and invites viewers to perform a prayer out in nature.
“We have been interested in presenting Julie Weitz’s work at The CJM for quite some time, and this is the perfect moment to do so,” said Senior Curator Heidi Rabben. “Her evocative works offer creative and critical ways of looking at the most relevant issues we are confronting environmentally and as a society right now, as well as the Jewish values that compel us to continuously strive for change. Like Weitz, we truly believe in the power of art to enact change, and we believe viewers will be inspired to learn more about the issues Weitz brings to light after spending time with these works both online and in person.”
Created in collaboration with filmmaker D.S. Chun, cinematographer Mustafa Rony Zeno, costume designer Jill Spector, choreographer Scott McPheeters, musician Pam Shaffer, and musician and Rabbi Zach Fredman, the exhibition conjures a contemporary reimagining of the golem figure to explore the potential of progressive wildfire policy.
Golem v. Golem by Julie Weitz is produced by Asylum Arts, made possible with the generous support of CANVAS. The project is presented at the Vilna Shul, Boston's Center for Jewish Culture in partnership with the Jewish Arts Collaborative. A companion literary collaboration, "What We Talk About When We Talk to the Golem," by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, is produced by Jewish Book Council. Additional digital partners include The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. The work is part of a North American project—Dwelling in a Time of Plagues—a coast-to-coast Jewish artistic response to contemporary plagues. To see the other works on display, visit plaguedwelling.com.
Julie Weitz is a Los Angeles–based artist working in video, performance, and installation. Weitz has been featured in Artforum, Art in America, The Los Angeles, Times, The New York Times, Bomb Magazine, L.A. Confidential, Photograph Magazine, Hyperallergic, and on KCRW. She is a 2020–2021 Cultural Trailblazer of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and a Helix Fellow at Yiddishkayt. She is a 2020 recipient of the Fulcrum Arts Emerge Program and 2019 nominee for the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Award. Weitz has received grants from the California Center for Cultural Innovation, Asylum Arts, American Jewish University, the Banff Centre, and the Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture. She currently teaches in Los Angeles and is a contributing writer to Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles. Weitz also founded the Instagram account @Jews4BlackLives, which serves as an educational hub for the Jewish activist community in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
Throughout the My Golem project, Weitz revitalizes the golem mythology as an empowerment fantasy; in this instance, the goal is to frame a moral imperative for action around the issues of social justice, climate change, and progressive wildfire management that is uniquely grounded in the Jewish tradition. The legend of the golem originates as far back as the Middle Ages when Jewish mystics imagined the creation of a clay humanoid as a meditative technique for becoming closer to God. By the nineteenth century, popular Yiddish folktales in Eastern Europe characterized the golem as a helper, companion, or rescuer of an imperiled Jewish community. My Golem is a multifaceted art initiative, incorporating live performance, multichannel video installations, art film, episodic social media content, and collaborative educational programming. The project centers on Julie Weitz’s portrayal and embodiment of a futuristic, folkloric humanoid—analogously named My Golem—and has been developed in partnership with curators, galleries, and critics, as well as rabbis, Jewish scholars, and progressive religious congregations from across the United States. Though My Golem has evolved through a series of commissioned works, each distinct from the last, what has remained consistent is the confrontation of contemporary cultural issues through the fantastical lens of a traditional Jewish mythological figure.
The Passover story provides an apt time to explore the duality of the golem, and by extension the duality of humans themselves. Central to the golem legend is the human desire to create and pursue justice. In every golem story, however, there’s a twist—a point when the clay creature gains autonomy and turns against its creator. As Weitz’s project evolves, she realizes that her golem, descended from a long line of golems, is no exception to this rule. But the path to freedom is filled with obstacles, and the Passover story reminds us that the struggle between the desire for power and justice exists within each of us and is embedded deep within our society. While Pharaoh and Moses embody this struggle in the Passover story, they also highlight the internal opposition at stake in every tale of enslavement and liberation.
For over thirty years The Contemporary Jewish Museum has engaged audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. In 2008, The Museum opened a new building designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, providing a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase L’Chaim (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.
Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum is generously provided by Bank of America; The Covenant Foundation; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Gaia Fund; Grants for the Arts; Walter & Elise Haas Fund; Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Jim Joseph Foundation; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; 706 Mission Co LLC; The Bernard Osher Foundation; Lisa Stone Pritzker Family Foundation; John Pritzker Family Fund; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture; United States Department of Homeland Security; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s Helen Diller Institute is generously provided by The Helen Diller Family Foundation.