Julian Adoff MFA Visual Studies Thesis 2019
Wandering, collecting: traversing the spiral of history
Wandering, collecting: traversing the spiral of history is a physical manifestation of my research into critical theory’s ties to Jewish mysticism. This text-based installation is comprised of ten perfect bound books and five vinyl concrete poems that call attention to the secularization of the mystical, mythic past. This installation takes the form of a dream city built of texts, their locations dictated by their location in my memory palace. Mysticism redefined Jewish practices when sages, mystics, and kabbalists challenged the universal authority of the written words of Jewish law. Through a process of secularization, critical theorists such as Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida have called upon mystic practices when they have used their theory to challenge the growing presence of authoritarianism and question the way the world around them functioned.
I embody the flâneur (which was itself central to Jewish theorists’ understanding of the world) and the wanderer as I “walk” in and between the texts, searching for connections. My process is that of literary montage. As I wander each text, I search for phrases that can enter into a constellation with the rest of my research. I then create a space for these texts to inhabit. Words are central to this work, for mysticism tells us that letters hold power. I harness this power by magnifying texts from books into large vinyl poetry. Mythic in size, these poems channel the emotive qualities within, ready to be consumed by the viewer.
This project is not complete, and may never be. As with Benjamin, I am suffocated by the impossibility of my endeavor, for though there are hints of progress, there are no solutions, no singular thesis statement that can be “proven” when you try to merge the mystical and the theoretical. Even with this, I am drawn to wander, to collect text and treat it as form; to open up words and explore the past. This dream-city will keep growing. I will continue to wander its streets and alleyways, hoping that one day, all the work leads to a single product, a single book from the many.