Tobi Kahn

Seeing & ceremony.

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And Jews are very sensual. We breathe in spices; we shake the lulav [the palm branch used on the festival Sukkot]; we put blood on the door fronts; we kiss the Torah. We were performance artists. I am passionate about retrieving Jewish visual knowledge and helping people become better visual learners.

I do not want to be known only as an artist who creates ceremonial objects. It's important that I'm an artist who makes painting, sculptures, set designs, photography, and also makes Jewish ceremonial objects. My paintings and sculpture embody and reflect my personal vision. The premise behind my role in the Avoda Institute is that when I make a ceremonial object it bears my meaning, but when I help other people make ceremonial objects, they have a ritual object that is uniquely their own. It will mean something different to them, enhanced by their using it. When I teach, I am a guide, not a director.

I'm working on a series of projects with UJA-Federation of New York. In one, all people who work in the building will make a mezuzah for their office. I am certain that they will not enter their office in the same way they did in the past. They are making themselves sacred spaces.

Art is not separate from life; it is like breathing. Not everyone can be an artist, but everyone can try to understand what it means to think like an artist, just as not everyone is an opera singer but everyone should sing.

Our society is about quickness. I want my work to slow the viewer down, so that seeing becomes a medium for understanding the world. We're all here as guests on the earth. Why just take from it? Why not give to it?

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