In Itamar Shimshoni’s innovative exhibit, Stony 1.0 is a robot that operates inside a gallery hall. The robot moves around a real life size double headstone. During the day it “wonders” around, cleaning, placing a red rose then a dark stone on the headstoneand playing music.
The name “Stony 1.0” corresponds with the term Web 2.0 which relates to the second generation of online interactive content services. Sites are no longer static (as in first generation web, where surfers are passive), they now let surfers create, upload and share contents in a myriad of social networks. One could say that “Stony 1.0” places a (passive) mirror of the relationship between technology and death, without creating a dichotomy between them; while at the same time, it (actively) bases this relationship so that we can participatein real time mourning ceremonies.
The robot bridges over a turbulent death like a circus acrobat performing difficult and surprising physical exercises, while Itamar Shimshoni’s new exhibit is careful not to turn comical. Nevertheless, the exhibit’s dramatic plot uses a comicalmethod — exposing the ceremonial act of mourning for being an alienated life cycle that is constantly renewed.
Stony 1.0 rejects classification as Jewish or Christian: it places both a stone and a flower on the headstone. “The laws and rituals of mourning in Judaism werebased on the Oral Torah. We do not find the laws of mourning among the imperative 613 commandments of the Torah. There is no ‘do’ command for sitting seven days in mourning, for mourning for thirty days, for saying Kaddish (prayer for the dead), for maintaining a memorial day, for lighting a memorial candle and so forth , "which is why Shimshony’s standing inside these rituals requires a conscious decision, a choice to redefine a gallery visit to mean a visit to the cemetery. As part of the reexamination of romance, out of the complex and eternal relations between love (Eros) and death (Thanatos) and from a meta-artistic point of view, we the viewers will ask ourselves — who are we in the circle of characters presented before us? Are we represented by the headstone we are buried under, or are we Stony 1.0, the robot, moving about and tending to the grave?
Does the exhibit aspire to glorify the eternity of art in the repetition of rituals where the dead were embalmed and kept deep inside pyramids? Or does the exhibit actually scornart’s pretension to touch eternity,showing us life’s wears and tears and its mechanicalness? As time passes, Stony 1.0 must make a mistake and will gradually disintegrate — is this disintegration similar to the way a person ages? Is a visit to the cemetery similar to a visit to the museum, or perhaps the other way around?
These questions remain open. Shimshony is an acrobat aiming to walk cross the rope from point to point, without choosing the space on one side of the rope over the other. We take the journey with him and find ourselves in an ambivalent situation whereart is both disposable and eternal; a state of being buried in the ground but also standing on top of it, taking care of the dead who watch us (in heterotopy which is the headstone) .
Coming back out of the metaphor the British anthropologist, Victor Turner, described the structure of the “rites of passage” as a process built of three stages:
The detachment from everyday activities, through the threshold state - orliminal state, to a world of rituals which is far removed from the daily concepts of space and time, and then the reentry into everyday life. When we enter Shimshony’s exhibit we experience these three stages, both as viewers from the outside and as active participants in the creation of the metaphor.
If we examine the liminal threshold state into which we are thrown, we can draw an initial outline for this state, a statethat challengesboundaries on several levels.Challenging the difference between a cemetery and a gallery:
Both the cavity of the grave and the gallery hall are types of well characterized spaces (both in the sense of space and in the sense of the line that separates life and death). The exhibit shakes the rigid and absolute separation between the cemetery and the gallery, or the museum and art. The headstones are works of art and the worshipers standing over them are artists who are becoming more sophisticated in therituals of mourning.At any ceremony, mourners recreate and reaffirm the art of mourning. There is no difference between entering a cemetery and entering a gallery, thus the gallery that collects culture's collective memory is also the one to burry that knowledge/power.By actually unstitching the boundary between death (thatlacks passivity ) and art (which is celebrated) it is hard not to remember the dead ancestors who buried the artwork they possessed alongside the dead. Commemoration was a means — art and culture will serve the dead on the day ofresurrection.
Challenging the difference between the act of mourning and the act of observing art:
A meta-cultural view that does not accept the existing separation between art (eternity) and life (ready-made, consumed);in this sense, the museum buries the audience and asks them to tend to the creations (headstones). In detached viewing, the museum’s visitors come to look at art and not to participate in it; they function as detached commentators who make the act of observing distant andinhumane. The cemetery is a work of art in which we place the dead (who looks at us through the edge of an artistic headstone), only to distance and bring us closer to death.The life that surrounds the cemetery is the art of death (practicing observation of the inevitable end). If there is no conscious observation of our death, the extinction of Stony 1.0 for example, then in the future, our only choice is to send robots to replace us and create a hermetic system of non-reflexive mourning.
Challenging the difference between the passive generation and the active generation:
The robot, Stony 1.0, points at a new and active conscious state, a state in which we share our lives with others and affect reality in a way that was never experienced before.The mourning and artistic ceremonies described thus far as touching each other at the margins, mythically turn into new technology. We are alienated from the world like that robot, or like an Internet surfer, who receives content and is then buried under it. But,withinthat killing technology we find life.Stony 1.0 undergoes the aging process right before our eyes .
Although the robot knows to perform different actions during the day and during the night , it is not aware that the sequence of these actions is destined to wear out with time. Of all things, it is the technological, clear, precise and impersonal robot which is revealed, and at the end of the exhibit only the grave is left. It is a comic action that exposes through dramatic performance the premise that “all things are transient.” The Stony 1.0 exhibit takes us into a metaphoric process; that is, into the moment when we are required to take concepts, processes and rituals from different worlds and re-melt them in our consciousness. Re-conceptualizing visible objects (headstone, robot, gallery) insidedeep processes (death, technology, culture) points towards a new artistic generation. Shimshoni sees in technology a secret of sorts.
Who sent the robot to take care of the headstone? Why does the robot age? Who chose the distance between the cemetery and the gallery in modern cities? Why do we bury our dead and art? What dies inside us when we enter the gallery and the cemetery? And most importantly, when we exitthe almost liminal state of the exhibit, what recreates vitality?
The secret of creativity brings us back to Stony 1.0. The name Stony 1.0 indicates theStone Age, but also points to a technologically advanced era, an era when changes are evidentdaily. The technological dialogue of 1.0 ages, but in the new eraof Web 2.0, the current era, it is impossible to leave behind the stone, the dead, the memory — mourning recreates the rare resource of intimacy — we also mourn the machine (the robotic) which is consumed. Redemption is found in the next generation that becomes active.
The clue to solving the enigmatic riddle is concealed in the unwillingness to give up the ancient (the Stone Age), the primordial, the first scream, while we enter the new technological world (Web 2.0), a world of virtual sharing, which is still incomprehensible.The technological world is not detached from the esthetic (the gallery) and from the cemetery (the spiritual) — the headstone humanizes Stony 1.0 whichis consumedright in front of it. Stony 1.0 tends to the headstone,which means it recognizes death and cares for it.We can choose: either to stand aside and remain passive like the dead in the grave, or we can take Stony 1.0 and the headstone to a new phase in our lives, a phase in which death, esthetics and spirituality will exist within technology. A phase for sharing this difficult experience, the experience that looks at the ending and demands a beginning.
Mati Shmuelof is a poet, journalist and editor