What if letters could pray? Embark on a quest for spiritual elevation!
An artist statement by Hagit Shimoni
The mystical-visual experience in Judaism is not the same as in the traditional Western culture based on Hellenistic and Christian approach towards images and representation. Indeed, there is the 2nd commandment in Judaism that forbids the creation of graven images. We became the people of the book for a reason, however, this does not mean that there is no visual aspect within the framework of Jewish tradition. On the contrary: the visual expression and perception have their own importance, only they are less aesthetically driven and more oriented towards the concept and the meaning. In Judaism there is a strong connection between the text and image. The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet carry a profound message themselves and this is also reflected in the text they form (peshat, remez, drash, and sod). This complexity is actually too vast for the bare eye to grasp at first glance. It requires not only visual engagement, but also the full engagement of mind. Seen from this angle, the letters actually are a vehicle of spirituality, a driving force representing the ongoing dialog between heaven and earth, specific and abstract, material and immaterial.
There are three key prayers in everyday liturgy: shema, kadish, and “the 18th prayer” known as smoneh esreh. Repeated as mantras, they establish and reinforce the connection between god and men. Pondering the boundaries between the heavenly and earthly spheres, I came to the conclusion that the powerful combination of prayer, the beat, the cantillation, and the trance that one may experience while praying, can be transmitted visually, via intrinsic magical character of graphemes. “Visual Prayer” explores the qualities of textual memory, imprint of a text into the observer’s mind. It offers a unique, transforming experience when the viewers get engaged in prayers once they walk in the tunnel-like immersive environment and find themselves literally surrounded by both the visual and acoustic aspect of praying.
I began my own quest by studying the origins of Hebrew language and script and by exploring the connection between the two. I have been also researching other religions’ ties to visual spirituality and investigating structure (syntax and morphology) of Biblical psalms (Tehilim).
The exposure to the abundance and richness of Jewish thought helped me a lot in making decisions and navigating me throughout the whole creative process as I was progressing with my work. It also made me understand the importance of binary principles (pairs of complete opposites such as vision and hearing, unity and separation, black and white, faith and sensual perception) for the creation of a myth. At last, what are letters (graphemes) to the text is sound (phonemes) to the speech – a key element of the prayer. The “Visual Prayer” environment invites to participate in a unique experience of the speech as if it was a self-generated stream with its own melody and rhythm set by the leader of the prayer (hazan). In this sense, my work can serve as a gate to the spiritual elevation.