Multidisciplinary artist Jess Riva Cooper has a long-held interest in mystical characters of Jewish folklore. The notion of the evil spirit of the Dybbuk which enters a living person intertwines with Cooper’s ongoing exploration of parasitic, invading plant life. Noted writer and ethnographer S. An-ski (1863–1920) popularized the lore of the malevolent spirit in the renowned early 20th century Yiddish play: Der dibek: Tsvishn tsvey veltn (“The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds”). The story centres on Leah – possessed on her wedding day by the tortured, wronged soul of her true beloved, Khonen, who died suddenly upon learning of her impending matrimony to another.
In this exhibition, the artist interprets the famed fantastical tale through a woman’s view, considering how Leah does not possess control over her destiny within a devout, patriarchal world order. The exhibition title is extracted from a climactic moment in the script; the Rabbi commands the Dybbuk to sever “every thread that binds you to the living world and to the body and soul of the maiden." The world An-ski describes demands separation; cutting from the unknown. Integrating large-scale drawings and ceramic sculptures, Cooper takes up the metaphor of connective threads in a generative way. She transforms women’s idealized domestic work of sewing and mending into an otherworldly gesture equal to An-ski’s drama. Sewers stitch protective garments onto their clothing and even their own skin, attaching to themselves benevolent shadow-beings that only appear foreboding. Here the act of creation is one of salvation, returning power to the hands of women.
Presented together with the Ashkenaz Festival
The opening event will feature a live performance by award-winning theatre artist Alon Nashman presenting the Dybbuk scene from his original one-man show, Hirsch. Click here for details.
Jess Riva Cooper is an artist and educator based in Toronto, integrating colour, drawing, and clay to create sculptures and installation-based artworks. She received her MFA in Ceramic Sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design. Cooper exhibits her work throughout Europe and North America and has participated in numerous artist residencies such as Brandeis University, Lillstreet Arts Center, Medalta, The Archie Bray Foundation, and The Kohler Arts/Industry Program. Cooper currently teaches at Sheridan College in the Bachelor of Craft and Design Program in Oakville.