STIRring Dreams: 'Pseudo-territory' brings a literary theory to life via augmented reality

Anna Elena Torres and Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson discuss their work in collaboration with The Yiddishland Pavilion, for Venice Art Biennale 2022.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jul 17, 2022

The Metaverse ecosystem platform Arhead is participating in the 59th Venice Biennale, where it presents an AR project titled Pseudo-territory. The project has been commissioned by the Yiddishland Pavilion and has facilitated the presentation of Pseudo-territory from April to November 2022. Yiddishland Pavilion is the first independent transnational pavilion aimed at tracing and developing Yiddish and Jewish discourse in contemporary artistic practice.

Pseudo-Territory-Yiddishland Pavilion and Arhead #1, 2022, AR, Ella PonizovskyBergelson and Anna Elena Torres |Ella PonizovskyBergelson and Anna Elena Torres, Arhead| STIRworld
Pseudo-territory - Yiddishland Pavilion and Arhead #1, 2022, augmented reality Image: Courtesy of Arhead; and Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson and Anna Elena Torres

As the press release for the project explains, Pseudo-territory is a collaborative augmented reality undertaking, created by Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson and Anna Elena Torres, and powered by Arhead. It is inspired by the concept of a "quasi-territory", and Arhead’s unique technology makes it possible for both, biennale visitors to engage with Bergelson and Torres’ sculpture in AR on-site, as well as for the piece’s eventual transportation to the Metaverse for future viewers. The 'pseudo-territory' concept, in turn, comes from kmoy-teritorye, which is an idea developed by the Yiddish literary critic and editor, Boruch Rivkin (1883-1945). Rivkin was an anarchist, and positioned imagination and creativity as deeply spiritual processes. He also developed the notion of “Yiddishland", which relates to his efforts to position Yiddish literature as a transnational psychological territory for the Jewish peoples. Arhead’s co-founder, Ivan Puzyrev, is excited for the collaboration being presented at the Biennale, as he says, “Artists and creators are key to the Arhead ecosystem. Venice Biennale carefully selects and highlights the most important artistic visions from all around the world, including digital artworks.”

Pseudo-territory-Yiddishland Pavilion and Arhead #2, 2022, AR, Ella PonizovskyBergelson and Anna Elena Torres |Ella PonizovskyBergelson and Anna Elena Torres, Arhead| STIRworld
Pseudo-territory - Yiddishland Pavilion and Arhead #2, 2022, augmented reality Image: Courtesy of Arhead, and Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson and Anna Elena Torres

Discussing her life and work, Anna Elena Torres tells STIR, “I am from the Bronx, NYC and my family grows from the diasporas of Puerto Rico, Istanbul, Costa Rica, and Sochaczew. I am a professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago, and I have also organised public art programs and mural collectives. My scholarship explores migration and critiques of the border, particularly in Jewish literature and art. I have two books appearing next year: Horizons Blossom, Borders Vanish: Anarchism and Yiddish Literature and With Freedom in Our Ears: Histories of Jewish Anarchism.” Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson comes from an equally diverse background, having been born in Moscow, then immigrating to Israel as a child, and eventually coming to live and work in Berlin since 2016. She says, “I am interested in notions and expressions of belonging in hybrid cultural identities caused by migration through the prism of language visualisation, with a special focus on Yiddish culture and its anarchist tendencies. I create interventions in public space and site-specific murals in public locations. I believe that connecting a particular text to a place is a form of art.”

Pseudo-territory documentation, 2022, augmented reality Video: Courtesy of Arhead; and Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson and Anna Elena Torres

The project is meant to be a perfect fit for the Yiddishland Pavilion, which itself is a grassroots pavilion representing transnational Jewish arts, particularly those that focus on Yiddish genealogy and contemporary work. Torres considers the project a “soft intervention”, and tells STIR, “There have been many debates surrounding Jewish language politics: should Hebrew become the singular state language? What is the role of Yiddish in international labour movements? Anarchists, who remain uninvested in the nation-state, were certainly not interested in these debates on a national language, but they were highly curious about the possibilities of language and the utopianism of multilingualism. Our Yiddishland exhibition explores this legacy and presents a de-territorial language in multiple ways.” Bergelson adds to this, saying, “Anna and I have tried to give life and form to a theory that is over a century old. AR, the medium chosen for the project, is a reflection of the concept; the result exists and does not simultaneously, much like the pseudo territory Rivkin had described - a territory that does not take place in the physical realm, but rather manifests itself as an emotional / cultural territory that lives in people’s minds and hearts and hovers beyond the physical world, where it remains unaffected by gravity.” In its entirety, the project combines three languages, Yiddish, English and the Proto-Canaanite Alphabet, with each of them representing a different era in Jewish cultural history. The project’s press release elaborates on this decision, explaining that Pseudo-territory aspires to embody the numerous writing systems that are crucial to Judaism, with the three mentioned above being inseparably bound to each other across time, as they revolve around each other, shifting and morphing temporally and geographically instantly— thus representing a constantly alive pseudo-territory. Hence, the outcome not only exists in an unlimited amount of space, but also embodies time within itself.

Anna Elena Torres, 2022, Anna Elena Torres |Ella PonizovskyBergelson and Anna Elena Torres, Arhead| STIRworld
Anna Elena Torres, 2022 Image: Courtesy of Anna Elena Torres

By virtue of being placed into the framework of the Venice Art Biennale, but more specifically, its dominant system of national pavilions, the project and the Yiddishland Pavilion challenge the principle of national division within the biennale, and force one to contend with hard questions regarding the politics of national representation, selection, and inclusion into the art world. Torres and Bergelson's work also acts as a platform to revisit the horrors of the 20th century where Judaism is concerned, and criticises the continuing military aggression, imperialism and colonialism that even today threatens to atomise our reality.

Ella PonizovskyBergelson profile picture, 2022|Ella PonizovskyBergelson and Anna Elena Torres, Arhead| STIRworld
Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson, 2022 Image: Courtesy of Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson

When asked what her plans for the near future are, Torres says, “I hope to continue collaborating with Ella and create public artworks in the material realm. This augmented reality piece encourages viewers to play with and modify the work wherever they are. You can summon the Pseudo-territory into whatever space you inhabit! It invites viewers to participate and play, using the intimate lens of their own phone. Though we had many conversations about theory and art history, the act of viewing is itself quite playful and elastic. This was my first experience with the AR medium as a creator. I am fascinated to explore it further and see where it can lead, with regards to my artistic expression. Perhaps I will discover a way to integrate AR into physical murals or other forms of art in the public space." Bergelson asserts that she too is excited to continue working with Torres, and says that she sees their practices as completing and complimenting each other. She adds that she would also be glad to continue their newly-born relationship with the Yiddishland Pavilion, and that she is excited about its future as the first transnational experimental pavilion and the artistic encounters it allows.

The 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, titled The Milk of Dreams is open to the public from April 23-November 27, 2022, at the Giardini and the Arsenale, Venice.

Click here to read more about STIRringDreams, a series of articles by STIR that explore some of the best presentations at this year's edition of the art biennale.

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