Exhibition Catalogue Essay
Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, January 2011
Reena Katz's proto-cinematic installation, "Cumulative Debris Index", presents us with histories that we ought not forget. On-screen media have become the prevalent mode in which culture and knowledge are transmitted and the persistence of vision upon which her phenokistoscopes rely may be a pivotal trope for our difficulties in making peace with history.
The Ashkenazi tradition of paper cutting has roots in 14th century Spain. It spread north and east with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. One image that is repeated in that tradition is that of the backward gazing gazelle. Borrowed from the surrounding Eastern European cultures, in the context of a Jewish art, this image echoes the mystical Jewish idea from antiquity of the divine spirit, observing the transgressions of history and longing for repentance. And like the divine spirit, Walter Benjamin's Angel of History -- a muse for Katz in this piece -- is trapped by the tide of "progress", unable to redeem humanity.
References to the past notwithstanding, much of Katz's imagery in "Cumulative Debris Index" soundly evokes the present as well. Cells which multiply by dividing in her images of mitosis make organisms such as ourselves possible. And inmates seek out each other's company and each other's touch. Deriving from medieval mysticism, the ten circles of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life represent the Divine Emanations, the unique spheres combining to create an inseparable whole that makes visible the invisible echo of the divine in the profane. In presenting these images moving backwards and forwards through the device of the phenokistoscope, Katz evokes the gap between the experience of the Angel of History, who sees what we call progress as a single catastrophe, and our confounded apprehension of time in which we experience all moments, and especially the present one, in isolation from each other.
Simon Glass, 2010