Ferdinand van Dieten invites Joseph Semah as the Guest,
The Doubling of the House

Final stage of the project  Selection of works < >

Joseph Semah, Read Full Text, 1982, school card ‘Palestina in de tijd van de Bijbel’, ink, thread, 193 x 78 cm February 23 till March 29, 2008
Opening and final stage of the performance, February 23, 5 till 7 p.m.

Persbericht (dutch)

Press release

Judged by the proliferation of contemporary museums and biennales from Shanghai to Dakar and Dubai, the globalisation of the (western) arts seems to be definite and in no way problematic. But is the meaning and content of art a priori universal to such an extent that it can exist independently of its original (con-)text?
It is well-known that the Jesuits had to use quite remarkable reinterpretations to translate the Bible into Chinese. For translations of philosophical text to other cultures, the invention of complete new constructions of language is necessary. Why do we believe our ‘national hero’ Benedict de Spinoza can be read outside the Christian Latin regions? Do we know what the impact is of the translation of Spinoza's Tractatus theologico-politicus (1670) in Hebrew, Maamar Teology Medini (1961) and in Arab (1971)?

Is the problem of universality different in the visual arts? Is not especially the work of art – by its chosen form related to prior works of art, by its relations with our material sensorial existence – even more dependent on the original ‘texts’? Texts in which we express and experience our existence – as being made, as unable to live on without the other, and as dying. And if the work of art depends on its original (con-)text, how can we live with works that come with an alien text?

Joseph Semah, Read Full Text, 1982, school card ‘Palestina in de tijd van de Bijbel’, ink, thread, 193 x 78 cm

The guest in the Christian rite, the one with whom you share the bread, can only be a fellow believer, the other has only access to the service of the word. In the secular liberal form one shares with the guest the same rules, the legal text of the social contract. The languages of the (physical) existence are here excluded. The guest is a co-partner, and one holds his tongue about the rest. In the Hebrew language the hospitality (Hasbarat Paniem) is a protection one offers to a stranger, one who remains a stranger.

Ferdinand van Dieten invites Joseph Semah as the guest for a project in which The Doubling of the House is central. In the house of the gallery two identical houses are built, one in the entrée, one on the first floor. This installation represents among others the ‘Jerusalem of above’ and the ‘Jerusalem of below’. This expression is introduced in the writings about Hechaloth and Merkavah(Sifrut, Ha-Hechalot, Ve-Hamerkavah) as an indication for the trust in God's wisdom even after the first destruction of the temple of Salomon. In the house of below Joseph Semah will read aloud the entire translation in Hebrew of the Theological-political Treatise of Spinoza.

Joseph Semah invites the second guest Mohamed Sabet. This guest chosen by Semah is a reflection on the first, the Jew, as the eternal guest of Christianity. The second guest will read aloud the Arabic version of the treatise of Spinoza. During this simultaneous reading in Arabic and Hebrew in the city of Spinoza, the persons are situated by Joseph Semah ‘back to back’ in the house of below and that of above. He places herewith the reading in a perspective of the tradition of trust in the encounter with the stranger / the text of the other.

Morally understood, this sounds beautiful, and we like to see it as evident. But everything in the art of today points in a different direction. Either one forgets that the guest is a stranger and that he lives and thinks in different texts. Or one dwells in the melancholia of the decadence of his own ‘house’. As is the case with Anselm Kiefer, who links his works by means of imprecise titles to the Jewish tradition; works full of melancholia about the fate by which ‘we’ and especially Germany have lost, in a destruction without subject, a past without a future. He hides the complete, original text, from which his work draws.
For Joseph Semah, ‘Read Full Text’ (the title of one of his works [3]) is programmatic for all of his works.

For Joseph Semah, Read Full Text (the title of on of his works)(click for video) programmatically for all of his works.

On February 23, Joseph Semah reads from 11 a.m. the text of Baruch Spinoza's Maamar Teology Medini, sitting in the brick house in the gallery. From 17 p.m. on the second guest Mohamed Sabet will read parts from the Arabic version in the second house. The voice in Latin comes from Paul Groot. This performance can be followed live by www.dieten.eu.

Ferdinand van Dieten