Organization: Eldridge Street Project, New York, NY
Grant Year: 2002
Project Director: Ms. Hana Iverson
Type of Grant: Signature
Grant Amount: $15,000 (1 year)
View from the Balcony was a multimedia installation at the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York City. The synagogue was the first great house of worship built in America by Jews from Eastern Europe in 1887; it now acts as a historical site and museum. Using the theme of memory, the installation, exhibited from June 2000 through December 2003, incorporated writings and photographs inspired by the synagogue. The installation was envisioned as a way to link the Lower East Side to Eastern Europe, reconnecting the diaspora back to its roots, using oral storytelling, artifacts, photographs, short video segments, and maps. Public programs were organized in conjunction with the exhibition, including a poetry slam and several storytelling events at which participants’ stories and memories were collected and subsequently integrated into the View from the Balcony website.
The Project’s title – “View from the Balcony” – refers to the gender-segregated seating arrangements of the Orthodox synagogue in which women were seated in the balcony, separated from the men in the sanctuary below. This motif serves as a metaphor for the geographic dispersion of the Jewish people who were immigrants in America, separated from their countries of origin.
The Project was viewed by more than 30,000 visitors to the Museum at Eldridge Street.
Based on her work on View from the Balcony, Iverson was recruited to be the Director of the New Media Interdisciplinary Concentration in the School of Communications and Theater at Temple University. During her three-year appointment, Iverson created an educational initiative called Neighborhood Narratives, which she developed based on her experience creating View from the Balcony. Neighborhood Narratives helps people to reflect on their ideas about place, and draws upon innovative ways to integrate technology with public art. Like View from the Balcony, Neighborhood Narratives uses multimedia to illustrate the ways in which individuals understand their identities as both locally and globally mediated.
Iverson subsequently took the Neighborhood Narratives curriculum to the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Neighborhood Narratives is now an international, networked learning environment connecting students in the United States with students in Rome, London, and Tokyo. Using cell phones, GPS, mobile recording devices, and social network games, students virtually explore neighborhoods around the world by creating walking audio tours, capturing videos and photographs, producing podcasts, and crafting public art installations. To date, 350 students have participated in the Neighborhood Narratives program.
Another of Iverson’s works also draws upon ideas she developed while creating View from the Balcony. “Cross/Walks: Weaving Fabric Row” is an art installation and project that constructs a portrait of South Philadelphia’s Fabric Row using multimedia to “capture the subtle connections and diverse histories of the families, friends, patrons, and visitors.”
Iverson has been invited to speak about her work on numerous occasions. For example, she was one of 26 speakers invited from 11 countries to the MediaCity conference at Bauhaus-University, Weimar. Based on that talk, Iverson published a book chapter entitled “Neighborhood Narratives Project: New Dialogues with/in the Mediated City” in the anthology, MEDIACITY: Situations, Practices and Encounters, edited by Frank Eckardt, Jens Geelhaar, and Laura Colini (Frank & Timme, 2008).
In the many talks Iverson has given, she frequently discusses the theoretical foundations of her work, and shows video from View from the Balcony to illustrate the development of her thinking.
The Project was conceived of and executed by Hana Iverson, a multimedia artist with a background in performance, photography, and experimental video. Iverson is currently the Visiting Scholar with the Institute for Women and Art, and on the faculty of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
In addition to receiving funding from The Covenant Foundation, Iverson was awarded a fellowship from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. She also received a grant as a New York Foundation Artist-in-the-Schools in 2003. A small amount of additional funding came from private donations.