Projected image of water on exterior of former synagogue, at night.

composing a ritual

Nevainīgs: Latvian for "Innocent"

This work emanates from an energetic field of memory and history. The projected images of falling water onto the surface of the former synagogue represent this field.

I am working on constructing a ritual in the spirit of the mikvah and sacred Jewish customs of washing. I wash the building with moving light, its strong white walls that stand as witness, although its former identity and meaning are not evident.

The water reinvigorates and honors the memory of the neglected mikvah, now in ruins, and those who passed through its walls to wash and purify themselves and who left this world suddenly, violently, under force, in ways that awaken feelings of guilt and innocence, unresolved.

Vaina: Latvian for "Guilt"

By doing this work, I seek not only honor the memory of the dead, but to revise my own notions of innocence, and guilt, and the entangled dance between them to assign or defend against blame or victimhood.

To "wash our hands of the whole business" is not to forget, but to come to terms with the past so that we might live now as our true selves.

Water Ritual, A work in progress

Look into the water to find the words...


Look into the water to find the words, the questions to ask. Whom do you mourn? Who was your father? Your grandmother? How did they die? Who was guilty? Lost soldiers, young students, sisters, farmers, butchers, mothers, men. Do their souls visit you?

Innocent questions heard through the white noise of weightless water, water falling in a movie, falling against the former synagogue, washing its tall white stucco walls and narrow windows in blue cast light, the building solidly perched on its grassy slope along the riverbank. 

The movie falls across its surface, in time, a temporary memorial, felt, and yet intangible. Just a few radiant moments of intangible heritage, as the present falls away, in the rush of water.

This work began during an Artist Residency at the Interdisciplinary Art Group SERDE, Aizpute, Latvia, September, 2019. 

I had already set out some intentions for the residency to explore the ritual nature of water in this context. To learn more, I set up a booth at the Apple Festival to ask local people about their favorite place in town. For the most part, people mentioned the waterfall at the lake, which I had missed on my prior visit. Small yet powerful, the waterfall was the ideal place to work "inside the field of energy", to create the cards with words, and then to wash them in the flow, to envision the projected flow washing over me, and meditate on the feelings and traces of guilt and innocence.

I sought out a few local people to talk to and found a friend, a kind woman interested in sharing her family's stories, which she keeps safe and alive within her heart. Her father was a young man when deported during the early Stalin period. Three years with no word, he returned on foot to Aizpute, to his mother's house, carrying his official papers of release from the Siberian prison and of rehabilitation. 

My exploring led me to a new friend, Varis, and to learn of his search for evidence. We hiked through the fields and stumbled through woods three kilometers from town, as part of his ongoing quest to identify the exact site of the largest shooting of the town's Jewish inhabitants on Monday, October 27, 1941. 

On the walk, he pondered difficult questions, about what he might have done if he had lived at that time, and about the value in looking for forgotten and obliterated truths, regardless of who might care to know. He continues to search for physical traces.