Wallace Berman’s Kabbalah Cinema

Wallace Berman was born in Staten Island, New York in 1926. While he was still a child, he correctly predicted that he would die on his 50th birthday. He was hit by a car in 1976.

During those five decades, Berman became a pioneering assemblage artist as well as one of the cornerstones of the post WWII California art scene. Berman became associated with the Beats and his self-published magazine Semina combined his own collage imagery with writing by luminaries like Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, David Meltzer, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Cocteau. In addition to his groundbreaking, multimedia assemblages, Berman made the short film Aleph. The artist’s only experiment with moving pictures,Aleph reveals both Berman’s love of collage as well as his interest in the Kabbalah.

Here is what www.jewishmuseum.org has to say about the film:

Aleph is an artist’s meditation on life, death, mysticism, politics, and pop culture. In an eight-minute loop of film, Wallace Berman uses Hebrew letters to frame a hypnotic, rapid-fire montage that captures the go-go energy of the 1960s. Aleph includes stills of collages created using a Verifax machine, Eastman Kodak’s precursor to the photocopier. These collages depict a hand-held radio that seems to broadcast or receive popular and esoteric icons. Signs, symbols, and diverse mass-media images (e.g., Flash Gordon, John F. Kennedy, Mick Jagger) flow like a deck of tarot cards, infinitely shuffled in order that the viewer may construct his or her own set of personal interpretations. The transistor radio, the most ubiquitous portable form of mass communication in the 1960s, exemplifies the democratic potential of electronic culture and serves as a metaphor for Jewish mysticism. The Hebrew term kabbalah translates as “reception” for knowledge, enlightenment, and divinity.

Check out Joe Nolan’s Insomnia to find out more about another West Coast artist with an eye for the surreal.

Stay awake!

J

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