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Spertus Institute commissions site-specific installation by Chicago artist Ellen Rothenberg
Rothenberg has titled the installation ISO 6346 after the international standard for identification and marking of shipping containers, such as those being used to house Syrian refugees at Tempelhof.

CHICAGO, IL.- Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership has commissioned a site-specific installation by internationally-acclaimed, Chicago-based artist Ellen Rothenberg. Entitled ISO 6346: ineluctable immigrant, it is on view in the Institute’s main floor Gallery. With this work, Rothenberg prompts visitors to consider connections between past and contemporary issues of migration. The project is inspired by objects and documents that Rothenberg uncovered in the Spertus collection—as well as research she pursued in Berlin at Germany’s largest refugee camp, currently housed in the monumental Tempelhof Airport, a disused site that was originally designed and built by the Nazis.

Rothenberg has titled the installation ISO 6346 after the international standard for identification and marking of shipping containers, such as those being used to house Syrian refugees at Tempelhof. Images of these containers will appear in dialogue with materials from the Spertus collection—such as passports, birth certificates, comics, and photographs—that represent earlier Jewish immigration and movement. The word “ineluctable” in the exhibition title (meaning: inescapable, unavoidable) was first used in print in 1623, notably at the same time as the words "immigrate” and "migration." The installation will be on view through April 22, 2018.

This exhibition is organized by Ionit Behar, Spertus Institute's Curator of Collections and Exhibitions.

Said Behar: “Ellen Rothenberg’s project is significant on many levels. Photographs of archival documents and objects from the Spertus collection are juxtaposed against images of the construction of one of the largest refugee settlements in Germany. The exhibition––with a focus on the current crisis of migration and the forces of global capitalism––finds deep historical echoes in the Spertus Institute’s archive and collection.”

“My research began with an initial foray into the collections and archives at The Spertus Institute,” explained the artist, Ellen Rothenberg. “Objects, documents, photographs relating to individual diasporic histories are interleaved with various profiles of Jewish institutions established and active here in Chicago. What was striking was the historical reverberations within the collection to our contemporary condition. One of the first objects I encountered in the collection was a Mexican passport and immigration identity papers for Sonia Kominsky, a Russian Jewish seamstress born in Kiev who entered the United States in 1926. It contains a racialized description of her person detailing religion ‘Israelita’ (Jewish), hair color ‘negro’ (black), ‘eyebrows bushy,’ and skin ‘blanca’ (white). What was immediately resonant was her route from Mexico to the United States, a route which has become increasingly contested, a politicized border defined and interrupted by the rhetorical projection of a ‘wall.’”

Ellen Rothenberg’s installations and public projects often employ the iconography of social movements, using archival documents to examine the mechanisms underlying contemporary political engagement. Her work––architecturally scaled installations, public projects, performance, collaborations, and writing––uncovers histories embedded in the present, adding layers of meaning beyond the conventions of historical objects.

Ellen Rothenberg’s work has been concerned with the politics of everyday life and the formation of communities through collaborative practices. Influenced by the social and political actions of the 1960s—including the civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements—she immerses herself in research, particularly feminist histories of labor and social action. With an emphasis on communities and collaborative practices, she often partners with historians, forensic scientists, research librarians, archivists, and material fabricators.

Rothenberg’s work has been presented in North America and Europe at institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Museum of London, Ontario; The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco; the Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen; Royal Festival Hall, London; and the Brukenthal National Museum, Sibiu, Romania. Her awards include fellowships from the Bunting Institute Fellowship of Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University, Illinois Arts Council, Massachusetts Artist Foundation, and NEA as well as grants from CEC Artslink, the Charles Engelhard Foundation, LEF Foundation, and NEA Artists Projects. She has worked in collaboration with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project, Future Force Geo Speculators, and Chelen Amenca, Romania. Rothenberg teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was recently appointed an inaugural Faculty Research Fellow of the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice.

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