Olivia Guterson works on the installation that will be on view in front of MOCAD.
Olivia Guterson works on the installation that will be on view in front of MOCAD. (Sal Rodriguez)

The piece, titled At Our Table, suggests that Jews give up more than unleavened bread for the eight days of the holiday. It asks that they suspend the use of plastic in the same time frame.

An art installation linking Passover with the environmental issue of single-use plastics will be on display March 25-April 4 outside MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit).

The piece, titled At Our Table, suggests that Jews give up more than unleavened bread for the eight days of the holiday. It asks that they suspend the use of plastic in the same time frame.

Olivia Guterson, a Detroit artist who has been active with The Well, designed the piece for Reboot, the arts and culture nonprofit reimagining and reinforcing Jewish thoughts and traditions. Reboot counts Guterson as a member and considers her work part of its national project, Dwelling in a Time of Plagues, to advance site-specific projects in various cities.

Gretchen Davidson
Gretchen Davidson

Local Reboot board member Gretchen Davidson, introduced to the organization by friends, connected Reboot with MOCAD. The project is supported by CANVAS, which advances Jewish arts and culture. Other supporters include the Jim Joseph Foundation, Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation, Schusterman Family Philanthropies and William Davidson Foundation.

“The visual experience is planned as a 20-foot table set for four socially distanced observant guests with place settings of single-use plastics,” explained Guterson, who collected discarded plastic in her neighborhood to construct the piece. ‘The tablecloth is made out of braided and woven single-use plastic bags.

“I wanted to examine plastic as a material we use for five or 15 minutes but lasts forever, and it’s becoming a plague for our time that we desperately need to deal with.

“I have so many memories of Passover as the time of questioning and sacrifice in order to secure liberation, but I also want it to be a time for people to consider and talk about how we secure our future and the sacrifices we need to make in order to do that.”

For Passover, Reboot and Jimmy Kimmel Live! writer Jonathan Bines created Plastover, an initiative challenging everyone to take the first step away from reliance on the plastic-driven economy by committing to eliminate the use of single-use plastic for the duration of the holiday, March 27-April 4.

Olivia Guterson
Olivia Guterson Sal Rodriguez

“Saving the world from the plague of plastic will take more than just eliminating single-use plastic for a week and a day,” Bines said. “This project leverages Passover’s power of symbology to spark a sustained climate intervention. An Exodus of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We believe this step of Plastover will set us on a path toward having a real impact.”

Plague of Plastic

As part of the reinterpretation of the holiday, Reboot is also reimagining the original 10 Plagues of Egypt as the 10 Plagues of Plastic.

During the seder, Jews are called to empty their wine glasses drop by drop, naming each plague in remembrance of the tragedies that befell the Egyptians. The Plagues of Plastic ask the same, naming the tolls that plastic has taken on our world.

Each Plague of Plastic draws directly from the themes of the original plagues. The waters of the Nile turning to blood becomes the oceans turning to garbage and ends with a simple action item that can be taken during Plastover to address that specific issue. The project includes educational materials for Hebrew schools, synagogues and individuals to help guide them and provide prompts for reflection and discussion.

As a Reboot board member and environmental advocate, Davidson explained her approach to this year’s holiday in light of the Plastover initiative.

“Passing traditions down to our kids is important to us, so incorporating Reboot’s initiative of giving up single-use plastics will be a happy addition,” Davidson said about the outlook she shares with husband, Ethan. “We’ll participate by using our own grocery bags when shopping and not using plastic wrap or bags for leftovers.

“Eliminating other obvious plastics, like water bottles, and then refining the practice with other plastics we find throughout our Passover will help bring awareness of how much plastic we actually use,” she said.

“If we raise that awareness in our families, we can set an example for the wider community. The impact can snowball into ideas for companies about the packaging they offer with their products or even how those manufacturing guidelines are legislated. It’s important to teach our kids the effect they have on the environment.”

Details:

At Our Table will be on outdoor display March 25-April 4 at MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit), 4454 Woodward. mocadetroit.org.

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.