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KD MAGAZINE! 
Posted: Dec 11, 2007 ב"ה, ב' טבת תשס"ח                                          

 
 
 
   
 

The Synagogue of Šamorín, Slovakia, the At Home Gallery and the work of Liliane Csuka
*Written by Edit Mislay

SAMORIN SYNAGOGUEŠamorín is a small town in Slovakia, about 20 km from the capital city Bratislava. What makes it so special? For example the fact that artists from several continents have already presented their works in its nearly hundred-year old synagogue, which has, for over ten years, been the home of the At Home Gallery, an art centre well-known even beyond Slovakia’s borders. Most recently, in autumn 2007, it presented the installation by Liliane Csuka, a multilingual artist of Hungarian origin living in Switzerland.

The History of the At Home Gallery

Csaba and Suzanne Kiss are really special people. Csaba, a Hungarian and Suzanne, born in Malaysia, met in Canada. SAMORIN SYNAGOGUE: BEFORETheir initial friendship turned into love, and the latter to marriage. Suzanne followed her husband to his Slovakian hometown of Šamorín, where they hit upon the idea of establishing a private gallery. First they opened a small gallery in theirSAMORIN SYNAGOGUE: AFTER own apartment and organized exhibitions there. This is where the name comes from: At Home Gallery. However, Csaba and Suzanne also had another big dream, which was to save the town’s ruined and devastated synagogue that had witnessed difficult times. 

Šamorín, with a current population of 12,000 Slovaks and Hungarians, was, in the first half of the 20th century, home to a large Jewish community. In 1912 they built a synagogue, the only one which still exists in Southern Slovakia. After World War II, the Jewish population in the town dramatically decreased, and the totalitarian system turned a blind eye to the upkeep and care of sacred buildings. As a result, the state of the synagogue gradually deteriorated.     

Csaba and Suzanne thought that even though the building could not serve its original function any more, it could, at least, become a “sanctuary” for contemporary art; a place where people can gather and meet. 

For two young people in their 20’s to decide to establish a private gallery required a kind of „daring obsession”. And it certainly required perseverance and determination, patience and open minds and, of course, optimism and a lot of work. It required inner drive, the understanding that they were getting involved in things which could spiritually enrich the community they lived in. When I asked them where they got the courage to launch such an enterprise, Csaba responded with a phrase from the Far East: “even the longest journey starts with the first step”. Since 1995, they have taken many steps on this journey they had so many years ago chosen. The fact that the synagogue, during the last couple of years, has, once again, become part of the public consciousness as well as a cultural centre, Csaba considers a success. Moreover, At Home Gallery promotes the town of Šamorín, spreading its reputation, even beyond the borders of Slovakia. Almost every artist who visits this place mentions its special spirit, which touches the heart of visitors entering the almost hundred-year old sacred walls. Csaba and Suzanne Kiss want to preserve this inspiring power and, of course, make it available to as many others as possible. This is why it is of great importance to them that artists visiting Šamorín, if possible, do not present their ready-made works, but, are rather inspired by the place, thus creating something special, which perhaps could not have been created elsewhere. A number of site-specific exhibitions from the workshops of both national and international artists, which have been presented to public audiences in the last couple of years, is the best evidence of how good their idea was.    

It is impossible to enumerate all of the artists who have visited the Gallery, however, what is most important to mention is, that in 2000, in the international year of tolerance, not only did they receive artistic accolades but also diplomatic laurels. Upon the invitation of Csaba and Suzanne Kiss, the XIV Dalai Lama visited Šamorín. This was the first time the religious leader of Tibet visited Slovakia.

Csaba and Suzanne Kiss had, along with organizing exhibitions and concerts, also set the important goal of reconstructing the synagogue, as it was part of the town’s history. The renovations have been steadily carried out in recent years. Last year, for example, they succeeded in replacing the roof. The most recent large-scale renovation was made last summer, when the outer walls of the synagogue were given a new coat. Csaba Kiss also revealed that the renovation of the outer walls turned out to be tough job, since almost no visual materials of the original design of the synagogue had been preserved. The few preserved documents included, for example, the drawings made by Csaba’s father. The name of the architect who designed the synagogue in 1912 is unknown. Csaba and Suzanne could only find out that he had been an architect from Italy. This information comes from Elli Friedman, a Jewish woman who immigrated from Šamorin to the USA, who mentioned this fact in the memoirs she published. In any case, it is a pity that the name of the Italian architect has disappeared, because, also according to the restorers working on the Šamorín synagogue, it has stucco decorations, which are quite unique in Slovakia. Nevertheless, the restorers succeeded in identifying the original colour of the outer walls, since, on a relatively well-protected place, beneath and behind the gutter, there were enough remains of the hundred-year old paint to take a sample.    

In 2007, the Slovak Jewish Heritage Centre included the synagogue in the Jewish Cultural Heritage in Slovakia Project. 

Similarly, as Csaba and Suzanne´s marriage harmonically united two different worlds, two different religions and two different cultures, their At Home Gallery has become a connecting bridge between different cultures and regions.   

The Heavens Moved to Earth

Liliane Csuka, a  cheerful person full of creative energy visited Šamorín for the first time in 1997. Since that time, she has had several installations in the At Home Gallery in Slovakia, and, she is considered a regular visitor to the town. What makes the town so attractive to her? She said she does not really like traditional museums; she prefers places with a special atmosphere, having their own „soul”. The Synagogue is one such a place for her. And, of course she has a great affiliation for the founders of the At Home Gallery, Csaba and Suzanne Kiss.

The original title of her installation for the synagogue was French: “Le ciel appartient a tout le monde”, which could be translated as the sky belongs to everybody. „I decided to give my installation a French title, because of all the languages I speak, French is the only one in which »tout le monde« does not only mean the ‘entire world’, but also ‘all mankind’, ” said the artist. “What I wanted to say was that, the Heavens, the Lord or Nature, whatever you call it for yourself, belongs to all. Everybody, every nation has the right to have its own history and culture. Moreover, for me, it is also very important that people respect the cultures of others, that they don’t kill or destroy each other.” A topic which appears over and over again in her of art is that of communication between people, cultures and nations.

The installation of Liliane Csuka was inspired by the wonderful, painted ceiling of the synagogue. The artist covered the floor with a silver foil, so, like a mirror, it brought the ceiling decorations nearer to the visitors. „This way, I moved the ceiling, in fact the Heavens, down to Earth, to make it available to everyone walking down here.”

The installation was especially conceived for the re-opening of the synagogue after the restoration of its exterior. 

*English translation by Antal Nagy Anna

 

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Rabbi Max Weiman's website: http://www.kabbalahmadeeasy.com/

 

 
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