JOEL TAUBER’S Installation
at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach
By Joel Tauber
In 1905, Charles Weintraub and a bunch of his Socialist Russian Jewish friends decided to leave New York City and head South. They pooled their savings, took out some loans, and purchased 2200 acres of land near Montmorenci, South Carolina. They didn’t know how to farm, and the land that they purchased wasn’t conducive to farming anyway. But, those minor practical issues didn’t dissuade them. They were determined to realize their dream of living on a Socialist commune.
It’s amazing what the 50 settlers were able to accomplish in Happyville. They grew crops and raised livestock. They built a dam, a water turbine, a saw mill, and a cotton gin. They worked together as equals, and they shared their resources fully.
They made their utopian dream a reality. But, it didn’t last. Unusually severe weather made it even more difficult to grow crops on the sandy soil. And, for whatever reason, not enough of their neighbors wanted to buy their crops and products. They were in debt, and they were forced to sell their land to appease their creditors. In 1908, it was all over. Happyville had disappeared.
It’s hard for me to share my video equipment or to let anyone into my studio. I tell myself that I would face all kinds of problems if anyone damaged my gear, and that I need peace and solitude in order to work effectively. Yet, my rationalizations leave me feeling guilty. I sense that I’m not acting generously enough, and I worry about what my behavior is teaching my kids.
One day, my son Zeke, crying profusely, banged on my door, and demanded to know why I wouldn’t share my space with him. I didn’t have a good answer. Then, Zeke showed me his secret hiding spots and offered to share them with me. He argued that there was plenty of room in his “office” for my tools and that I didn’t need another space for them.
Zeke’s generosity overwhelmed me, but I wasn’t able to accept his offer. Safeguarding my personal possessions in my own space was too important to me.
As I tried to justify my feelings, I thought about John Locke’s claim that we should have the freedom to acquire our own land and wealth and that it shouldn’t bother anyone – unless we do so excessively, or during times of scarcity.
Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten about Locke’s restrictions, and we’ve created a tremendous amount of inequity in the process. While a few of us enjoy excessive amounts of wealth, far too many of us struggle with scarcely enough – if anything – to eat.
The installation features 15 short films plus 21 interviews. The foregrounded video, the one presented on the largest screen, tells the story of Happyville; while the other 14 films operate as a kind of dialogue between Zeke and me about the meaning and challenges of sharing.
Tablet(s) feature 21 experts in different fields offering their thoughts.
Audiences explore the videos interactively. They are invited to share their toys and help arrange them in the gallery / museum. Then, at the end of the show, they are invited to take the toys and give them away to whomever they think will enjoy them.
Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – is both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.