June 18, 2023 | 12:00pm - 4:00 pm
The Wende Museum

Rinsing the Bones with Jenny Yurshansky

Since 1970, it is estimated that almost 2 million Jews left the Soviet Union in one of the largest mass emigration movements in world history. Some left because of blatant persecution; others sought to leave behind stereotypes and anti-Semitism. The Wende Museum’s Russian-Speaking Jewry Project showcases a growing archive of Refusenik samizdat (dissident publications) and related public programming engaging with the history of Soviet Jews and the Russian-speaking Jewish diaspora.’

Los Angeles-based artist, Jenny Yurshansky, is part of this diaspora and through her community-based project, Rinsing the Bones, she is inviting the public to bring to the Wende Museum a small family heirloom object and to record a brief interview about the meaning behind the object and why it has been kept.

While Jenny interviews each participant, the objects will be 3D-scanned to be later reproduced as a 1:1 scale 3D print in white material resembling bone. Portions of the recorded interviews will be engraved onto X-ray film, reminiscent of Soviet “bone” records. Participants will be credited in Jenny’s upcoming Rinsing the Bones exhibition at 18th Street Arts Center, opening July 8th. People of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to participate.

Time slots can be reserved here, though participants will also be accepted on a walk-in basis.

This is the second of five weekend sessions that will be hosted at the Wende Museum between April and June 2023.

This program is part of a yearlong series of programming illuminating the history of Soviet Jews, the Refusenik movement, and the Russian-speaking Jewish diaspora.

Jenny Yurshansky on Rinsing the Bones:

The work in this project creates an unstable living archive that demonstrates how the institutional desire to record histories, collect, and store objects often leaves out the details of individual lives that are deemed insignificant to the long view of history. Our stories and mementos are discarded as too diacritic and hyper-contextual, relegating us to the sidelines of these spaces as unreliable narrators. Participants’ audio recordings on X-rays and 3D printed replicas of personal objects will be presented in the exhibition, bleached of color, dim, and ultimately devoid of personal context. Essentially, they are transformed into a whispered echo of the life to which they were once attached. The term generation loss, in this case, both describes the degradation of digital reproduction and the memory loss and separation of each generation from its place of origin, culture, and the full scope of the histories that have shaped it.

Makeshift records on X-ray film, called “bone records,” were how prohibited recordings were copied and shared in the Soviet Union. These mediocre but viable substitutes wear out with every play, much like how our memories degrade the more we recall them. Our talismanic mementos have survived dislocation, behaving as stand-ins for generational loss, and for all else that could not be carried. The X-ray records and petrified family keepsakes are poor copies that become unreliable archival bridges to our memories and places of origin.

The title of this project comes from the Russian phrase перемывать косточки (perimivat kostichki), which means “to rinse the bones.” The contemporary usage of this phrase means to speak ill of someone or gossip. However, the expression originates from an ancient Slavic ritual that occurred months to years after burial. It involved family members exhuming the deceased, ritually cleansing their bones while recounting the departed’s life’s actions in order to fully release their soul. The custom deeply resonated with me because epigenetic traumas will haunt us without digging up and shining a light on the unspoken histories of our displaced relatives. We are bound to live in reaction to these buried triggers, ignorant of the source unless we acknowledge the complexities and nuances of who we are, through what our families have endured. As I have experienced in my family, having these conversations is extremely difficult, and it sometimes requires the outside catalyst of a trusted facilitator to break the silence. Through this project, I hope to do this for you and others. This an opportunity for us to take the time and intentionally consider how collectively we are the sum of our identities while recognizing it is critical to avoid erasing the individuals who make up our collective.

Notes about your object, recording session, and the scanning process:

– The object should ideally be something you can easily hold in your hand–no bigger than 7 inches.

– If your object has reflectivity (made of glass, metal, or other highly reflective material), a specially designed spray will need to be applied for the scanning process. It leaves no trace and will disappear in up to four hours if your object is exposed to air until the spray fully evaporates. It will not leave any residue or affect your object in any way. Jenny has tested this on her family’s precious objects to ensure this is a truly safe material for your treasured item. You can learn more about how this spray was developed and how it works here.

– The audio recording will be up to 12 minutes in length. If the initial recording is longer than this, it will be edited down to fit the recording length.

Feel free to send questions regarding this program to education@wendemuseum.org.


The Wende Museum’s 2023 programming is generously supported by Rick Feldman & Susan Horowitz

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