Days before Sukkot, as it sat temporarily lodged in the garden of Invisible Dog Gallery, an art space in Brooklyn, New York, spectators were marveling at a magnificent multi-hued sculpture—a construction of dibond (an aluminum concoction), vinyl and wood, complete with a prismatic bodice and spliced edges. It stood eight-and-a-half-feet tall, its dimensions stretching up like a Manhattan high-rise.
“What is it?” spectators asked aloud, innocently enough, as they circled it with curious finesse. At first glance, I couldn’t fathom the origins—or purpose—of such a strange looking object, either.
“It’s a sukkah!” the creators, Danielle Durchslag and Ryan Frank exclaimed.
A couple years ago, Durchslag, who’s Jewish, approached Frank, who’s Catholic, with a proposition: to build a sukkah. The friends, who had met years prior in a sculpture class, formed a two-person art collective; pretty soon, they were building a sukkah on the balcony of Durchslag’s apartment building. With wood frames and a thatched roof, the first iteration could nearly be mistaken for your run-of-the-mill sukkah save for the fact that it also displayed the artwork of local artists, a so-called sukkah salon. This year, the duo decided to take a different route, literally.
Inspired by the mobility of Chabad Lubavitch mitzvah tanks—those buses that serve as portable synagogues as it were—Durchslag and Frank decided to follow suit by bringing a sukkah to the the masses. Funded by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and a successful Kickstarter campaign, they created a project called, “A Wandering Sukkah.”
For eight days—from September 27 to October 4—the sukkah will be lodged on the back of a 2003 Chevrolet pickup truck (I’m told they bought it off Craigslist from a guy in Queens), with the plan to transport it through New York’s five boroughs so that the public, Jew and non-Jew alike, can enjoy what Durchslag calls “a moment of urban respite.”
“Part of Sukkot is the temporality of it and the fact that it’s about transition,” said Frank. “Our mantra is: We have to take this as it comes, and there will be challenges.”
One of these challenges, which any New Yorker with a car can relate to, is parking—a notoriously hard-to-find luxury in a city of nearly 8.5 million people. And after the artists find spots to park their installation they will tweet their exact location enabling people to more easily find their creation.
On Sunday, September 27, the rolling exhibition will be unveiled at the Invisible Dog Gallery, then travel onwards, making stops at a the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden in Long Island, the Bronx Museum of Arts, Manhattan’s Jewish Theological Seminary, the Tenement Museum, and Hindu Society in Flushing, Queens, among others locations. (A full schedule of stops can be found here.)
A week before the grand opening display, the artists took the sukkah out for a trial run on the back of their Chevy. As they drove past a Yeshiva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, boys stood in awe, quizzically staring at the outlandish structure. “What is it?” they called out, a question the artists would become familiar with answering. When told it was a sukkah, the kids jumped up, fist-pumped, and yelled, “Nice one!”
“It was somehow a real surreal and appropriate start,” Frank said about the incidence, especially relevant since the sukkah is about connectivity, one New Yorker at a time.
When spectators enter the kaleidoscopic sukkah, they become enclosed in a narrow metallic sculpture. Once inside, they will have no choice but to look up at an opening—gazing beyond the schach, a covering of green foliage collected from nearby flora found by the artists—through which they will see the New York sky, crystal clear.
Related: Building a Time-Traveling Sukkah
Tess Cutler is an intern at Tablet.