When bright red pomegranates started filling every nook and cranny of wall space in the Ruby Gallery at the Skirball, I witnessed people stop in their tracks, puzzle over it, and smile. After working closely with the Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) on this immersive art installation, I have learned how something as simple as a piece of fruit can bring so many people and ideas together.
In their artistic practice, Fallen Fruit uses fruit as a filter to explore social engagement and relies on acts of sharing, public participation, and community involvement to make their work. The social, economic, and political implications of fruit reveal the relationship between those who have food resources and those who do not, and yet they also foster a sense of community and activism. In fact, Fallen Fruit’s name is derived from a passage in the book of Leviticus:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.
This philosophy of giving and reaching out to strangers has allowed Fallen Fruit to collaborate with communities and institutions all over the world. After studying our collection of Jewish cultural artifacts, Fallen Fruit found inspiration in a seventeenth-century ketubbah (marriage contract). They also discovered how prominently the pomegranate figures in Jewish art and culture, particularly as a symbol of fertility and marriage. The installation in the Ruby Gallery combines their interest in both the cultural ritual of marriage and the beauty of the pomegranate by featuring specially designed wallpaper created from photographs of pomegranate fruits grown in Southern California.
Fallen Fruit’s custom fruit wallpaper has become their signature visual format for exploring fruits that are important or symbolic to certain institutions and collections. But why wallpaper? Austin Young explains, “Fruit is often decorative. It appears in wallpaper, art objects, patterns on textiles, decorative art, and still life paintings throughout history in different cultures.” The wallpaper that Fallen Fruit creates often incorporates a lattice-like pattern that repeats continuously. Austin adds that this repetition reinforces the fact that “we see fruit as a common denominator and connector.”
The pomegranate wallpaper that Fallen Fruit designed has been made into a special edition just for the Skirball. In Jewish tradition, the pomegranate is a pervasive symbol from biblical times relating to the garments of the priesthood and royalty, the architecture of the ancient temple, and Torah ornaments of the synagogue. According to one rabbinic tradition, a pomegranate contains 613 seeds, corresponding directly to divine commandments in the Torah.
But the exhibition doesn’t stop here; it will actually grow over time as Fallen Fruit adds different visual elements on top of the wallpaper. First, using social media and an old-fashioned postcard campaign, they have engaged the public in answering a series of questions, including “What is the best ingredient for true love?” and “What is the most important thing your parents or grandparents taught you about love?” Through the responses to these questions, Fallen Fruit wants to collaborate with the public to co-author and design an updated “commitment document” that will speak to contemporary attitudes about love and relationships. This is especially relevant to issues regarding human rights and the struggle to achieve gender and marriage equality for all in today’s society. David Burns says, “We are interested in marriages of all kinds: the commitments people make to each other and the commitments these partnerships make that build vibrant communities.” This new text will be displayed in the gallery space on top of the pomegranate wallpaper.
In addition to the co-authored “commitment document,” Fallen Fruit wants to collect submissions of portraits of people who love each other. This can be images of couples, families, and friends both past and present. Fallen Fruit will frame a selection of these portraits and hang them salon style over the pomegranate wallpaper sometime in mid-July. The resulting installation will provide a multilayered experience that celebrates Jewish heritage, relationships, and love. This collaboration demonstrates that diverse audiences can come together and celebrate community, the very nature of human bonds, and the positive outcomes of sharing and hospitality.
Here are some photographs from the Skirball’s collection that we hope will inspire you to send in your own to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photographs will be accepted until July 13. If you’d like to contribute to the “commitment document,” visit Fallen Fruit of the Skirball to pick up one of Fallen Fruit’s art postcards and submit answers to the question about love featured on it.