About the Cover:
Helene Aylon's My 54 Notebooks

    RUTH OST is Associate Director of Temple University Honors and Affiliated Faculty, Women's Studies.

Helene Aylon's work on the cover is a detail from My 54 Notebooks, the latest, as-yet-unexhibited piece of a trilogy of installations in which she explores her ambivalent desire to reclaim her Orthodox Jewish past, given her feminist anger and disappointment. The first two pieces, The Liberation of G-d (1990-96) and The Women's Section (1997), have appeared respectively in the nationally traveling exhibition Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities at the Jewish Museum in New York and the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, among other venues, and in Rage/Resolution: From Family Violence to Healing in the Work of Israeli and American Women at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, January 1998. An extensive collection of readings on Aylon's work is archived in the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

Aylon interrogates her ambivalence by literally marking and thus mourning the absence or violated presence of women in Jewish texts, longing to excavate a story for women. She works against women's invisibility, violation, and misrepresentation by not only inserting her presence in the texts, but asking viewers to insert theirs in the guest books integral to her installations.

Aylon describes My 54 Notebooks as a wall of ordinary blank 8 1/2 x 11 lined notebooks with black covers, duplicating the number of chapters in the Five Books of Moses. Closed, but not glued shut, these form the black wall; open notebooks, pages folded inward, form the white fluted columns.

A transparency of a photograph, Helene's class picture from the 1930s at a Jewish girls' school, plays across the notebooks, a haunting presence. For the installation Helene plans to include a child's school desk near the wall. What might be studied or written at this desk remains to be seen. For now Helene Aylon invites us to pretend to be present. In a sense this collection of essays does the same, offering readings of texts that might fill a wall of blank books, scripting a variety of ambivalences toward religious traditions.