Jacob and the Angel

Video documentation 6:12 min. Recorded June 12, 2021.

“It is the hottest day in June. 3 hours drive to a secret location somewhere, nowhere. Only you know these coordinates. Except the other, who took you to this place years ago. A dirt road and some barren hills around. The crumbling entrance, opened in silence. You walk inside, away from the heat of the sun. It’s getting colder gradually. Remnants of white plaster scattered on the walls, now dirty and black. You are left in the dark. The tunnel swallows your breath. You sense your direction slowly dissipating. But you know your way around here, don’t you? This is where you’ve been captured. This is where you’ve been wounded. This is happening now, as before. As ever. This is where you’ve been chewed up and spit out. Then and now, and again and again, ever since. Repeat, rerun, replay. You return here every day. The smell of tar and oil and fear. The unbidden guest, uninvited, of a forbidden territory – of the past, or time itself? A pilgrimage or a crusade? Don’t answer. Disregard the warnings. Keep going. Right, left, then right again. This is a liminal space.”

This is an underground performance-intervention-installation that takes place at an undisclosed location, an abandoned tunnel system. I put up handwritten posters on the wall, with an altered version of a line from a poem by Mary Oliver, a biblical reference from the story of Jacob and the Angel: “I have wrestled with the Angel / And I’m Bruised with Light / And I have no Shame.”

In this story, Jacob was on his way in the desert. One night he got attacked by a figure of sorts — a man, an angel, God, devil, it’s hard to tell. Jacob fought back, and as they started wrestling, Jacob kept asking “Who are you? What are you? What do you want? What is your name?” — but the figure did not say a word. What did he want? We’ll never know. They fought all night, until daybreak — when the angel, grasping he may not win, decided to stroke Jacob’s hip with a ray of light. It left Jacob injured and in great pain, yet he did not surrender. As the dawn was breaking, the angel spoke to Jacob, “let me go please”. “I will not release you until you bless me,” Jacob replied. Then, the angel asked for his name, blessed him and gave him a new name.

My interpretation of this story is about dealing with the trauma of loss and about repetition compulsion. The wrestling match that takes all night is understood as an analogy of how one keeps replaying the story of their trauma throughout their lives, expecting to have a different outcome. The tunnel underneath the hill, beyond having its personal references to my own trauma, is a representation of the unconscious. To go deep inside, to this liminal, transitory mental space where you have decided to leave something behind — to put these words of acceptance and pride on the wall — is a declaration of victory: a gesture to both acknowledge the damage and not be defined by it.