Before Present
Past projects
Life Forgotten – A Work in Progress
29 October to 10 December 2023
In the Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin writes that he is seeking to present a collective history much like Marcel Proust presented a personal one: not “life as it was,” nor merely as life remembered, but life as it has been “forgotten.” It is this attempt to re-animate fleeting forgotten moments of history that have inspired Zoe Beloff’s project, Life Forgotten.

Life Forgotten is presented here as a work-in-progress, currently in its earliest stages. It’s foundational elements—drawings, props, footage, and documents—are aimed at the creation of two new films. The first, Josephine the Singer or the Mouse Folk features a series of performers, including a poet, a puppeteer, and a teacher of Yiddish folk songs reciting a story by Franz Kafka in quiet locations around New York’s Lower East Side. The story is an homage to the Yiddish theater, a world where “bad news came thick and fast” yet at the same time “quiet laughter was never far from one’s elbow.” The film aims to evoke the impossible work of memory, of attempting to transmit the popular culture of oppressed people over time, days, months, years.

The second film will be set in New York’s Lower East Side during the 1910s when it was a predominantly Jewish immigrant neighborhood, a hub of labor activism, and home to more storefront moving picture houses than any other place in the country. The nickelodeons (as they were known) served as de facto community gathering spaces, a lost history that Beloff plans to resurrect. Here Beloff will show the radical young garment workers, women who were reading Marx and staging strikes, leading up to “Uprising of the Twenty Thousand”, watching films like D.W. Griffith’s, Song of the Shirt, films about young women like themselves that were gritty, realistic, but also sentimentalized.

Displayed here are the initial series of drawings and props, including suits that reveal the labor of their own manufacture and a puppet of the labor activist Clara Lemlich Shavelson. Beloff’s work, while rooted in extensive research, follows the Brechtian method of re-enactment. It is not a nostalgic gaze backwards, but a lively and anti-illusionistic staging of the past within the contemporary Lower East Side, a place she has called home for most of her life.

Zoe Beloff is an artist and film maker. Her projects often involve films, drawings and archival documents organized around a theme. Such themes include proposals for new forms of community, issues of labor, and might be called the ‘dream life of technology’, not what technology is or was but people’s imaginative relationship with it. Beloff’s work has been featured in international exhibitions and screenings, including the Whitney Biennale, Site Santa Fe, the M HKA museum in Antwerp, the Pompidou Center in Paris, International Film Festival Rotterdam and FID Marseille.

Installation views