Professor Katie Peterson at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco

UC Davis English Professor Katie Peterson and her husband / collaborator, UC Davis Art Professor Young Suh, join a bevy of artists in a new exhibit at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. Each of them interprets a traditional story for Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist as Maggid
Peterson and Suh chose “The Souls of Trees,” a tale about a childless couple that seeks the help of a rabbi to help them understand why they cannot conceive. The couple’s inn, it turns out, has been made from saplings—trees that were cut down before they had a chance to grow old. It was through the process of interpreting the folktale that Peterson and Suh discovered how multi-faceted the story could be. 
“I think we discovered that the folk tale has a dark side and a light side," Peterson says, "a message that critiques human ambition (the reason why the couple can't have a child is that they're living in a house made from rapacious human activity, built from trees cut down too soon) and redeems human life (something in the folk tale wants them to have a child, and the rabbi helps them do it). Folk tales are different than fairy tales - there's no glitter in them, no happily ever after. They're very attached to reality!” 
Though Peterson is known primarily as a poet and a critic, her collaboration with Suh led to a piece comprised of images and an accompanying video. Suh, a photographer, took the images, while Peterson created much of the video. “Young and I have been collaborating on video since we met,” she explains, “shooting together and writing scripts together and coming up with ideas together.” 

Peterson finds profound connections between her work as a poet and her work on film: “Editing film is a lot like poetry - you need to find the most intense, most concise things you've seen and reduce the work to only those elements, which are mere fragments of what you actually experienced or saw. The radiant fragment can give a better sense of the whole than anything comprehensive. It is amazing what a difference a few sentences makes!”

The exhibition runs at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco from September 28th, 2017 to January 28th, 2018. You can read more about it here] and here [].


photo credit: The Contemporary Jewish Museum