Hava Nagila: A Song for the People

Exhibition by Situ Studio and MTWTF

Museum of Jewish Heritage

Hava Nagila is one of those rare cultural artifacts that both grounds a tradition as well as transcends it. Instantly recognizable across cultures and geographies the show examines the history of this tune and its evolution from its humble origins in a village in Eastern Europe all the way through the contemporary kaleidoscopic amalgam of geographically, ethnically and culturally disparate renditions that have popped up everywhere from Russian variety shows to The Modern Female Choir of Zhejiang.

In designing this exhibition the goal was to communicate the diversity of the song’s infinite embodiments, cultural complexity and meaning while also conjuring that particular joyous fervor that the melody imbues. In exploring the simple, practical problem of how to simultaneously and coherently play five landmark versions of the song within a single, relatively small space, Situ Studio and MTWTF began to explore how geometries and materials can focus, reflect, and absorb sound. Essentially beginning with some simple performance criteria and ultimately getting completely carried away with the possibilities, the design of the exhibition joins the acoustic, tactile and visual components into a single immersive environment, in which visitors are encouraged to look, listen, read, touch, dance, sing or otherwise express themselves.

The design of the exhibition features giant parabolic reflectors that form isolated cones of sound that define space, while carpet tiles serve triple duty on floors, walls, and ceilings as containers for content that also absorb reverberations. As part of the development of the design, a range of material experiments were carried out and prototyped in Situ Studio’s Brooklyn workshop.  Techniques developed specifically for this show were utilized to laser engrave text and signature images directly into the carpet piling. Similarly, the geometric properties of parabolic reflectors were studied in relation to acoustics and light.  These large mirrored fixtures were created by patterning, scoring and bending flat composite aluminum sheets into 3-dimensional domes that simultaneously focus and amplify both the soundtrack as well as the array of colors, images and artifacts that populate every surface of the show.

The exhibition was Curated by the Museum’s Director of Collections and Exhibitions, Melissa Martens and managed by the Museum’s Senior Manager for Digital Media and Special Projects, Alice Rubin.

The following is a selection of some of our youtube favorites:

Russian Variety Show

Transvestite Cabaret routines in Thailand

The Modern Female Choir of Zhejiang

Indian-Jewish Wedding


Material Sponsors:

FLOR, NUDO, Beartown