Ritual Bricolage Explained

“ the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process. The term is borrowed from the French word bricolage, from the verb bricoler, the core meaning in French being, “fiddle, tinker” and, by extension, “to make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand (regardless of their original purpose)”.

In art (or literature) bricolage is typically taken to mean the construction or creation of a new object or form making use of diverse existing materials which become transformed and something ‘new’ through the process of combining their unique qualities.

So for example, a quilt (see also the film ‘chapter’ on this website in which the Aids Quilt is explained) is a new construction or object made from other scraps of material; and an art form could involve the incorporation of found objects (stones, feathers, broken plastic) combined with paint, textiles etc.   

The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (yes another Jew! 1) in Chapter 1 of The Savage Mind  (1966), University of Chicago Press, defined ‘bricolage’ as “the infinite, improvisational recombination of a fixed series of elements” explaining how the ‘myth-maker’ breaks down old structures to refashion “new worlds from fragments” , creating a new structure or world without following a previously trodden path.

In ritual bricolage therefore we are setting out to explore and explain how physical artefacts or images, ritual behaviours associated with a specific person or place or time (for example, a set of inherited candle-sticks, a table-cloth or challah cover; a painting brought back from somewhere meaningful, or a newly incorporated or written prayer inserted into a traditional ritual such as Rosh Hashanah or a Seder) create a form of ritual bricolage when the process and underlying meaning combines both LGBTQI and Jewish identities which become expanded and enriched in the process of merging and transforming into an entwined whole.

In this exploration of the meaning of ritual bricolage we are therefore moving beyond the mere physicality of newly constructed item or activity  (wearing a rainbow tallit – a constructed object which visibly combines Jewish and LGBTQI symbolism –  is a clear example) to also consider more subtle manifestations of ritual change.

So for example the reclamation of specific ‘gendered’ rituals by someone who does not identify with the ‘traditional’ Jewish ritual/gender binary (a transgender or gay man lighting Shabbat candles for example)  creates by that action a form of ritual reconstruction and those candles , lit by that man become part of a process of personal ritual bricolage even though the candlestick, looked at by the observer with no knowledge of the transformatory process undergone, may see it as no different from any other Shabbat candlestick lit by a woman in a ‘traditional’ Jewish home on a Friday night.

In this element of the project we are therefore inviting participants to explore the notion of ‘ritual bricolage’ by curating their own ritual objects and telling us the stories of the particular item which has become something new and redolent of Jewish LGBTQI identity through the ‘magical, transformatory’ process of being used in a new way or perceived of differently in a manner which challenges gender binaries and traditional boundaries within and across Judaism.

We invite participants to work with us to consider the nature of ritual bricolage through either collecting their own ‘physical or virtual scrapbook’ of personally meaning ritual activities or objects and sending us materials (photographs of ritual objects, up-loadable/scanned drawings or images, high quality recordings of ‘sound bites’ discussing the item; written narratives about how the ritual bricolage occurred, the process and meaning of the object or action)  and/or through  attending a half day workshop in the Summer of 2015 (date to be confirmed, please contact Surat Shaan Knan for further information).

In the workshop we will work with participants to discuss and explore  both the meaning of ritual bricolage and the nature of ‘transformed objects/ritual’. For those who require support in collating their scrapbook of personal ritual bricolage or would like more information on the concept we will provide space to discuss individual processes, activities and artefacts.

You don’t have to wait for the workshop to begin to curate your own ritual bricolage and we are happy to receive objects, discuss your ‘virtual’ or ‘physical’ scrapbook. In the first instance contact Surat (above) and he will put you in contact with another team member if you require more information.

At the final ‘launch’ event of the project in Autumn 2015 we will invite participants to work with a narrative story-teller to explore how these items came into your life and ritual world, and to ‘present’ to the audience your personal ritual bricolage. The discussion will give space to the meaning, processes and transformatory elements of your journey with the object or ritual to enable consideration of how identities blend into a hybrid LGBTQI Jewish (or Jewish LBGTQI) whole.     

Overall, these intimate and reflective discussion sessions both before and during the launch event will provide space for us to explore the processes through which ‘queer bricolage’ comes into being as the body-text-object is collectively reworked to challenge ‘authentic’ Jewish ritual. Through these activities, we will be enabled to record and collectively witness the genesis of new, inclusive, meaningful ritual created by and for LGBTQI Jews.

Margaret Greenfields

  1.  For a light hearted comment on the connection between Jews and Anthropology /key critical thinkers of Jewish ancestry, see further:  http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Issues/Science/The_Social_Sciences/Anthropology.shtml