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Step Inside New York’s Wandering Sukkah

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Assembly Required, “A Wandering Sukkah” (2015) (all photos by Simon Courchel, courtesy The Invisible Dog Art Center)

Every year near the start of fall, huts pop up around New York City for a week to serve as temporary places of gathering for practicing Jews. These sukkahs are built during the religious holiday of Sukkot, and while many New Yorkers likely encounter them, few actually enter the spaces, which are traditionally used for families to sleep or eat in. This year during Sukkot, a vibrant, mobile sukkah will traverse New York City’s five boroughs, inviting anyone — regardless of religious affiliation — to step inside and experience a moment of tranquility. Artists Danielle Durchslag and Ryan Frank, who make up Assembly Required, have created “A Wandering Sukkah,” a custom-designed, sculptural sukkah standing tall in the bed of a truck that is now visiting various sites around the city, open to all who wish to enter.

“One of the tenets of Sukkot is to welcome the guests,” Frank told Hyperallergic. “So in that spirit we wanted to do something really radically inclusive for people who don’t normally celebrate this holiday.”

Inside "A Wandering Sukkah" (2015) (click to enlarge)
Inside “A Wandering Sukkah” (2015) (click to enlarge)

The project reinterprets and expands the framework of Sukkot to make the tradition of gathering in a sukkah a more accessible but also more intimate experience. Composed of multicolored dibond aluminum panels that form a highly geometric, columnar cocoon, the pair’s design bears little resemblance to a traditional sukkah — usually similar to a sheltered room — intended instead to serve as a haven amid the chaos of the city. An archway leads to its interior, which fits just one person, and it is painted black in an inversion of its vivid shell to create a quiet space for reflection. There is no roof covering, which is a critical element of a typical sukkah; instead, a hole draws one’s eye to the sky — a rare invitation for New Yorkers to focus, in peace, on a slice of nature. The sukkah itself is surrounded by plants resting in the truck’s bed to form a mobile patch of green within New York’s concrete-heavy infrastructure. Assembly Required hopes that those who experience its sukkah leave refreshed, breaking the typically rapid pace of urbanites.

“Our goal is to get New Yorkers of all backgrounds in this sukkah, one at a time,” Durchslag said, “And that this week we would change the energy of New York City for the better.”

That’s a lofty aspiration, but purposefully so: the pair wanted to create a work that expressed a grandiosity similar to that that characterizes the intentions of another type of mobile religious space, the Mitzvah tank. These recreational vehicles, driven by Orthodox Jews, roam the city to engage with nonobservant Jews and spread information on how to beckon the messiah.

Primarily an art installation, “A Wandering Sukkah” will park at various art institutions around the city during its run including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Jewish Museum, and the Maxwell Davidson Gallery. It will also appear at places such as the Hindu Society Temple of North America and the Tenement Museum, where one may not expect to such an art exhibition — much less a sukkah. New York City is home to pockets of quiet, but one usually has to seek these out; “A Wandering Sukkah” aims to interrupt the daily routines of passersby by bringing an unexpected, interior space for reflection directly to them.

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Assembly Required, “A Wandering Sukkah” (2015)
Assembly Required, "A Wandering Sukkah" (2015) (all photos by Simon Courchel, courtesy The Invisible Dog Art Center)
Assembly Required, “A Wandering Sukkah” (2015)
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Assembly Required, “A Wandering Sukkah” (2015)

Assembly Required: A Wandering Sukkah continues at select sites throughout New York City through October 4.

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