In 2010, we were approached to collaborate on the exhibition As It Is Written: Project 304,805, to be commissioned by and installed at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. The idea behind the project was to create “a communal Torah for the 21st Century”. It is said that each letter of the Torah corresponds to a soul, so each museum visitor that participates represents the drawing of the next letter in a new copy of the Torah.
The decided medium was the metaphor of one’s hand, representing the action of writing through a Seferet (a person who is trained and permitted to create a copy of the Torah). Thus, once 304,805 hands have been expressed and connected, a completed copy of the Torah will have been created communally.
Our contribution to As It Is Written, titled People’s Torah, was done in conjunction with creative studio Cabengo. People’s Torah is an interactive, 3D rendering of the Five Books of Moses, incorporating both physical and digital interactions. You can participate in the exhibition in the museum itself, scanning your own hand on the custom touchscreen we built and then seeing the associated letter of the Torah growing and coming to life in a large-scale wall projection. But the experience does not end there. Because we decided to create an online environment that extends the exhibition’s world outside of the museum walls, users from all over the globe can go online, and participate by scanning pictures of their own hands. The image of their hand, including their name and location, will be displayed on screens in the museum. Visitors can then connect with these geographically distant participants by touching their hands to these digital hands, “writing” new letters in the Torah.
Because of the conceptual nature of the project, we thought it very important to make the projected visuals and the website design simple and beautiful. We created a custom 3D engine that maps the image of each person’s hand and transforms it into a stunning particle system that moves and morphs into the corresponding Hebrew letter “drawn” in the Torah. Users can move their mouse to affect and distort these creations and move them in 3D space, but they will always gracefully return back to their original form.
We also created a map of hands, again focusing on visual engagement. Everyone who ever submits an image of their hand is represented through a thumbnail on a map of the world, amplifying the sentiment of this Torah being from the people, regardless of country, language, or even religion.
With the combination of physical and digital participation, a powerful and new human-to-human interaction comes full circle. Through the hand as a symbol of individuality, expression, and connection, mimicking the intimacy of holding hands, the overall concept of exhibit is achieved — creating a copy of the Torah through the hands of everyone.