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    Remembering is the essence of what it means to be human. We have built entire professions, institutions, practices, and technologies around this very act. Remembering is a biological human need, a hard-wired function which has shaped the way we live as societies and individuals. This is the impact of memory, and poignantly illustrates the weight of even the most fleeting moment. Archives are inherently constructed on this idea, something which artist Karen Azoulay has capitalized on her new show Indexing the Leaves, currently showing at Drew University in Madison New Jersey. 


    Azoulay has a history of blurring lines between disciplines and platforms, using photography and sculpture her art is presented in diverse forms ranging from fashion design to floriography dictionaries. This time, the artist of many hats has acquired yet another title: curator. Working with Drew University’s Zuck collection of botanical books, Azoulay transformed the lobby space of the Special Collection into a conceptual installation which asks the viewer to ruminate on the complex symbols we use to remember and communicate. The space is simple with six cases in the center of the room arranged two at a time in a line across the room. Each case is filled with a mixture of 16th-century herbariums, botanical illustrations, and even an acorn from Lord Byron's estate. Mixed in with the volumes from the collection are memento’s from her personal life such as dried oranges picked from her grandmother's backyard, a pressed flower given to her by her husband on the day they first met, and artworks both new and old made by her or her friends. Yet the show is far from simply nostalgic----Azoulay has arranged the show in alphabetical order and created an index identifying the object and its potential significance, which the viewer must use to walk through the exhibition and decipher the hidden messages. 


    The choice of using the botanical collection stems from Azoulay’s fascination with floriography, better known as the secret language of flowers which had its heyday in the Victorian era. Much in the way, 80’s feminist artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger appropriated the language of advertising culture. Here, Azoulay uses floriography and its history as a “feminine” pastime to question symbols of language and the role they play in our societies and personal lives. Simultaneously, the use of flowers, leaves and the study of botany harken ideas of our biological and natural heritage, extending the idea of memory beyond that of humanity. Azoulay masterfully crafts both found and personal memories through the careful arrangement of each page, item, and object to create a plethora of possible interpretations when using the index. The show is a perhaps Azoulay’s Magnum Opus as it oscillates between installation and exhibition allowing for it to discuss existential and utilitarian ideas of language, memory, history, and heritage without being overly critical or condescending. Ultimately, the viewer is left with a work that personifies a body of moments.


Drew University Special Collections and Archives 


36 Madison Ave 


Madison, NJ 




Monday- Friday 


9:00 am - 5:00 pm 


Late Night Tuesdays 


9:00 am - 9:00 pm 


A Body of a Moments


Karen Azoulay at the Drew University Special Collections


By Adam Tenorio 

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