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The Eruv – North London’s Nylon Gateways

Part 2 Dissertation 2013
Paloma Strelitz
Royal College of Art | UK
Thirty nylon gateways encircle an area of six and a half miles within London’s suburban borough of Barnet. Each gateway is composed of 30ft utility poles, with nylon filament spanned between them. Sequentially placed between road junctions and hedges, these portals mark an encircling symbolic boundary called an eruv.

Meaning mixing or blending, this ritual enclosure addresses the Orthodox Jewish prohibition of carrying objects from ‘private’ to ‘public’ spaces on the Sabbath. By redefining the status of domains within its boundaries, the eruv represents an elastic physical zone that temporally reconfigures the programme of urban space.

The contemporary eruv has emerged from a nexus of symbolic associations deriving from the sacred precinct of the Temple, evolving through a metonymical sequence of physical dilution – from roofs to walls to gates to doors to posts to beams to cord. Whilst the eruv’s utilitarian components express an economy of signification, its conceptual power is immense.

The proposal for the Barnet eruv produced vociferous and impassioned reactions, radiating from its locality to the national press. At the heart of this debate were fundamentally divergent conceptions of the relationships between space, symbols and cultural meanings: whereas its protagonists referenced the capacity of space to hold multivalent meanings, its objectors perceived it as creating a ‘ghetto-like-zone.’

How does analysis of the eruv contribute to the broader discussion of borders and boundaries in the contemporary city? From Benjamin’s descriptions of Neapolitan ‘porosity’ to Foucault’s writings on ‘heterotopia’, the suite of references addresses the nature of threshold states and transitional conditions – a proverbial seam or joint that connects divergent theoretical and practical realities.

On a journey from the enforced confines of the Venetian Ghetto to the ‘utopian’ Garden City, the eruv becomes a conduit for exploring the moment where different systems encounter one another - from the public and private, physical and virtual, religious and secular, ancient and modern, elective and enforced, prosaic and paradigmatic. The discursive framework illuminates new ways of reading the complexities of spatial constructs and cultural identities in the contemporary polyglot city, offering insights for responding to pluralism.

Paloma Strelitz

Ms Naomi House
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