Are We There Yet?



Are We There Yet?
5000 Years of Answering Questions with Questions
A responsive sound installation by artists Ken Goldberg and Gil Gershoni at the Contemporary Jewish Museum
March 31 – July 31, 2011

San Francisco, CA, January 6, 2011 – In the classic joke, a man asks a rabbi: “Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?” The rabbi answers: “Do we?” Bay Area artists Ken Goldberg and Gil Gershoni present a contemporary take on the inquisitive impulse with a new media installation at the Contemporary Jewish Museum March 31 through July 31, 2011. Are We There Yet? combines the latest in intelligent cameras and acoustics to create a reactive sound environment that encourages visitors to reconsider the history and future of curiosity.

Search and questioning are at the core of Jewish identity. Jewish children ask the Four Questions at the Seder table, and a Yiddish proverb states: “One who does not ask, does not know.”  The Talmud (the primary source of Jewish religious law) is a book of questions and arguments, not answers.

“Finally the military has abandoned the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, but it persists in many areas of government, economics, the environment,” says Goldberg. “It’s important for all of us to keep asking questions. Like friction, they provide the resistance that pushes us forward.”

The installation is located in the Museum’s soaring Yud Gallery. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, the Yud acknowledges the 2nd Commandment, which forbids the creation of idols and representational images. The space emphasizes the auditory over the visual and is linked with Kabalistic symbolism. This unorthodox environment led the artists to think about interactions between embodied movement, auditory perception, and the process of questioning.

As they enter, visitors encounter a voice asking a question such as: “Can we talk?” After a pause, other questions emerge: “Do you love me?” or “Is that all there is?” As visitors move farther into the space, the questions become increasingly contemplative. “How big is the step between believing and knowing?” or “If not now, when?” The questions begin to take on new contexts and meanings. Visitors realize that they create their own experiences as they move through space.

“Each visitor discovers his or her own path—how you experience the questions is up to you—the process of exploration is what defines identity for Jews and non-Jews,” says Gershoni.

The ability of the installation to generate a unique auditory experience for each visitor is an exciting first, using new robotic algorithms and software that allow cameras to instantly adapt and spatialize audio to the movements of each visitor. Goldberg and Gershoni are working with a high-tech team that includes Perrin Meyer of Meyer Sound, the renowned Emeryville-based company that designed the sound for the Beijing Olympics and Cirque du Soleil.

Some familiar personalities such as KQED’s Michael Krasny and NPR’s Laura Sydell will be among the inquisitive voices included in the installation. Hundreds of questions have been gleaned from sources including the Torah, literature, and popular culture. Visitors to the gallery will also be able to propose new questions and see questions displayed via custom iPad-based kiosks with video animation.

The public can also participate in the exhibition by visiting the project website,, which launches March 31, 2011 and will remain active to the end of the exhibition. “Jews have a tradition of participation in dialogue. Social technologies are a part of our palette. Combining tradition with technology is at the core of this installation,” says Gershoni.

The combination of cutting edge technology and Jewish ideas was appealing to Museum Director Connie Wolf. “It’s exciting to have two leading artists and thinkers using technology in new ways to explore something fundamental to Jewish identity and doing it in a way that can be experienced and appreciated by anyone – Jewish or not, young or old,” she says. “It’s particularly meaningful that this work responds directly to the symbolism of our extraordinary building. It will be a unique experience that audiences won’t soon forget.”

“The experience is like the title,” says Goldberg. “It can be funny or philosophical. Gil and I want visitors to consider their own questions about what is and what is not being questioned.”

Are We There Yet: 5000 Years of Answering Questions with Questions is a collaboration between Ken Goldberg, Gil Gersoni, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. The project has been made possible with special seed funding from the Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation. Major support has been provided by the Jim Joseph Foundation. Additional support generously provided by Meyer Sound Laboratories Inc.

The Koret and Taube Foundations are the lead supporters of the 2010/2011 exhibition season.

About the Artists


Ken Goldberg is an artist and professor of Robotics at UC Berkeley, where he founded the Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium and co-founded the Berkeley Center for New Media. His artwork has been exhibited at the Whitney Biennial, Pompidou Center (Paris), Ars Electronica (Austria), and the ICC Biennale (Tokyo), among other leading arts venues. He is co-writer (with Tiffany Shlain) of The Tribe, an acclaimed documentary about American Jewish identity, and two other documentaries selected for the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. Goldberg earned his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, has published over 150 research papers with his students, and has held visiting positions at San Francisco Art Institute, MIT Media Lab, and Pasadena Art Center. Goldberg was awarded the White House Presidential Faculty Fellowship in 1995, named IEEE Fellow in 2005, and appointed craigslist Distinguished Professor of New Media in 2009.

Gil Gershoni is an artist and founder and creative director of Gershoni Creative, an award-winning agency based in San Francisco. For over 17 years, Gershoni has led integrated branding and emerging media projects for clients like AOL, The BBC, Nike, The Patrón Spirits Company, and others. Gershoni’s work has won many awards and has been featured in publications such as Communication ArtsPrint, and How and has appeared at venues such as the Whitney Biennial and Sundance Film Festival. A noted lecturer, Gil Gershoni acted as art director for the film The Tribe, and is currently a member of International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and an advisor to national design schools.

About the Contemporary Jewish Museum

With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The new facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase “L’Chaim” (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of the CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the 21st century.

Major support for the Contemporary Jewish Museum comes from the Koret and Taube Foundations, who are the lead supporters of the 2010/11 exhibition season. Additional major support is provided by the Jim Joseph Foundation; The Wallace Foundation; Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropic Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Bank of America; Institute of Museum and Library Services; Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund; The Hearst Foundations; Terra Foundation for American Art; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Osterweis Capital Management; The Skirball Foundation; Target; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; and Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation's Endowment Fund. The Museum also receives major support from the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

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