By Tamar Tembeck

What constitutes the bonds of filiation?
Who are you if you don’t know where you come from, or if you learn that your origins were fictions?
What spaces exist to redefine the roles of womanhood, and the institution of marriage, outside of the social, cultural, and religious imperatives of reproduction?
These are some of the many questions raised in Heidi Barkun’s body of work. In the exhibition פרו ורבו (P'ru Ur'vu / Be Fruitful and Multiply), Barkun confronts the taboo of infertility from both a personal and collective perspective, shedding light once again on the fact that, although it is fundamentally a private and intimate endeavour, human reproduction remains largely (bio)political, as well as subject to public scrutiny.
The new works produced for this exhibition engage with the little-known history of Projet Casa’s site, which is currently a residence and exhibition space, but was formerly a private medical clinic owned by Dr. Phineas Rabinovitch in the 1940s and 1950s. Amongst its activities, the clinic participated in a blackmarket baby adoption ring, which notably served infertile Jewish couples from across North America. Most of these babies came from unwed Catholic mothers, thereby circumventing the norms that prohibit adoption outside of one’s religion. These illicit adoption services required the complicity not only of doctors and healthcare staff, but also lawyers and rabbis who, in the interest of rendering what they deemed to be a societal service, effectively supported the expectation to be fruitful at all costs.
Upon entry to Projet Casa’s private home / exhibition space, the works presented in the room on the left address the imperatives of Jewish femininity, including the expectation of reproduction within marriage. In a nook where hangs what looks like a wedding veil, voices of the now adult children who were born in this very building resonate. Barkun interviewed five blackmarket adoptees who spoke of attempts to unearth their hidden origin stories. We hear them recount memories of their adoptive parents, Jewish couples who were struggling to conceive and found solace thanks to these adoptions.
To these new works produced for the exhibition, Barkun joins some of her earlier production, which engages with personal experiences of infertility and failed IVF treatments. On the opposite side of the hall, we are met with the suggestion of a room that has been prepared for the arrival of a newborn. The infant clothing we see hung on the wall has been reconstructed into monstrous forms, alluding to an impossible baby, or to one whose genetic manipulations are such that if it were to emerge, it would be as a chimera. 
Further down the hall, a large, deep blue, encaustic painting occupies the middle room. It is topped with 13 stones commemorating the artist’s lost embryos. A metal shelving unit in the corridor presents a genuine relic of the period when the building housed a medical clinic. 
The corridor leads to an archive room at the far end of the home, displaying materials that were sent to the artist by the son of an adoptee. We can also hear an interview between Barkun and him, as well as with a scholar of local Jewish history, in her attempt to uncover the rare information available about the space’s former activities.  
The wall leading upstairs is lined with facsimiles of four blackmarket adoptees’ birth registrations, yet this official documentation fails to reveal their true stories. No traces remain of their biological parents, and no mentions of adoption appear on their records: their existence as adoptees has been erased, as have their origins. It is information that could only be gleaned through happenstance and hearsay.
In the final room on the upper floor, which was reserved for the clinic’s medical interventions, Barkun gives voice to five grown blackmarket babies who recount the little they know of their own adoption histories. These testimonials, along with her artworks, invite us to continue to ponder the ties that bind us, beyond biology, and the grounds upon which families are made.