This year in Jerusalem

At Kol HaOt Succot Fair visitors meet artists, see and hear firsthand how they intertwine traditional, modern Jewish themes into their work.

By FERN ALLEN
October 12, 2011 16:20
Yoram Raanan's ‘Jerusalem Rose’

painting of Jerusalem 311. (photo credit: Yoram Raanan)

For many Israeli artists, transforming the splendor of Jerusalem into a modern art form has been an absorbing passion. This Hol Hamoed Succot, five leading artists will share their inspiring works with the public at a two-day Succot Fair on the theme “Jerusalem in the Eyes of the Beholder – Contemporary Artists Portray their Jerusalem,” sponsored by the Kol HaOt organization and the Inbal Hotel.

The fair, to be held at the Jerusalem hotel’s ballroom on October 16 and 17, from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., will feature the diverse interpretations of Jerusalem by such internationally recognized artists as Maty Grünberg, Yoram Raanan, David Moss, Archie Granot and Yitzhak Greenfield. The free fair will be an opportunity for the public to meet the artists, and hear firsthand how they intertwine traditional and modern Jewish themes into their art.

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“Kol HaOt’s fairs emphasize direct interaction between artist and visitors. This way, the public can both appreciate the art and its Jewish message more fully, be enriched and educated, as well as develop an intimate relationship with high-level, accomplished local artists and their artwork,” says Yair Medina, a co-founder of Kol HaOt, Hebrew for “vision of the symbol.”

“Jerusalem is a particularly apt theme for a Succot fair, since one aspect of the holiday is the pilgrimage of all nations to the city,” adds Rabbi Matt Berkowitz, another Kol HaOt founder.

As David Moss whizzed through the city on his daily bicycle route to his studio in Jerusalem’s Artists’ Lane, he began to realize that this journey contained potent material for an artistic project. The result is his colorful, graphic, map-like work, Cycling Through My Mind.

This limited-edition print evokes Jerusalem’s ancient and current landmarks, as well as Moss’s personal history as he moves through space and time – through his own neighborhood, and past an aqueduct from the Second Temple era, the sites of recent terror attacks, monuments to peace, to name just a few of the 19 places depicted.

“It is not the sort of map I’d hand someone who needs to find their way between two points,” he says. “It’s a psychic mapping of what goes on in my head as I take this 10-minute ride through time, memories, musings and feelings.”

For his work Jerusalem 1967-1990, Grünberg collaborated with the late Yehuda Amichai – whose poetry will be featured at the fair – to create 56 blackand- white woodcuts of the city. In this limited-edition portfolio, he captures “an intricate puzzle” of Jerusalem’s landscape, its flora and fauna, as well as its ancient buildings and modern structures.

“This city is solid with symbols that were created in it, were lost in it, and were destroyed in it,” he says. “It is the animals that inhabit the air and earth in and around Jerusalem that have survived throughout its eras – a continuous lifeline throughout its long history.”

The plants of Jerusalem are also the focus of Grünberg’s project The Tulip and the Thorn. For inspiration, he wandered the botanical garden on Mount Scopus. He captures Jerusalem’s daylight, dawn, twilight and night through the prism of the eternal city’s diverse plants, which thrive despite the city’s annual seasons of extreme heat and cold.

One afternoon, as paper-cut artist Granot sat in an interminable Jerusalem traffic jam, he couldn’t help but notice the distinctive pattern of a window in the Bukharan quarter. The window design was to become the basis of his multi-layered Joy of Jerusalem paper cut, which incorporates a midrash that expresses the rejoicing that will envelop the city when it is rebuilt.

“Jerusalem is one of the foundations of my work,” says Granot, whose vibrant contemporary-style paper cuts are often based on Jewish texts from the Bible, Talmud and midrash.

For Raanan, the Western Wall has been both an inspiration and a challenge. In his paintings, he transforms the craggy brown stones into lush-colored hues, imparting its spiritual energy to the viewer.

“It’s a challenge to paint concrete blocks of reality in an abstract modern and meaningful way,” he says. “I try to capture the spiritual essence and bring light out of the hewn rock.

“The Wall’s stones have been witness to a lot of prayers and a lot of tears. I wanted to do justice to the energy that has been poured into this place, and to the self-sacrifice of the people who for millennia longed to be able to come here,” Raanan says.

His panorama of Jerusalem, done in soft, pastel-colored shades, captures the dramatic southern slope of the Temple Mount and the walls of the Old City.

Raanan recalls that when he painted this spectacular view, he was not only focusing on light and shadow, color and movement, but was also in touch with “the holiness of the place; the quiet majesty of the Temple Mount and how the hills emanate a palpable spiritual energy.” To suggest the heavenly Jerusalem, he employed his palette knife to scrape away paint, to convey a sense of the sky opening up to the celestial city.

The covers and pages of discarded Jewish books, many of which relate to Jerusalem, often provide the raw material for Greenfield’s collages, which depict the timelessness of the eternal city. His Jerusalem Towers and Domes contains fragments of classical Jewish texts, and his Vineyard of Solomon was created with old Talmud volumes. “They form a kind of geniza [storehouse for ancient texts] in themselves,” he notes.

“I try to use my artwork as a way to transform the mundane into the holy,” says Greenfield, a native of Brooklyn, who for years dreamed of living in Jerusalem.

Moss’s rendering of Jerusalem in his acclaimed Moss Haggadah, is imbued with a strong universal theme. He depicts the gates to the city facing several directions, to welcome all peoples. “Through her open gates, Jerusalem’s message goes out to all nations,” Moss explains. “Jerusalem is the city of unity, whose destiny is ‘shalom’ – wholeness, completeness and peace among all the nations of the world.”

The Hebrew verse “Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem,” which Moss elegantly showcases in the piece, represents both a prayer and a promise. “We ask God to show His hand once again in the destiny of our people; we declare our eternal commitment to His holy city.”

The decorative micrography border is made up of 70 biblical verses, each containing a different name or appellation for Jerusalem. He chose the number 70, he says, to correspond to the 70 nations which, in Jewish tradition, represent all of mankind.

The Succot Fair will be a feast for the other senses as well. Visitors will be able to enjoy a collage of the city’s distinctive musical sounds and sites in a screening of Thru Jerusalem, by video artist Kutiman, an internationally acclaimed musician and YouTube sensation.

Kutiman’s work has been exhibited throughout the world, including at the Guggenheim Museum, and has been described by Time magazine as one of the most important inventions in the world in 2009. For the short film, which was originally commissioned by the Jerusalem Season of Culture, Kutiman visited local musicians, recording their diverse sounds against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s captivating scenery. The two-day fair will also showcase local actors, who will perform live storytelling performances about Jerusalem.

In the coming months, Kol HaOt will hold an evening Jewish cabaret, scheduled to premier on Hanukka, and will open its Visual Beit Midrash. There, the organization will conduct ongoing Jewish educational programs, targeted at North American travelers in Israel. The programs incorporate the magic of the arts in an effort to engage participants with Jewish concepts, and include a hands-on interactive element. Also planned are ongoing exhibits, artist circles and educator training.

“Like the Succot Fair, these creative educational activities are an integral part of Kol HaOt’s mission to utilize the arts as a way to convey and illuminate the meaning and beauty of Jewish texts and ideas,” says Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz, who co-founded the organization.

More information about Kol HaOt can be found on the organization’s web site: www.kolhaot.com.

The writer is director of marketing at Kol HaOt – Interactive Jewish Educational Art Programs.

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