Can art influence the way we live our lives as a mirror influences the way we present ourselves to the world? “Art – Society – Community,” a cluster of exhibits at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art, takes a pluralistic approach to exploring the connection between art and its contextual environment. The common denominator is the consideration of art as a receptacle for our collective social conscience. Art retains the capacity to change the way we think, act, live.
Given Israel’s increasingly fragmented social composition, two stand-out exhibits concern the part of the country we call “the periphery.”
Out of sight and often out of mind, the disparate minorities at the social and geographic extremes of the country shape a sense of identity with minimum intervention by the state.
Artist Yosef-Joseph Dadoune’s Sion is a lush cinematic affair inspired by Dadoune’s discovery that the Mediterranean collection of Paris’s Louvre museum had no representation of Hebraic culture and civilization.
Ofakim – the focal point of the Petah Tikva Museum cluster of exhibits – looks inwards, the continuation of a long-term project initiated by Dadoune but featuring an entire community. The town of Ofakim was built on the backs of waves of immigration from North Africa and the former Soviet republics.
It was then sliced apart by the collapse of the textile industry in the late 1980s and disregard by successive governments. The desert town became synonymous with neglect and decay/ Young people growing up within its stifling confines escaped at the first opportunity. Working for several years with young people of the town, Dadoune developed an appreciation for the connection between art and community. To that end, the Of-Ar Project – a “communal space and cultural hothouse” – is a plan to create a facility for communal engagement in Ofakim. Built on the ruins of an abandoned textile factory, it will serve as an incubator for cultural creation and social entrepreneurship.
Rahat lies on the outskirts of Beersheba but might as well be another world altogether. Part of the reason for this apartness lies with the institutional distinctions between the Jewish majority of the country and the Beduin residents of the town. In Uri Rosenwaks’s documentary The Film School, the town serves as a microcosm for the discrimination between the majority and the minority in the country. Rosenwaks – who for many years worked on the investigative journalism TV program Ovda – realizes that understanding the roots of discrimination is an important step toward dealing with it effectively.
With the help of local NGO Step Forward, he set up a film class with female members of the Afro-Bedouin community. The goal is to use the combination of film-making and community education as the tools to dissect life as second-class citizens in a second-class community. Coached in the techniques of filming, editing and interviewing, the women interview the Beduin mayor of Rahat about discrimination in the town. “There’s no place for this,” he declares, but sidesteps questions about the institutional structures that reinforce that very apartness between the communities.
Community is more than people living near one another; it’s about people living together with shared interests and a vested interest in the well-being of the whole. Czech artist Katerina Sedá takes a playful approach to exploring and encouraging this paradigm through what she describes as “social art.” Her film There Is Nothing There gives the concept of community action a new dimension.
A year spent observing the residents of three remote Czech villages revealed a common complaint: In the absence of shared communal facilities, weekends were a bore. Sedá proposed a simple solution: synchronized community activity.
Working to a set schedule, the villagers performed a series of activities – sweep the porch, go shopping, ride bicycles – at the same time on a Saturday morning. The film captures the levity created by the day, giving the community a shared character and a warm sense of collectiveness.
Artists Alona Harpaz and Mika Rottenberg are based in Berlin and New York, respectively. Infinite Earth is the name of the foundation they set up in 2008 to “meet the needs of disempowered communities.” It is also the title of the piece commissioned as part of the exhibition. Both symbolic and deeply practical, the colorful, kinetic, three-dimensional Infinite Earth is an ecological meditation on the interconnectedness of our lives.
“Art – Community – Society,” Petah Tikva Museum of Art, 30 Arlozorov Street, until July 22.