I couldn’t believe my eyes as I wandered around the Israel Museum’s Youth Wing
earlier this week – which was just the point. The Israel Museum’s summertime
activities and exhibits for children are based on optical illusions. During a
press tour, curator Daniella Shalev pointed out that even when it caters for a
younger crowd, the museum is aware that it has to keep the adult visitors who
accompany them interested, too.
We were all – children and grownups –
more than interested – we were amazed. The exhibition is called ArTricks
in English, an obvious play on words. The Hebrew name for the display,
“Tatu’im,” means illusions, but with a hint of mocking or
ArTricks is more bemusing than amusing, but it got me thinking,
particularly as I climbed upstairs.
The female journalists didn’t like
the stairs as much as their children did, to be honest: The image of your back
as you ascend is projected in front of you, giving a new connotation to the
concept of hindsight.
Conventional wisdom has it that you should keep
your eyes on the goal, but sometimes it might help to know what’s going on
behind your back as you believe you’re making progress.
We nearly all
enjoyed the elevator that leads nowhere, like Tevye the Milkman’s staircase
“going nowhere, just for show” in Fiddler on the Roof
Indian artist Gigi
Scaria’s “Elevator from the Subcontinent
” doesn’t go any place, but it serves as
a virtual time machine, observing urban growth and the social cost. You get the
impression that you’re in a lift and every floor, with the help of a video
installation, shows a different level of the caste system.
The higher you
get, the closer you come to feeling on top of the world.
It is, of
course, an illusion. Or an allusion. The higher you seem to go, the more removed
you are from what’s really happening on the ground. A delusion.
artists have works in which it is hard to say what is real and what is
artificial. “There is a moment when doubt arises,” Shalev
“Illusion enables us to capture a moment that is imperceptible in
real time,” as artist Orly Hummel writes in the accompanying explanations,
describing her “Tire Swing,” where the viewer doesn’t at first notice the break
in the chain links.
One of my favorite exhibits was “Youngman” by British
artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster. They have assembled scraps of wood, the
debris of carpentry workshops and abandoned planks found elsewhere, and turned
them into a sculpture of a boy – visible only as a shadow.
ray of light and the right angle, all you see are the piles of junk – a
deliberate socio-environmental statement.
ArTricks has dedicated a large
section to the paintings of Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, whose works
Shalev collected from the Israel Museum’s graphics department.
through the Escher section is a little like being Alice in Wonderland. My eyes
played tricks and my mind was filled with riddles.
In Escher’s paintings
one thing turns into another, often impossibly.
A waterfall activates a
wheel before falling; a hand draws a hand drawing a hand; fish turn into birds;
and black turns to white – right there, in front of your puzzled eyes.
one drawing, ants crawl along a figure-of-eight shape, known as a Moebius strip,
where the interior and exterior merge, for infinity.
Some of the pictures
are the sort of optical illusions based on the blurring of boundaries and
juxtaposition of contrasting colors that give the (slightly dizzy making)
impression of movement.
“The resolution of the illusion is extremely
simple – and yet, the illusion of the eye recurs each time anew,” writes Ra’anan
Harlap, whose wooden boxes appear deceptively deep.
Roni Reuveni’s “Still
” from Fimo (polymer clay) is shocking in another way. At first glance, it
seems to be a collection of fruit and vegetables, but by the time I got to that
part of the gallery, I knew better than to stop after a first glance. Closer up,
it is clear that the inside flesh of the fruit and veg is meat, and the kernels
of the corn on the cob are teeth.
“Illusion rouses us and sharpens the
senses that misled us in the first place. The moment when we are unable to grasp
things and classify them according to our prior knowledge and past experience is
a powerful one – one I strive to attain,” explains Reuveni.
vegetarian, I believe that if more people were to internalize that schnitzel,
veal and sausages are not fruit that grows on trees, far fewer would eat their
way through Old MacDonald’s Farm.
Some of the exhibits reminded me of the
Hebrew saying favored by politicians – once they’re in office: “Dvarim shero’im
mesham lo ro’im mikan,” things we see from there, we don’t see from
Tal Amitai-Lavie and Haimi Fenichel prove to be masters of disguise
with their shelf full of books, which turn out to be nylon strings.
journalists, and their children, also enjoyed the mirror images which were
illusions: What seems to be a reflection in a mirror is actually superimposed
images on glass in Tamar Harpaz’s work. And The Chair, by the late Buky
Schwartz, reconstructed by Eyal Rapaport, has only one real chair, but the
illusion of two more – with the help of a video camera reflecting the images
drawn from the floor.
Talia Keinan’s Untitled (Horse) video installation
and sounds demonstrate, (as Shalev pointed out early on in our visit), that we
use our eyes more than any other sense to check our reality.
feel, what we hear, what we smell, we confirm with our own eyes – even if they
can easily be tricked.
Time stands still for no one, particularly not the
visitor enjoying a day at the museum. Melik Ohanian’s Trouble Time(s) clock
raises the question posed by Shalev: Is it true that the time experienced by
those waiting is longer than usual? Certainly, time went fast as we were
It was soon time to visit the bathroom – or at least
the life-sized trompe l’oeil by Eran Reshef titled Gates, which seemed to show
the entrance to the washroom, sink and soap clearly and realistically
“Illusion in painting was not intended to deceive the eye, but
to calm it. The more persuasive the depiction, the easier it is to forget the
physical presence of the painting and to immerse ourselves in its immanence,”
explains Reshef in the accompanying literature.
My son and I left the
museum in good spirits – the visit had a hallucinatory, yet calming, effect. It
was as if I had done a neat disappearing trick from my usual news-oriented
Back home, I turned on the television to catch up with “the
Borders blurred. The calm of the museum had served as a
Austrian members of the UN peacekeeping mission were
pulling out of the Golan Heights, via Israel – scared off by the Syrian civil
war; a conference on cyber warfare discussed well-hidden threats; Iran was
readying for a pretense of polls; Turkey’s prime minister was claiming to
champion human rights; America was discovering the illusion of privacy, or how
freely others can see behind our backs as we forge ahead; Waze was being
purchased by Google for the extraordinary reported sum of more than $1 billion;
and everyone was discussing the ever-elusive peace with the
Since I didn’t know what to believe anymore, I turned the
television off and pretended all was well with the world.The writer is
the editor of
The International Jerusalem Post.[email protected]