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Strolling around Tel Aviv after dark in the warm weather, one normally sees amorous couples, young men blasting music from their cars and mobs of American tourists. So it's exciting to stumble upon provocative performance art - contemplative, quiet and evocative work such as Lezli Rubin-Kunda's Walk to the Sea - right in the center of the White City.
While Walk was performed live in 2002, the video documentation is a work of art in its own right and is now on view 24 hours a day in the window of Tova Osman's gallery on Ben Yehuda St. It's rare to see a television set displayed like this in Tel Aviv, and approaching the screen, the piece becomes truly compelling.
Walk to the Sea was created as part of the Day of Simultaneous Action Festival in Belfast, Northern Ireland, an event in which artists performed simultaneously all over the world. Rubin-Kunda often works with local vegetation on her body, surfing "the edge of suffering," as she says, and the artist was excited to stage a pubic performance where the viewer could clearly see "that it's Tel Aviv." For Walk, Rubin-Kunda donned a denim work shirt, baggy khakis (mainly to protect her body, although it's a visually effective costume choice) and a hefty chain of sabra plants she wove together with a rope. Hoisting the vegetation over her shoulder, the artist made an arduous, conscious and excruciatingly slow pilgrimage from Rabin Square to the sea. Unlike other female performance art where the woman's body is a crucial component of the work, here the artist's presence is decidedly quiet, bordering on invisible. The viewer barely sees her face, and her androgynous, functional clothing and butch haircut evoke the modest dignity of a homeless person. There's also a Jesus connotation, as Rubin-Kunda bears an ornament of thorns that literally weighs on her back.
While the cheerful citizens of Tel Aviv buzz and chill around her, Rubin-Kunda remains highly focused - hunched over and unconcerned with any action peripheral to her mission. Inching down the steps towards the beach, the bright city lights fade into amber haze in the background, the sounds peter out, and the plants draw a meandering line in the sand, marking the artist's path towards the water. In the low light, the low-tech video takes on a deliciously pixilated, grainy character that is only enhanced by viewing it at night on Ben Yehuda street. Finally, as a loving but perhaps morbid gesture, the artist walks deep into the sea, still dragging the heavy chain of plants like a dead body. Suddenly, the artist disappears, leaving the broad leaves floating on the surface, and allowing the plants to gently flow towards the infinite like driftwood.
Even without knowing the context or background, Walk to the Sea functions like visual poetry. When the artist and plants finally reach the water, there's a gorgeous sensation of liberation and even satisfaction for the viewer. Perhaps the sea can be seen as a mildly clich d metaphor for the eternal or the big Peace, but the viewer doesn't really need to think in those terms to enjoy this concise video piece.
While Walk to the Sea has been shown at festivals around the world and at the Interdisciplinary Center in Jerusalem along with other Rabin-related art works, this is the first time it's on view in Tel Aviv - mere blocks away from where it was filmed. Rubin-Kunda says the "experience itself was powerful" in part because of the intensity of being within the "bubble" of the performative moment as well as the bustling city.
Walking away from the video, sensitive viewers might get into this contemplative mood - perhaps with a greater awareness of their own quiet internal reality, while the action of Tel Aviv continues to pulse and swirl around them.
Walk to the Sea is on view in the window of Tova Osman Gallery, 100 Ben Yehuda St., Tel Aviv, screened in a loop, 24 hours a day through 24 May. The work is best viewed after dark. Gallery telephone: (03) 522-7687.
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