benny efrat elephants.
(photo credit: )
Benny Efrat is not your typical mid-generation Israeli conceptual artist. In the mid 1960s Efrat boldly moved to London to pursue an international career, later receiving widespread exposure in England, France and the US amongst other countries. His extensive corpus includes a vast and diverse range of visual languages and materials.
In other words, Efrat regularly reinvented himself and his art by frequently moving around and adopting materials, styles and issues that had both personal and cultural relevance at any given time. I met with Efrat to talk about his recent work, which is currently exhibited as a part of the second Herzliya Museum Biennale in conjunction with a solo show at the Herzliya Artist in Residence program.
Upon viewing the work currently being shown, as well as We Were Here Before You, Spring 2057," which will be exhibited in the 2009 Ecospheres Festival of green art in Ein Hod, I instantly felt that what was common to all the works was the preoccupation with the concept of time. In all of the pieces, one experiences a collision between soon-to-be-extinct migrating species, and current technologies used to represent information, mobility, and the quantification of time. The way in which these works relate to temporality can be associated with science fiction novels in the vein of Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes, since they present us with catastrophic predictions of nature overthrowing a corrupt humanity.
After speaking to you and seeing your work, I feel that you are a realist in the sense that many elements in your work are derived from concrete things that exist in the world. On the other hand, the work has a kind of dramatic sci-fi quality to it.
I see it as more futuristic than sci-fi, since I am relating to today's ecological problems from an imagined standpoint which is 50 years into the future.
Ararat Express, Summer 2054 is a multi-media performance and video installation. This unique piece is being shown in Israel for the first time, after having gained international exposure at the 1985 Lyon Biennale in France and the 1995 Johannesburg Biennale. The piece is composed of a caravan of horses that march and carry televisions displaying an audio\visual collage that merges found footage of migrating wildlife with rare clips of refugees from all over the globe.
The piece is bizarrely anachronistic, no only due to its title, but also because of the associations it conjures up in the viewer. The marching horses allude to bygone trading methods, where merchants would take on multi-territorial voyages on horsebacks. This is reminiscent of the intrinsically Israeli phenomenon of a person carrying junk and used appliances on horseback through the streets, shouting "alte sachen." In this case, however, the horses function as transporters of a different kind of goods, carrying information that is there to educate.
In this piece you merge traditional means of transportation with current methods of communication to transfer important humanitarian issues. You chose to place generic television sets on the backs of the horses, How are these televisions relevant to the society we live in today?
These televisions were available when I first exhibited the piece; today you have flat screens, I was given the opportunity to place them, but I refused.
I wanted to stay true to the original piece. The television era is too short to be viewed historically; there are still many homes in Israel and in Third World countries that have television sets, while some people use solar powered screens to watch TV in desert regions.
During the Opening ceremony of the second Herzliya Biennale, angry animal rights activists demanded that the televisions be removed from the horsebacks, pressuring the city's mayor to stop the performance. How do you feel about the controversy surrounding your work?
I have much respect for the efforts of animal rights organizations; however, in this case the activists chose to direct their energies toward an irrelevant matter rather than focus on greater issues. The horses I used for the performance were trained to be riding horses, and their trainers were enthusiastic about participating and assisting me with this project. The whole production was very organized and safe.
The video projection Time Cracks, Summer 2057 can be seen as a shifting, pulsating and fractured abstract painting of wildlife in a Safari. The picture plain is broken into 121 frames that fluctuate in relation to time-based algorithms which correspond to the sound of a broken up ticking clock.
Benny Efrat has been dealing with the environment, human rights issues and physics throughout his artistic career, yet he has always expressed a great visual versatility and adaptability to the spirit of the day.