The Meirov House Gallery in Holon is hosting an innovative and radical exhibition. Titled “My Dear Diary,” the exhibition explores the concept of a diary in a multitude of ways, with various artists and media. Curator Guy Morag Tsapilevich sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss diary pages, plain notebooks and dreams versus reality.
How did “My Dear Diary” come about? It’s such a unique idea for an exhibition.
I’ve been working in Holon for the past seven years as a freelance curator.
Every year, I offer them a few exhibitions. This one started when I was visiting a few artists and saw visual diaries that they created, covering a specific period of time or talking about private matters. Then I started looking for other artists who created diaries. As I always try to give as many sides to an exhibition as I can, I divided the exhibition into five parts: visual diaries; the diary as a concept; cover designs for diaries; personal diaries of well-known culture and society people; and diaries created by Israeli and international artists as part of a project of mine called The Plain Notebook.
In the first category, there is my wife’s work, who is a well-known artist. She made a diary in 2003, which is all drawings with captions.
There are other artists as well, like Maya Aton, who created a selection of pencil drawings over the past year to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. There are many different artists and many kinds of work.
In terms of the personal diaries, how were you able to encourage people to expose something so personal to the world? One of the concepts of the diary is that outsiders are not supposed to read it. It’s like a peeping sensation when you look at someone else’s diary. So I contacted some people who I hoped would agree and asked them to display their diaries, open to one specific page, which we decided on together. Here we are talking about Naomi Shemer, Nana Schreier [owner of Tel Aviv’s vegan restaurant and bar Nanuchka] and Varda Raziel Jacont [radio psychologist].
In Jacont’s diary, the page we chose was written when she was 19. She writes about wanting to collect pieces of life, which is exactly what she does today, and she is almost 80. With Naomi Shemer, I found these amazing two pages. One of them is from her last visit to the US in 2003, when she wrote a funny poem for her husband.
The other page I chose is the last song she wrote, about Ilan Ramon [the first Israeli astronaut], written one week after he perished. It was the first draft she ever wrote, and she never heard it being played. It was only played at her memorial.
Please tell me about your ongoing project that was incorporated into this exhibition.
It’s called the International Plain Notebook Project, and I’ve been doing it for the past five years. I give artists from around the world a blank notebook; the simplest and cheapest notebook there is. It may not even be real paper. I ask them to create a work of art in it. Some of the artists out of the 400 who are part of it made diaries. One made a diary called Florentine/Gaza during the last war, where one side depicted what was going on in Florentine and the other side what was going on in Gaza. The Florentine side is in color, and the Gaza side is in black and white.
The whole project is very international. I contacted artists whose work I saw at MoMA, on Instagram, anyone who looked interesting to me. I got some really amazing work. There is an artist, Ulrike Fish, from Germany, who got the notebook when she went into the hospital for an infection. In the notebook, she described everything that happened to her and said it helped her spend the time there more easily. There is also a dream journal from an Icelandic artist. Another artist from Iceland, a writer named Kristin Omarsdottir, wrote about her life in a small village far away from everything. The last artist featured in this part is Koen Vanmechelen from Belgium, an artist who cross-breeds chickens. He has a project called the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, where he breeds different types of chickens.
According to him, it helps us understand the diversity of people as well. He is a combination of artist and mad scientist. I want to bring him here for a solo exhibition.
With so many works, which stands out to you? One of the personal diaries is from Sarah Blau, who is a journalist and a writer. She gave us her diary when she was trying to get her first book published. She got only refusals, and she writes about one particular reply and not wanting to even open it. Now she is publishing her sixth book with the same publisher.
She always talks about it to her students, about how she shouldn’t lose faith and continue to write.
There seem to be two themes here. One is exposing something that is deeply personal, which art does all the time, but when you take a diary, it’s even more so. Then there is the theme of the diary as a place to express our hopes and aspirations and then see how that matches up with the reality of life.
A diary can be for planning the future, recalling the past. Of course, we all want our diaries to be like our lives by fulfilling our aspirations, but it’s not always the case. One very interesting diary that I chose, actually it’s two, one by Joseph Bau and one by his wife Rebecca – his diary is actually a song and drawing book he wrote for his wife while in a concentration camp. He wrote it on the papers from cigarette butts discarded by the Nazis. He taped them all together and wrote her songs and poems that do not deal at all with the Holocaust, almost like Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful, not to get too depressed. Their story is amazing. His wife’s diary is from the 1960s, which she wrote in Israel. Their story was portrayed in Schindler’s List; you see him crossing to the women’s camp dressed as a woman.
They were married in the camp. It’s amazing.
‘My Dear Diary’ is on display until May 20 at the Meirov House Gallery in Holon. For more information, call (03) 651-6851.