Tel Aviv's Midrasha Art School exhibition challenges expectations

“In English we speak of a ‘piece of art,’ like a piece of dough from the kneading basket."

BEZALEL BEN CHAIM’s ‘Burning Camera’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
BEZALEL BEN CHAIM’s ‘Burning Camera’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Brine smell engulfs the viewer near the suspended works of Moshe Roas. “I was walking on Palmahim Beach collecting materials,” he explains, “a rope from a shipping container here, a dead turtle there, when I saw a factory for Torah scrolls.”
Torah scrolls are made from lamb and other animal skin; with 10 lambs needed for a scroll. “The interesting thing is that the skins are sewn together using tendons from the same lambs. When you open the Torah on the bimah, it’s not just a symbolic sacrifice by reading words,” he says, “it’s a very real offering because the object from which we read used to be a living thing, now held together using itself.”
He used tendons to sew together a tree trunk, broken into large chunks and washed pale by the sea.
“Sewing the scattered limbs, shaping a new body for the dead trunk, reminded me of the vision of the valley of dry bones,” he says, “I take an object, a dead turtle caught in a fishing net, and start to work, to boil it in a vat to separate the rotting meat from the shell and to use acids to reach the bone, then boil it with paint to transform this time-worn object into something different,” he explains.
Roas is one of the graduate students of the Midrasha Art School in Tel Aviv who is displaying his work at Flex-Exercises, curated by Nogah Davidson.
The works bring to mind the lines Ariel speaks in The Tempest: "suffer a sea-change/into something rich and strange.”
Latex-skin works by Carmit Hassine based on the wheelchair used by her husband are next. “I wanted to examine the function of the body in our lives and how society views it,” she says. Using silicone, she produced fake wheelchair skins. The works explore the betrayal of a body and the possibilities technology offers to replace the flesh.
When the viewer arrives to the second floor, he sees Avner Pinchover in two videos. The first is homage to Micha Ullman, who in a 1971 project, dug two holes, one in Kibbutz Metzer, the other in the Arab village Meiser, exchanging the earth he dug between them.
Pinchover is different.
“I SING in a cover-band of ‘Rage Against the Machine’ so I have plenty of rage,” he says calmly. “In the US, suburbs are built from wood and plaster, cities are built with steel. In Israel, we used to love cement. It connects to so many things here – from the Zionist ideal we will dress the naked land in garments of cement and concrete (“Morning Song” by Natan Alterman) to Ehud Banai singing “Mix the cement Ahmed” (in “Ehud Banai and the Refugees” 1987), so I make a big pile of cement powder and jump on it and toss it around.”
“Rage against the Machine has a song called ‘Freedom,’ and in it they sing, ‘Your anger is a gift,’” he says. “I think it’s important to stay connected to that anger. How else will things change?” Visitors are invited by Dafna Talmon to take something home wrapped in brown paper. She doesn’t know what it is, when you give around half the things you own away, it’s impossible to keep track of what is what.
Talmon spent three years couchsurfing with her personal possessions in storage. She was caring for dogs, cats and, one time, a chicken.
Just as British artist Michael Landy destroyed every single thing he owned in 2001 during Break Down, Talmon hopes that by giving away things, “the old Dafna will be peeled off and scattered.”
Next to her things is a video of an elderly couple, for whom she cat-sat five times, asking her to read out loud the instructions they wrote. Seemingly pedantic and controlling, the scene becomes funny when the couple discovers that the printed instructions no longer match reality and argue among themselves about which street cat their cat is allowed to play with.
“I was addicted to a false idea of freedom, in reality they were going on a vacation and left me locked up,” she says.
Bezalel Ben Chaim is also going all the way with his photography; which causes the camera to combust.
“People talk about the death of photography in the Henri Cartier-Bresson sense of catching the moment, with digital photography you could fake that moment,” he explains. “I like to explore time and light, and what better subject is there for these themes than the sun?” The works capture the sun as it travels the sky, producing a ray of light across dark landscapes. At times, Chaim allows his cameras to burst into flames after they are pointed to the Israeli sun and the reels inside begin to smoke. “This is an image of how the old sort of photography is dead,” he says before speaking highly of the late photographer Dalia Amotz and her bleak explorations of Israeli light.
An eagle attempts to capture and eat a black snake, the snake wriggles and captures the bird by the neck. The snake might be able to use venom against the predator, yet doesn’t know how to. Eagles are not an animal it usually kills.
The video of these two, locked together on the verge of death, is played as a large plastic ball awaits Chana Manhaimer and her performance. Manhaimer explores the relations between nature, which can be cruel and unforgiving, and human culture and technology, which might promise more than they deliver.
Just as she will place herself in the plastic ball and roll around, safe from harm but unable to control her direction, so is the black snake unable to change course. In a work called “3D Model for Flight in Space,” she labored to create a real environment that looks like a computer-generated animation in which a woman is suspended from a rope and attempts to fly. The video is accompanied by an infomercial for a 1980s synthesizer.
“The infomercial is telling the viewer that this amazing machine can sound like anything. Piano, drums, whatever. But this is 1980, so it doesn’t. You can hear it’s electronic. As you listen, you begin to doubt your ears. Maybe I’m wrong? Just like the black snake, you doubt your own instincts,” she says.
“It’s important to me to say I explore technology, yet don’t subscribe to the view everything is possible,” she says. “There are natural laws, and if you break them, you risk death.”
LILAH MARKMAN is perhaps the most personal of the artists presenting. You might miss her work. On a bookshelf with art books, Markman placed video images of a praying mantis. Next to that is a large image of a sleeping man (her husband). In a dark room it’s possible to use a smart phone to view a video of her daughters singing a song.
We are not invited to be transformed by the salty sea or technology, nor given a chance to rage-shape the world – we’re pushed back into the reality we now inhabit.
Anton Avramov used to place little sculptures in the streets of Tel Aviv. People stole them. He placed signs crying out “Stolen Art!” They were stolen. “Only the nails remained,” he said. “This is when I realized I can make art using nails.”
“For a time I considered I might be the messiah,” he says. “Until age 32 I figured I’ll know, that’s when I began working with nails.”
In a 2009 video, Avramov filmed a street person claiming to be the messiah. “I heard this guy wanted to be accepted to art school, and when they didn’t take him, he decided he might be the messiah instead,” he says.
In another video, Avramov explores the golem, only his golem is made from dough.
“As a person with a Christian mother and a Jewish father, Israel places me in a strange situation. I think it’s odd that so much is related to the pipe you come out of,” he says. “So in this work there are large pipes, they secrete dough which an actress is using to make a golem.”
This golem, Avramov suggests, may be a type of Christianity hailing from the Byzantine. “The Christianity people think of here is Western. It went out and conquered. But there is a food and family-centered Christianity, which to me is very Eastern and is connected to bread and baking,” he explains.
“In English we speak of a ‘piece of art,’” he reasons, “like a piece of dough from the kneading basket.
Nobody has all the art.”
The exhibition is on display at 19 Hayarkon St., Tel Aviv until August 4.
Entrance is free. Phone: 03-620-3129.