The concept behind Living Under Water is pretty simple

The concept behind Living Under Water is pretty simple, and even more pressing: the environmental catastrophe that currently spells pretty imminent and drastic changes in the quality of life.

Fish illustrative (photo credit: Courtesy)
Fish illustrative
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Andi Arnovitz would go along with the tenet that “seeing is believing.” After all, she is an artist who engages in conveying thoughts, feelings and ideas through a visual format.
The concept behind Living Under Water is pretty simple, and even more pressing: the environmental catastrophe that, by all reasoned reports submitted by scientists across the globe, currently spells pretty imminent and drastic changes in the quality of life here on Earth. The current artistic project in question is an exhibition that opened at Hechal Shlomo in Jerusalem on October 10, featuring the work of five clearly committed artists. In addition to Arnovitz, visitors can peruse intriguing creations by Ken Goldman, Leora Wise, Meydad Eliyahu and Detroit-based Lynne Avadenka.
Living Under Water forms part of the fourth Jerusalem Biennale, which goes by the evocative title of “For Heaven’s Sake!” All told, the event takes in the work of over 200 Jewish and non-Jewish artists, across 30 exhibitions and 14 venues. The titular exclamation mark is particularly poignant in the context of the Arnovitz & Co. showing, and particularly relevant to an Italian city steeped in history and great works of art which, if ecological matters don’t take a turn for the better within the foreseeable future, may find itself needing many hands on deck, to bail itself out – literally.
Venice is where the idea for the exhibition first sparked into life, and provided the five exhibitors with a solid and verified conceptual launching pad for their contribution to the environmental-artistic venture.
“Shaul Bassi is the head of Beit Venezia, which is the home for Jewish culture in Venice in the ghetto,” says Arnovitz.
The institution is also located in Europe’s first ghetto which, conversely, not only segregated Jews from the majority gentile population, but also brought together people of differing backdrops and mindsets, thereby producing a conceptual crucible that generated a highly fruitful confluence of cultural and artistic pursuit.
The five exhibitors got themselves a taste of that a couple of years ago when they enjoyed a three-week residency berth in the seaside Italian city, “to create a framework for learning and formulating an artistic platform to inspire dialogue and exploring this most critical issue of our time,” as Arnovitz puts it. The latter observation was lifted from the handsomely produced outsized zine, with contributions by a stellar roll call of A-listers from across the board, including Canadian environmental lawyer Dianne Saxe, Los Angeles-born sustainable technology mover and shaker David Miron-Wapner, British-born sustainability leader Nigel Savage and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Members of the public will be able to leaf through the aesthetically attractive, absorbing publication at the third-floor spot in Hechal Shlomo until the end of the Biennale on November 28.
The whole expansive shebang is lovingly overseen by Ram Ozeri, who initiated the Biennale in 2013, and also feels the interface of different, if not disparate takes on life and how to portray them to benefit one and all.
“Discourse and discord lie at the heart of creativity,” he observes. “The 2019 Jerusalem Biennale explores this diverse dialogue, through the multi-layered language of the visual arts, challenging the viewing public and generating debate while offering a unique platform to a wide variety of artists, Jewish and non-Jewish.”
OZERI HAPPILY lauds the progress his event has made since its inception.
“We have seen the Jerusalem Biennale grow from 60 artists in the inaugural year of 2013 to over 200 in the 2019 Jerusalem Biennale,” Ozeri said. “This year, we are particularly proud of the participation of contemporary artists of the highest international standards.”
Judging by the works I have managed to see thus far, in addition to the Venice-inspired offering – Anne Sasoon’s Two People Holding collection and Arnovitz’s monumental single-work I'm Not project over at the YMCA – Ozeri has plenty of proof on the ground for that claim.
The pentamerous lineup is subtitled A Jewish Exploration of Climate Change, which spells out the artists' existential intent.
“Shaul Bassi felt like climate change was this huge issue: Venice is sinking; the Jewish community in the ghetto, and in Venice in general, is dwindling,” Arnovitz explains. “So Shaul came to me two years ago and said, ‘I want to do a project and I want you to be the lead artist.’”
The result is not so much a dystopian view of the way things are going, planet-wise, but more a glimpse of a religious take on the downward spiraling environmental continuum in general, and what might be done to improve matters.
“This is what Judaism has to say about climate change,” Arnovitz notes. “Judaism has huge gifts to give the world, in terms of how we deal with climate change.”
There is biblical collateral for inspiring messages coming from these parts. Note the Book of Isaiah’s observation that, “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
The five artists involved represent a broad sweep of disciplines and takes on creative endeavor. Goldman, for example, has engaged in such issues as faith, gender, community, otherness and mortality, while Wise is a painter, printmaker and performance artist. The visual end product at Hechal Shlomo offers compelling insight into Judaism-sourced suggestions as to how to go about arresting the current horrific environmental slide, with some fascinating variegated creations on show.
MEANWHILE, over at the YMCA, the formerly ornate but sadly now disused historic swimming pool provides a fitting location for Arnovitz’s gargantuan I’m Not work. It is said that genius is close to madness, and I’m Not supports that theory. Arnovitz put her body, soul and much of two years of her life into putting together a creation which incorporates 1,200 fish, each and every one of which demanded her keenest, most personal attention.
“Each one is handmade,” she explains. “There, for the first year of making – and then at least 18 months, three mornings a week going to Talpiot to the studio at six in the morning. I had a vision, but it took four years to see it finished.”
Not only did she put her all into the project, she experienced the extreme frustration of having it left out of the previous Biennale – simply because a suitable space could not be found.
“It’s pretty something to see it up at last,” she smiles.
It certainly is, even as an impartial observer who did not invest hours and hours, blood, sweat and possibly a few tears in producing a gigantic artistic and environmental statement.
I’m Not comprises a large number of species of fish – an oft-used figure in Jewish art over the centuries – all swimming together in their own individual groups but, somehow, all part and parcel of the same social arena. That, in a nutshell, is what Arnovitz wants to convey. She says that the work “is a grand visual statement: a graphic manifesto that celebrates independence and stands in defiance against a world that increasingly blurs boundaries and denigrates tradition.” She also rails against industry-driven pollution.
“Over one thousand porcelain fish, each one handmade and hand-painted, are suspended as a response to the world of plastic mass production.”
The massive work also celebrates individualism and personal expression.
“There is a sense of massive surge, an aquatic stampede of blind conformity,” Arnovitz declares. “Somewhere in this teeming, undulating sea of porcelain there is one lonely fish swimming in the opposite direction.”
From personal experience, I can say that it takes some time to find the standout creature following its own course in life – but it’s worth the effort. 
For tickets and more information: https://jerusalembiennale.org/


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