A wing and a prayer

The creator of a new sculpture in Talpiot believes public art carries a message of hope.

exodus sculpture 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
exodus sculpture 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Busy shoppers rushing along Rehov Pierre Koenig in Talpiot should take a few moments to look up. Perched on top of one of the pillars outside the Hadar Mall is Exodus, one of the newest art pieces to adorn Jerusalem’s streets.
The piece depicts a winged boat soaring toward the sky.
“It is an expression of freedom,” explains sculptor Paul Taylor, for whom sculpture is more than just something interesting to look at.
“A sculpture marks a place in the same way that a stamp finishes an envelope,” Taylor says at his Talpiot studio Create-space. “It shows humor, humanity, and it invites a debate that is other than just the ordinary place. It changes the dynamics of the place.”
However, despite his aspirations, Taylor admits that most people don’t even look at the fruits of his labor. He occasionally sits at a coffee shop adjacent to the pillar sipping java and observing the public as they mill past his work. To his dismay, few people even notice that it is there.
“It is a problem with the consciousness of the people,” he says.
According to Taylor, one possible reason for the lack of interest may be the small amount of public art in the capital compared to other cities around the world. The relative lack of public sculpture in Jerusalem means that those works that do exist often go unnoticed.
“When you walk around London or Rome, there is art and sculpture everywhere. People know that they are there and they want more. Sculpture makes the streets beautiful and interesting,” he says.
The message of the Exodus sculpture comes from its shape.“There is something very comforting about the shape of boats besides a means of transport,” says Taylor, 52. “Being in a boat is a position of isolation and hope, and that makes it similar to prayer.”
Although Taylor’s sculpture is located within the mall premises, it still required municipal approval, a task that fell to the Outdoor Art and Sculpture Committee headed by Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur.
The new committee is taking a careful look at future public works of art in the city.
“It is an extremely sensitive issue as to what art goes up and what doesn’t,” Tsur explains. “It is something you would have to tread carefully with.”
Tsur believes that the public should be involved in making the decisions as to what art is best for the city. All proposed works can now be viewed on the Jerusalem Municipality Web site.
“We could have much more than we do have, but I would like to engage the public in a dialogue about it to get their opinion,” she says.
Web visitors can also grade the works to help in the approval process. The minutes from committee meetings are also available online.
Among the considerations is whether a piece should be permanent or given a trial period of a few years after which it may be removed.
“When it is put up, it shouldn’t be a life sentence,” Tsur says.
When making a comparison to cities like Rome and London, there is the sensitive issue of lifelike sculptures and their place in Jewish tradition. Western cities often celebrate legends and honored figures of the past with a statue that can include mythological themes. However, the prohibition against making graven images is one of the Ten Commandments, and this has traditionally included all statues of people or divine bodies. There will be no brazen Mercury greeting travelers at the Central Bus Station or naked cherubs cavorting on Rehov Ben-Yehuda.
Tsur feels that care should always be taken not to offend the religious community by erecting an inappropriate statue near a holy site or in a religious neighborhood, but that there is no reason to restrict the scope of art in secular neighborhoods.
“In a modern secular neighborhood people have things like that in their homes anyway, and we would have nothing against it,” she says. She adds that it is an approach that is in line with the attitudes of the current administration at city hall.
The owners of the Hadar Mall commissioned the work in coordination with the municipal Committee for the Beautification of Talpiot. Exodus was originally slated for another location but when those plans fell through, the committee asked mall director Avi Shitrit, himself a member of the committee, to step in.
“I was asked to help out, so I did,” Shitrit says. “We did it to help out, to advance art and to do something for the public, not for any financial gain.”
That the work was privately funded is, according to Taylor, encouraging. Cash-strapped municipalities can rarely afford to commission public art, so it is the private sector that must take up the mantle. “This is important because that is where the funding for art does, and should, come from,” he says.
While welcoming public funding of art, Tsur notes that it can incur its own dilemmas.
“If the philanthropist pays for the work of art and brings it to the city, do you still have to accept it?” she asks. “The city would prefer to be independent of private funding for public art projects, but there are other priorities.”
Taylor has been working and teaching sculpture in Jerusalem for 22years. More of his work can be found in Beit Shemesh, as well as arecent five-meter-high sculpture in the garden of a new school inJerusalem. During Hanukka he had an exhibit in Caesarea called “Pain inArt.”
Taylor has also taught at the Israel Museum and runs regular classes inclay modeling, steel construction for figurative and abstractsculpture, drawing and stone carving. However, sculpture is his realpassion.
“I need to make it. It cannot exist in my mind alone; it must exist.Sculpture creates its own cauldron of things. Not for me but because itexists somewhere. I am just the vehicle to bring it about.”
It remains to be seen whether Talpiot shoppers will get on board.