Mixing things up in Musrara

The funky Jerusalem neighborhood will get even more colorful this week when the Musrara Mix Festival kicks off.

Knessiyat Hasechel Band (photo credit: Courtesy)
Knessiyat Hasechel Band
(photo credit: Courtesy)
They say that true art reflects life, on some level or other. According to Avi Sabag, head of the Musrara, the Naggar School of Photography, in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem, it's a two-way street.
“First and foremost, all the stuff that goes on in the neighborhood, the whole idea of the locals getting involved in cultural events, all that comes from the school,” says Sabag. “We are responsible for initiating the concept of getting art out into public spaces,” he declares. “We were the first to do that in this country.”
Sabag traces the origins of the school’s extramural creative endeavor to the Musrara Mon Amour project, which took place in the Nineties. “That was the first time the school connected with the public domain,” he says.
Almost two decades on that get-out-and-about mindset is alive and flourishing, as will be evident later this week when the 14th edition of the annual Musrara Mix Festival takes place (May 20-22).
The three-dayer provides plenty of collateral for the school’s no-artistic-holds-barred statement of intent with an almost dizzying range of top-notch musical entertainment, neighborhood exhibition, displays of works by clearly talented students and plenty of eye-opening workshops to keep students and members of the general public engrossed.
The music on offer includes envelope pushing final project performances by students, as well as shows by well established stars such an internationally renowned bass guitarist Yossi Fine and veteran rock outfit Knessiyat Hasechel, and a bunch of artists and ensembles from abroad. But the Musrara school prides on keeping its fingers in as many genre and stylistic pies as possible, and there will be some intriguing offerings from last-year students of the New Music Department, on all three days, as well as some genre-boundary-leaping stuff at the Modern Ensemble slot on which also includes students from State University of New York.
Sabag says the eclectic lineup is a direct result of the dynamic interplay between schools of thought, the range of cultural and ethnic baggage and the social current which flow through the local environment.
“The school, and the neighborhood, raise questions on all sorts of issues,” he notes. “That’s because of the local history of social protest [the Black Panther movement of the 1970s sprouted from Musrara], and the demographic makeup of Musrara, and maybe all that – and what we do at the school – is a reflection of a microcosm of Israeli society as a whole.”
Each year’s program is based on a theme, and this year’s topic is the tension that exists between the analog and digital spheres.
“We ask the artists, that we invite to take part in the festival, to address this issue and to see what they can come up with,” Sabag continues. “I think it is a fascinating area to study.”
The festival does not confine itself to the local take on the analog-digital interface.
“We have artists coming here from Greece, Russia and Poland, and from Berlin,” he says.
While the foreign artists bring their expertise and professional experience with them they also need to get to grips with the local scene before they can proffer their ideas at the school.
“They get to know a bit about the neighborhood,” explains Sabag. “The work they create is site specific to the school and this part of the world. They feed off the local vibes, and with the nature of the festival. I am always intrigued to see what the artists will produce.”
It certainly sounds that there will be some exciting things to get into at the school and its environs. The school’s embrace of the area around it will come through loud and clear at the “Analog-Epilog” exhibition which examines the twilight zone between analog and digital media, and between the virtual and the tangible, as well as between the social, economic and artistic elements which inform these areas.
The festival roster features artists who have been researching the world of analog images and sounds as opposed to the contemporary reality and digital world in which we largely live and work. The creations that will be on show in the festival employ all kinds of methods in order to analyze the transition from analog to digital and portray a wide range of uses of technology, through imaginative vehicles and content.
The exhibition will include installations and installation- performances by the likes of German media artist Bjørn Melhus, Hungarian digital artist David Szauder and his multidisciplinary compatriot Eszter Szabo, and Swiss-based German electronic music artist Niki Neecke, as well as some of our most creative local artists such as Berlin-based Israeli painter and sculptor Dodi Reifenberg, composer Daphna Keenan and performance artist Lotem Sayag. There will also be video slots to catch courtesy of the likes of American visual artist Anthony Antonellis, Polish video artist Katarzyna Kozyra, and painter-sculptor Eran Nave.
Sabag notes that despite the obvious advantages offered by constantly evolving technology, both he and the students of the school are not quite ready to leave the more tactile world behind just yet.
“There are a lot of analog creations in the festival and, don’t forget, we have a very good photography department at the school and there is a lot of analog activity there.”
The lineup of works on display in the festival includes items that seemingly turn back the high-tech clock.
“Some of the students have taken Facebook portrait images and created paintings based on them,” Sabag explains. “That’s taking digital material and putting it through the analog prism. And there’s a well-known Japanese photographer [Kohei Yoshiyuki] who took pictures of erotic scenes in the 1970s, in parks in Japan.
He explored the phenomenon of the peeping Tom, on film. We have things made by him in our gallery too.”
And anyone looking to get a better handle on some of the festival works can attend lectures by Szauder, French intonation composer, and musical instrument builder Jacques Dudon, who will talk about his photosonic inventions that produce sound from modulated light sources, as well as Melhus and leading German musician and remix artist Alec Empire, who will shed some light on his craft at his Analog Sound Tools talk.
“The festival is going to be a very dynamic experience,” says Sabag. “There will things happening and evolving in real time. The whole neighborhood will be buzzing.”
For more information about Musrara Mix: (02) 628-6519 and http://www.musraramixfest.org.il/