The art of loss

The 'Dislocated Landscapes' exhibit articulates an old, Jewish pain on a new, global stage.

Yakar, a modern Orthodox synagogue and activity center on a quiet street in Old Katamon, seems an unlikely place to consider the topic of global trauma. Yet their current exhibit, "Dislocated Landscapes: Current Feelings about Space and Time," now showing at its second-floor art gallery, both surprises and succeeds. Using a rather modest space, curator Anne Sassoon, who has organized Yakar's exhibits for the last eight years, has gathered the work of a variety of Israeli artists, many of them local Jerusalemites, whose art reflects a wide selection of aesthetic styles and subject matter. From dreamy paintings of European forests to stark photographs of Bedouin villages, there is nothing predictable about these choices. Together they form a coherent whole, as each piece takes its place in an artistic conversation about the current climate, which has doubtless been influenced by a whole host of public traumas, including disengagement from Gaza, suicide bombings and the recent spate of hurricanes and tsunamis. By presenting a proposed reaction to these very different kinds of events through one bold lens, the exhibit requires that the viewer invest effort. Although many works share themes, the show ultimately does not force any one perspective and leaves political statements up to the individual artists - a rarity in the Israeli art world. "When it comes to dealing with leaving Gaza, it's not about being left-wing or right-wing anymore. One knows that people have suffered enormously," says Sassoon. In place of political commentary, the works are arranged according to schemes of color and image. In one corner, bright red dominates, as in a photograph by Nir Levi, in which a Jerusalem bus stop turns into a kitschy living room inhabited by a lone Nachlaot resident. In another area, a group of works evoke the yellows and browns of the desert, as in Amit Eliasi's sad photographs of deserted army bases. Yet another part of the exhibit features the bright greens and blues of places that seem far removed from the Israeli landscape. What emerges is a kind of collective confusion, a deep sigh, which seems to express a feeling of homelessness. Many of the pieces have a nomadic quality, in which outside and inside mix to form a home as constantly changing as a city street. For Joram Rozov's colorful painting "Roadblock," part of his "Milestones" series, design takes on a monumental role. The painting is a close-up of a roadblock, which itself has been painted, using bold geometric shapes and colors, reminiscent of a Mondrian. The piece is the result of Rozov's many years as a consultant to the army on issues of environmental design and quality of life for soldiers. The painted roadblock, which Rozov calls "a non obvious object in an abnormal part of the world," is actually a rendering of a real roadblock, located on Mt. Scopus, which soldiers have painted using inexpensive paints. By depicting a military symbol almost completely divorced from its initial usage and re-born twice as a piece of art, Rozov, a retired professor at Bezalel, seems to be turning away from a strictly critical statement of the issue. Instead, his work is most clearly about self-expression through design - against all odds. "I care about my place in society, so how can I be non-political, but for me art is a tool for self expression. I use it to unload," he explains. Design of public spaces takes on a notable role in works by British artist Banksy and by Sassoon herself. Both artists use the language of graffiti in the context of a larger message about the region. In a photograph, Banksy's life-sized painting of a cartoonish living room chair is perched strangely on the surface of the Palestinian side of the separation fence, speaking of tea and crumpets in a region known for suicide bombings. Sassoon's striking work employs human faces created in stencil, a trend in public art, familiar to Jerusalem residents who have seen it on walls all over the city. By using the art form of the young and disenfranchised, these artists seem to be expressing the feeling of being lost in a bewildering world. Avner Bar Hama, whose work "Tent Kitchen of the Wasserteil Family of Ganei Tal," hangs prominently in the exhibit, has a theory about the issue. While the media pumps a constant flow of information about the world at large, people are often left clueless and "disengaged" from the actual experience of others, he explains. "In the case of the disengagement from Gaza and Northern Samaria, there is a gap between what actually occurred to the people of Gush Katif and what others understood about it," he says. The "Tent Kitchen," actually a part of a larger piece by Bar Hama about the disengagement, includes a huge, detailed photograph of an American-style kitchen inside the wall of a pre-fabricated tent. Peering inside the tent, one finds the latest appliances and a neat row of mugs, obviously a family collection. By placing the seemingly solid material of a family kitchen inside a symbol of the nomadic lifestyle, the artist suggests the shock of insecurity experienced by those who were evacuated, and somehow also places that chapter into a biblical and religious context. The open windows, inside the kitchen, work to show the family in the tradition of the patriarchs, particularly Abraham, who was known for his hospitality. And yet, the incongruity between the modern kitchen and the ancient symbol of a tent suggests a sense of disorientation not unlike that expressed by many of the other artists. Seen together, the works on exhibit begin to articulate an old, Jewish pain about dislocation, on a new, global stage. Unfortunately, some of the artists seem to remain caught in the universal, leaving the drama of the local unexplored. Elisheva Smith's photographs of Arab villages are evocative but leave a lot unsaid. The scenes of beaches, forests and deserted foreign towns, created by others and on display here, certainly say a lot about homelessness, but they do so from a safe distance. What would these same artists have to say about the irony of searching for a home within their own homeland? While the exhibit does not answer that question, it gives many clues in the general direction. In the lonely expression of many local artists, we may begin to find ourselves. Yakar is located at 10 Halamed Heh, Tel 561-2310 Hours: Thursday 5-7 and Friday 11-1 or by appointment. "Dislocated Landscapes" will close on December 8.