Jerusalem- warts, beauty and all

Jerusalem's season of culture offers diverse and sumpotuous cultural activities that dig deep into it's psyche and history.

Headphone party at 'Contact Point' (photo credit: Courtesy)
Headphone party at 'Contact Point'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When the Jerusalem Season of Culture sprang to life five years ago, there were probably some skeptics who wondered whether the venture was just a bravura attempt to redress the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem cultural divide.
But not only is the Season of Culture still with us, it seems to be improving with age.
“We don’t think in terms of how much we grow,” says artistic director Itai Moutner. “It is more a matter of getting deeper into the subject matter. We are a nonprofit, and what we are really looking to do is to tell the story of this city, through art and culture.”
Moutner and the team of artists who have assumed responsibility for the season’s events – which kicked off on Monday and will run until the beginning of September – have laid on diverse and sumptuous cultural offerings that do, indeed, dig deep into Jerusalem’s psyche and history. And he and his cohorts are unafraid of challenging the public – and the authorities – to engage in areas that may be less than comfortable.
The opening-day slot at Lifta is a prime example of that in-your-face ethos. The Arab village, which is tucked away to Jerusalem’s northwest, has remained abandoned since its inhabitants fled during the War of Independence. For close to seven decades, the empty abodes have clung to the hillside, visited only by groups of students on educational field trips (the Lifta High School also briefly operated from the village in the 1970s), and people looking to take a refreshing dip in the nearby spring.
For the “Hakol Hagalui” (The Revealed Voice) slot – part of the Season of Culture’s In House Festival – members of the public came to the derelict village, drank in some of the history and suspended daily life of the place, and confronted the accrued emotional baggage that emanates from the ghostly structures and terrain.
“We developed an application which enabled people to scan, say, a fig tree or a house or a stone, and sounds came out of the objects. It brought the whole thing to life,” says Moutner.
But the Season of Culture isn’t just about evoking times gone by. The artistic director says it’s also about the here and now, and about highlighting important issues that need to be addressed.
“You know the municipality is planning on developing the site of Lifta and putting in a shopping mall and expensive housing. This [Season of Culture] work is also a protest,” he explains.
While there will be plenty of entertainment over the next month or so, the artistic director wants the public – Jerusalemites as well as people from all over the country and abroad – to see the capital for what it really is, warts and all.
“This is not about just showing the city off in a positive light,” he says. “This is about presenting the cultural life of the city, and all the pain and anguish, too, on all levels, including the bad stuff.”
As far as he is concerned, that’s a package deal. “One side informs the other. There are philosophical but very concrete elements; [for instance,] there is no bad without good, no black without white. There is polarity within this city... on the one hand, the aesthetics and beauty and importance, [which] communicates with the depression, the dirt, the poverty and the difficulty of life in Jerusalem. Together that gives a much more complete picture, which is also much more interesting.”
There is plenty of interest across the Season of Culture board. In addition to the Lifta event, the In House Festival featured “Night Story,” which invited members of the public to roam through a public library that had been specially designed for the evening.
The idea was to offer visitors a chance to take time out from their busy lives and enjoy a breather.
Of course, Moutner and his colleagues are making no effort to skirt around political minefields, either, as exemplified by the In House event “The Hearing.” The event reconstructed last year’s trial of Adam Verete – a teacher at ORT high school in Kiryat Tivon who got into hot water when a student in his class complained that he had “extreme left-wing opinions against the State of Israel.” Verete was subsequently sacked.
Another event, the Israel Museum-based “Contact Point,” has been a highlight of the Season of Culture since the start. This year, the program takes place on August 6, with an almost dizzying array of activities for all cultural, social and aesthetic sensibilities.
The fun kicks off at sundown and runs until 3 a.m. The museum’s jubilee year is a thematic fulcrum, and there are numerous references to the idea of collection. Naturally there is an item called “Collectors,” which will feature the accrued vinyl treasures of journalist and music critic Uri Misgav, and Jerusalemite DJ Marky Funk. Misgav will also enlighten his audience about the sounds and beats that were all the rage in 1965, the year of the Israel Museum’s founding.
Aggregation is also the name of the game in the three-part “Music from Catalogue” activity, which digs deep into the museum’s past and breathes new life into the documentation of former exhibitions. Over the last half-century, the Israel Museum has put on countless shows, and each has come with its own catalogue. Cellist and composer Maya Belzitsman used the archived publications as the inspiration for a new work of music, which she will perform three times during the evening.
“Music from Catalogue” also includes “Men Empty Content,” in which 10 men will dismantle various exhibition catalogues and put them to re-imagined use to create a patchwork design. “Men Empty Content” will continue through the night.
The museum catalogues will also be put to creative use as the raw materials for the “Reorganization” visual extravaganza, in which animators Osnat Wold, Ricardo Vordsheim and Moran Somar take us for a “trippy animated journey through the hundreds of catalogues printed by the Israel Museum over the last 50 years.”
“Contact Point” would not be complete without its now traditional headphone party, which has been described as “the loudest silent dance party”: up to 1,500 people grooving to music only they can hear as Anish Kapoor’s iconic reflective sculpture Turning the World Upside Down looks on.
Another Israel Museum segment is “Listening to the Enemy,” which bears the self-explanatory subtitle of “How Does the Museum Look through the Eyes of a Moroccan Guy or Malaysian Woman?” Eran Hadas and Lior Zelmenson conjured up the idea of putting together an audio guide to some of the museum’s ancient eastern archeology and Islamic art exhibits. The guide comprises thoughts and impressions about the artifacts, from people who live in Morocco, Pakistan and Malaysia and are therefore unable to visit this country.
The commentaries were obtained through crowdsourcing websites on which anyone can earn $1.50 by providing a description of an object, an explanation of its function, and how it made them feel. The end result, say Hadas and Zelmenson, is “an entirely new museum visit, one which encourages us to consider borders and the relations between the museum, the country, and the world.”
And if you are an art lover but find the museum experience a little sedentary, the “On Your Marks... Get Set... Go!” event should suit you well. Yoav Trifon of the Haifa-based architecture, design, performance and installation Tav Group has devised a guided tour of some of the museum’s halls that will up the cardiological ante and change our physical perspectives on works of art. At various points throughout the evening, until 1 a.m., groups of people with the requisite level of fitness will take off for a “fast forward” view of the items on display, running through some of the exhibition spaces.
“Contact Point” honcho Renana Raz fully owns up to wanting the evening’s proceedings to reflect a subversive line on art.
“The program is designed to unsettle the things we normally take for granted at the museum,” she says. ”I think that art in general should take us out of our comfort zone. ‘Contact Point’ constantly tries to scrutinize where we stand with regard to art, and our observation experience.”
That automatically means Raz and her artistic designer colleagues have to keep raising the bar: “One of our objectives is to keep on challenging ourselves, each year. If we don’t do that, we will get bored, and so will the public. We want to keep ourselves, and the public, on our toes.”
With the disparate spread of events lined up for Thursday – including a blindfolded tour that will let participants experience works of art without seeing them – that should not be a problem.
Other Season of Culture events include the “Under the Mountain” program, which covers social, artistic, political and environmental elements relating to the Old City and east Jerusalem; the “Front Line” underground musical bash; and this year’s richly diverse Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival.
Moutner and his team are clearly getting down and dirty with the capital, revealing to us just what makes Jerusalem tick, stutter, fall and exult.
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