The art of Jerusalem

Close to 90 local artists are displaying some of their works to the public at venues around the city

Painters (photo credit: YONATAN GOLD)
(photo credit: YONATAN GOLD)
The ninth edition of the annual Manofim Jerusalem Contemporary Art Festival kicked off in the capital Thursday, and will run until September 22.
The festival is part of the Jerusalem Season of Culture and provides a well-supported vehicle for local artists to strut their stuff to visitors from all over the country and give Israelis and tourists of all stripes a taste of some of the envelope-pushing contemporary creative juices coursing through the city’s arts community on a year-round basis.
All told, close to 90 local artists are displaying some of their works to the public at venues around the city, including the New Gallery in Musrara, Art Cube Artists’ Studios in Talpiot, Hacubia in Nayot, Beit Hansen, Rosenbach Contemporary, Beit Ticho, Agrippas 12 Cooperative Gallery and Barbur Gallery in Nahlaot.
The artist roster features many of the country’s leading professionals, from across a wide generational and stylistic spectrum, such as 65-year-old Orna Millo, 31-year-old Jerusalem-born Ella Cohen Vansover, multidisciplinary artist Netta Elkayam, contemporary Eastern art-oriented painter Meydad Eliyahu and Umm el-Fahm-born feminist artist Hanan Abu-Hussein.
In addition to the local fare, Manofim is hosting a number of artists from abroad, including Swiss-based Florence Jung. She is currently enjoying a residency at the Art Cube Artists’ Studios and creating a performance piece specifically for the festival.
Her thought-provoking IS/PD (Intelligence Service/ Philosophers Department) work takes a potshot or two at the powers that be and at those entrusted with disseminating the word of the latter to the general populace.
IS/PD, which is curated by Maayan Sheleff, involves establishing a private intelligence service composed of Jerusalem-based philosophers. The said thinkers are being entrusted with the surveillance of the Manofim festival by keeping tabs on public areas and festival sites. They will generate a report every evening, with notes, pictures and analysis which will, as it were, be sent to the Protective Security Department of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Jung says that the idea for the project was spawned by her mistrust of a wide slew of authorities, professionals and various representative units.
“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups,” she notes. “So I ask, what is real? Because, unceasingly, we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives. I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind.”
The Swiss artist owns up to harboring a similar line of thought. “I ought to know. I do the same thing.”
Asked what she expects to end up with at the end of her week-long Jerusalem residency, Jung says she is looking for a modicum of release, and prefers to adopt an ephemeral ethos. “In the end, there is something which certainly exists: It is, as it were, opening the door instead of controlling everything we do by words, explaining what we will or would do. Explain nothing. Let it, let it go.”
Jung proves to be an elusive interviewee, and nailing her down to some sort of definition of her mind-set is akin to grabbing hold of a wet bar of soap. When I asked her why she chose philosophers for her virtual spy ring, she enigmatically posited: “The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides taught that the only things that are real are things which never change.
And the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus taught that everything changes. If you superimpose their two views, you get this result: Nothing is real.”
Fair enough.
In view of that open-ended view of reality, does Jung feel that a work of art is only that, if the public consider it to be so? She takes the reciprocity line on that one.
“All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone,” she states. “The spectator brings the work into contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.”
Van Gogh would certainly have vouched for that.
By now, it had become clear that there is very little about Jung that is clear. When asked whether she feels art reflects reality, or vice versa, or even creates reality, her matter-of-fact rejoinder amounted to a simple “Reality is just a point of view.” Ne’er a truer word was spoken.
Jung seems to have seamlessly segued into her line of work. When I asked about what sparked her artistic endeavor, she replied: “I would have wanted to work, but deep down I’m enormously lazy. I like living, breathing, better than working.”
Apparently, she took a similar laissez-faire approach to her formal training. “The trouble with being educated is that it takes a long time – it uses up the better part of your life; and when you are finished, what you know is that you would have benefited more by going into banking.”
Her accountant would, no doubt, have been happier with the second option.
She, at least, provided a couple of tangible pointers as to her sources of inspiration, citing American sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick and French-born multidisciplinary Cubist and Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp.
Jung adds that she takes a lot from entertainers.
“The wisest people are the clowns, like Harpo Marx, who would not speak,” she proffers. “If I could have anything I want, I would like God to listen to what Harpo was not saying, and understand why Harpo would not talk.”
I made one more attempt at getting a handle on Jung’s perception of art per se. No concrete comeback in the offing there either. “Art has the lovely habit of ruining all artistic theories,” came the reply. There’s no arguing with that.
In addition to the Jung project, visitors will be able to meet artists on their own turf, and – it is to be hoped – get some insight into what makes the latter tick, as well as an idea of where contemporary creative Jerusalem energies are heading.
On Sunday and Monday, the first Jerusalem Art Conference will take place at Beit Hansen and the Museum of Islamic Art, respectively, and will explore the theme of signature, and notions like communality and sharing, loyalty and belonging, appropriation and duplication, which have become an integral part of the artistic discourse.
And on Tuesday, the uniquely multicultural Jerusalem event “Stories Made by God” will take place on Asael Street, in the Arab-Jewish neighborhood of Abu Tor, or al-Thori as it is known by the Arab residents.
The program, which starts at 5 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m., will be hosted in houses on the street, as well as public spaces in the neighborhood. For one night only, visitors will have an opportunity to view artworks in private domains, see video works and music shows, and meet and get to know the street’s residents.
The artist lineup for the event includes Maha Abo Hoseen, Nasrin Abu Baker, Joshua Borkovsky, David Rubinger, Neta Shira Cohen, Amit Hai Cohen and Ruba Amira Salameh.
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