Art in a word

Deganit Berest and Tsibi Geva are featured at the Midrashah gallery.

“Life” work by Dganit Berest (photo credit: PR)
“Life” work by Dganit Berest
(photo credit: PR)
If you’re looking for A-lister artistic offerings over the next month or so, you might want to get yourself over to the Midrashah Art Gallery on Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Street.
The display outlet of Sharon Regionbased Beit Berl College recently unveiled two new exhibitions that feature works by Deganit Berest and Tsibi Geva, two of the country’s most celebrated purveyors of boundarybending creativity.
Berest has been at the forefront of the local and international arts community for some years now, feeding off a range of disciplines. Her exhibition “A Poem by Tadeusz Rózewicz,” curated by Gabriel Klasmer, puts the observer right at the epicenter of her working continuum. The same can be said of Geva’s slot “Archeology of the Present.” Both collections reference earlier offerings.
Four years ago Berest exhibited a series of works inspired by a poem by 20th-century Polish artist Tadeusz Rózewicz. The poem gave Berest an early morning fillip and led to an intriguing outpouring of creative juices.
“It was a chance encounter,” says the artist. “I was reading the newspaper one morning, and at the back of Haaretz they always have a mix of poetry, a cartoon and recipes and that sort of thing.”
Berest may have been looking just to idle away a few quiet moments over coffee, but she got much more than she’d bargained for.
“It is a poem with no name. What’s unique about it is that it is very simple and very short, it has only 31 words,” she says.
All 31 subsequently found their way into Berest’s own work and eventually comprised her 2012 exhibition “A Poem by Tadeusz Rózewicz.”
The original poem was written in Polish, and Berest read it in its Hebrew translation.
“Not only is the poem short and amazing, but it has what I call many garbage words – there are about five ‘az’ [“then” or “so”], three ‘rak’ [“only” or “just”] and I think three or four ‘zeh’ [“this”], but the poem is still amazing. I read it in English, but it was nothing. I think the Hebrew one was created new because there are some things about this translation that I cannot imagine in any other language,” she says.
Rózewicz died in 2014 at the age of 91 and belonged to the generation that was decimated by WW II and the trials and tribulations of living under the communist regime. The poem is not of the breeziest ilk and provides a succinct and stark take on the transition between this and the next world.
“It is a masterpiece in Hebrew,” says Berest, and recites the poem from memory. Roughly translated, it goes something along the lines of: “My time has come, time is short. What should I take to the other side? Nothing. That’s all, mother? Yes, son. That’s all. So that’s all there is? Just this? So that’s all of life? Yes, all of life.”
Berest’s regular morning coffee time took on an unexpected air.
“It is such a powerful poem because you read it in five seconds, but it’s like falling into an abyss. You go to the most nihilistic and final conclusion,” she says.
After she recovered her poise, Berest began to consider what she could do with the 31 words. They became 31 works which incorporate a motley range of shapes and everyday items, such as press cuttings, her son’s toys and images of historic works of art.
“The poem is very simple but also very complex,” she says. “It is based on a dialogue between a son and his mother. Some moments you feel it is like a boy speaking to his mother, but then you realize it’s not a boy, it’s an old man who’s going to die naturally.
You realize his mother is already on the other side; she is dead, so you can make the shift. Rózewicz makes the shift and talks about the whole life of a person, so it may not be about a boy but about an old man who is going to die.”
The current exhibition uses the 2012 project as a springboard for imbuing the initial layout with a new dimension. The original works run along the upper level of the Tel Aviv gallery, and the lower row – at eye level – act, physically and artistically, as footnotes to the source works. In so doing, Berest forces the observer to dwell on the brief Rózewicz creation, spending time with each word and then pondering Berest’s complementary enhancements. The latter take in all manner of shapes and objects, and a poem by 20th-century British writer W.H.
Auden, “Musee des Beaux Arts,” which echoes the sentiments of the Polish poem.
“As human beings we don’t just live, we have to reflect on things and on life,” says Berest.
Geva’s slice of the action at the Midrashah Art Gallery is also patently designed to draw the spectator into the creative process. His “Archeology of the Present” exhibition is actually based on an exhibition of the same name that ran at least year’s Venice Biennale. Like Berest, and at the behest of curator Gabriel Klasmer, who serves as dean of the Beit Berl Academy of Arts, Geva offers the public a behind-the-scenes insight into how he put his Venice show together.
The 2015 collection was a multilayered affair and was designed to take the observer on a roller coaster ride through numerous aspects of contemporary life, dovetailing between thematic strands and passing through textures, shapes, forms and substances, prompting existential questions in the process.
“Gabi Klasmer, the head of the academy, asked me for an exhibition of a didactic nature,” Geva explains.
“It basically exposes the work processes and the thinking and planning of the Venice project. There is just one original art work in the exhibition, and all the rest is a sort of documentary account of what went into getting the Biennale project together.”
So, is Geva’s “The Making of” a work of art in its own right? “If you have a defined space in which you have to position seven video screens and place on them on something, and take care of all the other logistics, that means I am arranging the display space, and that means I creating some kind of installation,” he reasons.
There may not be too much in the way of original creations in the Geva section, but the Midrashah Art Gallery is offering the public an opportunity to get a handle on the mindset of two of our top artistic envelope-pushers.
The exhibitions are on display until April 9. For more information: (03) 620-3129