Jerusalem’s greatest natural resource

Interactive art pieces at Mekudeshet Festival to challenge beliefs and encourage new ways of thinking

THE ONE Night in Atlantis listening spectacle takes place on August 9 as part of Jerusalem’s Mekudeshet Festival (photo credit: CHEN WAGSHALL)
THE ONE Night in Atlantis listening spectacle takes place on August 9 as part of Jerusalem’s Mekudeshet Festival
(photo credit: CHEN WAGSHALL)
At the Mekudeshet Festival, art isn’t enclosed in a frame on a wall. It’s a living, breathing force that connects people through interactive performances and art that covers entire buildings. Art pieces for the annual three-week marketplace of culture are interactive – taking people underwater, up on rooftops and into the forest.
“The art we do is art that emerges from an encounter with the city itself,” the festival’s deputy director Karen Brunwasser said. “It’s the city and its reality and the art emerges from there.”
For example, Rooftop-piece Above and Beyond comments on the real estate over our heads and comments on the narratives in Jerusalem. Blindsight, a musical performance in the forest, asks that all participants experience the show blindfolded.
Mekudeshet is an annual summer arts festival made up of almost entirely new pieces inspired by Jerusalem. The festival runs August 8 to 28 and the activities change each day. Installations span the city and the festival features more than 20 unique performances of music, sound and shows. It’s one of the highlights of Jerusalem’s Season of Culture and uses art to talk about coexistence, religion and sacredness.
Festival directors give artists a lot of freedom to develop their own creations, according to multiple artists. This leads to diverse art pieces each capturing a different point of view on what Jerusalem is, as well as free-form and interactive art.
The festival also encourages people to get out of their comfort zones and challenge their beliefs.
Night in Atlantis, an event held in the YMCA pool, involves listening to sound both outside of the pool, in the pool and under the water. Festival-goers must experience this all in their bathing suits.
In a previous similar show, “the audience came in their bathing suits and they listened to 15 minutes of vocal music,” artist Faye Shapiro said. “This experience of meeting in a very vulnerable situation where we’re all in bathing suits… was very, very special.”
 During Mekudeshet, that show will be expanded on for a one-night performance.
“For me it is special because Atlantis will be revealed for one night only and this kind of magic, it’s revealing and vanishing,” Shapiro said.
The inspiration of the performance was comparing Atlantis, a highly developed civilization both technologically and spiritually, to Jerusalem.
“This story was a way to open the perspective to the past,” Shapiro said. We’re here in Jerusalem, so enclosed in our own identity and language and 5,000 years of monotheism, and then the story of Atlantis is the opening of a very broad perspective of history and evolution.”
Mekudeshet means “sacredness,” which is “Jerusalem’s greatest natural resource,” according to Brunwasser. Using that sacredness as a force, Mekudeshet encourages artists to expand common ground, openness, shared society, pluralism and creativity through their art.
Kulna, named for the Arabic word for “All of Us,” is a returning event that does just that. The performance will take place on the seam line between East and West Jerusalem across from the walls of the Old City. Works like this attempt to “heal cultural, religious and political divides and challenge physical and conceptual boundaries,” according to Mekudeshet’s description.
Another freeform event, Running in Jerusalem, features actor Gal Friedman, who will lead people on a 5K run throughout the city while narrating a performance.
“Usually you’re supposed to come to a theater, I’ll be on stage, you’re going to sit,” Friedman said. “Here, you’re coming to a meeting place.”
Freidman will talk to people through headphones while they run, playing music and stopping to talk along the route. Freidman wanted to challenge himself to perform while running.
“My inspiration was I wanted to take people out of their comfort zone,” Freidman said. “When people run they are out of their comfort zone; they listen differently to text. When you run, your way of thinking, your way of hearing people or seeing people changes.”
For all of the performances, Mekudeshet just wants to continue the conversation of what Jerusalem could be.
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