Manofim Festival: Alive and artful in Jerusalem

The 2021 edition of the festival takes place October 26-29 and, as per every year, there will be plenty to see, watch, listen to and enjoy across the city.

 HUMANS, ANIMALS, vegetation and industrial products intermingle in Sharon breuer's Eat From the Floor exhibition at the Jerusalem Artists' House. (photo credit: Nadav Zituni)
HUMANS, ANIMALS, vegetation and industrial products intermingle in Sharon breuer's Eat From the Floor exhibition at the Jerusalem Artists' House.
(photo credit: Nadav Zituni)

Just in case you weren’t in on the local goings on, Jerusalem has a thriving arts scene which has been bubbling, curdling and, indeed, flourishing for some time now. Part of that welcome creative trajectory is owed to the inception and continued existence of the Manofim Festival which has been doing sterling street level work in the capital since 2008. “Yes, this is our bar mitzvah year,” smiles Lee He Shulov who, along with Rinat Edelstein, founded the event and have served as its chief curators since the get-go.

That’s not bad going in a field which is not best known for its state or municipal support. That said, the Manofim Jerusalem Contemporary Art Festival, to give its full titular due, does get a helping hand or two from a roster of official and philanthropic bodies, including the Municipality of Jerusalem, Ministry of Culture and Sport, the Jerusalem Foundation, the Beracha Foundation and The Gottesman Fund.

The 2021 edition of the festival takes place October 26-29 and, as per every year, there will be plenty to see, watch, listen to and enjoy across the city. Mind you, the “annual” epithet is a little inaccurate following the coronavirus lockdown-beset joys of 2020. “It was strange last year. There we were in front of a computer screen, showing all the festival events via Zoom,” says Edelstein with a wry smile. “It was really weird.”

Thankfully, things are back on track – at least for now – and the public will be able to make its corporeal presence felt in galleries, other cultural institutions and open spaces all over the place.

Then again, Shulov and Edelstein are not taking anything for granted from their base at the Artists Studio in Talpiot. These days with, for example, the Green Pass requirement being withdrawn and then reinstated a couple of months ago, who knows how things will pan out. That informed the artistic directors’ choice of this year’s main event. And not a bad one it is either, pandemic directives regardless.

 NACHMAN GOLDSTEIN contributes to the High Voltage exhibition with a series of photographs of chandeliers from around the world. (credit: NACHMAN GOLDSTEIN) NACHMAN GOLDSTEIN contributes to the High Voltage exhibition with a series of photographs of chandeliers from around the world. (credit: NACHMAN GOLDSTEIN)

“Every year we choose a different location for all sorts of exhibitions and cultural events,” Edelstein explains. This time they went for an all-embracing domain along Park Hamesila (Train Track Park). The route leads through a highly varied demographic, in socioeconomic and ethnic terms, from the swanky environs of The First Station, along Harakevet Street near the largely upmarket neighborhoods of the German Colony and Baka, then through upwardly mobile Mekor Haim and into the less fashionable Katamonim and Beit Safafa, through to Teddy Stadium. If the curators were looking to project as many Jerusalemite human strata as possible they did a good job.

SHULOV SAYS that part of the thinking behind the choice main festival program which takes place on the opening evening (4 p.m.-11 p.m.) was to cut any new pandemic constraints off at the pass. “You never know,” she laughs. “We thought just in case they suddenly impose another lockdown, at least the locals, who live only 100 meters from the  park will be able to enjoy the event.”

And a rich agenda of slots, of all kinds, awaits too. “This is a walking event that invites the public to explore the park and its surroundings, get to know the landscapes and neighborhoods it traverses, meet the people who live alongside it, go on a journey inside the city, and accumulate experiences through human interactions and sights,” as the festival blurb puts it pretty succinctly.

The park is, indeed, a boon to Jerusalemites in all the aforementioned neighborhoods and one that would not have been possible without the sterling efforts of the residents. The municipality originally planned to have a four-lane main road cut through the residential areas. However, the locals – in particular from the Katamonim – gave it their best shot and eventually scuppered the authority’s grand plans.

There are winners all round and Shulov says good things are in the offing. “You have the urban renewal plan submitted by urban and environmental planners and the Jerusalem Development Authority, with the Gottesman Fund, who recognized the tremendous potential in this piece of land.” The festival curtain raiser features outdoor panel discussions about a slew of pertinent ecological and social aspects. “Walking along the Park Hamesila unfolds the tale of the contemporary city, which touches on history and renewal, territorial and real estate issues, questions of nature preservation, population diversity and more.”

Locals and others are welcome to join in, go on a shanks pony excursion along the former train tracks and, inter alia, enjoy dance performances by the likes of the Yasmeen Godder Company, Noa Dar and Michal Samama, and the C.a.t.a.m.o.n Dance Group.

Things have moved on nicely in local arts terms. Manofim has certainly done its bit to help things along in the right direction. So, with 13 years and counting experience, do the festival honchos allow themselves the luxury of reflecting on how things used to be and, possibly, even give themselves a tender pat on the back for their part in the evolution?

 RONI PACKER looks at feeling and context, and relationships between materials, shapes, and site-specific meanings, in A Regular Quadrilateral at the Jerusalem Artists' House. (credit: Robert Chase Heishman) RONI PACKER looks at feeling and context, and relationships between materials, shapes, and site-specific meanings, in A Regular Quadrilateral at the Jerusalem Artists' House. (credit: Robert Chase Heishman)

Edelstein says that when they first conceived the festival there was, indeed, stuff going on here but the Jerusalem artist community desperately needed a guiding hand, some point of communal reference. “It was very fragmented back then,” she notes, adding that things have, thankfully, moved on. “I think that, today, people feel more that there is an actual [arts] scene, and there is more of an arts world within Jerusalem, and the individual elements [galleries, studios and other institutions] are more interconnected. There is a more of a sense of unity.”

CONSIDERING WE are, after all, only talking about Jerusalem, not the sprawling expanses of megacities like New York, London or Mexico City, that is a little surprising. Perhaps that is down to the more insular homey nature of Jerusalemites, as opposed to the more hip outgoing vibe to be found over in Tel Aviv.

Still, Manofim seems to have done the trick in getting local artists to hook up, talk and collaborate. “When we first started out different arts places didn’t know each other,” Edelstein continues. “Different places now work together. And Jerusalem artists are at the forefront of the national scene.” “They don’t have to apologize for where they work and live,” Shulov interjects.

As legendary Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team captain Tal Brody might have put it – paraphrasing on his celebrated comment after the historic 1977 European Champions win – “Jerusalem is on the arts map and is staying on the arts map.” “Curators and other professionals, from all over the country, are excited to come to Jerusalem to work,” says Shulov. “They are really interested to see what’s going on here.”

That was not always the case. “When I finished my studies [at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design] in 2004 there was nothing to do here. That’s changed, and we can see that with new young ventures, like Gerem.”

The latter is a delightful compact arts complex on Shlomo Hamelech Street which started life late last year. It houses a site-specific exhibition space, the fêted Barbur Gallery, which endured a troubled existence in Nachlaot – constantly under threat from the municipality before relocating – a yoga center, an arts and crafts boutique and vinyls store. It is a wonderful case in point, and one which augurs well for other would-be arts entrepreneurs in these parts.

The cohesion factor is enhanced by the physical proximity, and density factor, that naturally follows suit. “Not far from Gerem you have Hamiffal (The Factory),” Edelstein notes, referencing the buzzing art community hub, housed in a previously abandoned 19th century downtown building, which offers studio spaces for artist residencies as well as exhibition facilities. “They just built on an extra floor,” says Edelstein happily, although observing that she and Shulov wouldn’t mind enjoying a little more elbow room themselves over in Talpiot. “We would love to expand, like Hamiffal, but that requires funding, which we don’t currently have.”

“And there’s Koresh 14 too,” she quickly reverts to a positive mindset. The said gallery and performance venue, unsurprisingly, is located at the eponymous downtown address. “It is wonderful that you can get to all these places, on foot,” Edelstein adds. “That creates a sort of arts zone, an arts route.” That also takes in the less than glitzy Koresh Street, introducing an enticing oxymoronic element to the art gallery experience.

That is a heartwarming development, although more could be done to generate greater creative derring-do in the city. There is a dire need for working space. Some years ago the municipality removed artists from their studios in Talpiot, to make way for new construction which, presumably, now generates more in the way of housing tax revenue. At the time, artists I spoke to were pretty desperate. Some had already planned to move to Tel Aviv, where rentals were cheaper and more plentiful. Hopefully the efforts of the likes of Shulov and Edelstein will convince the local authority powers-that-be to invest a little more in the field.

THIS YEAR’S Manofim program is chock-full of intriguing, fun and enlightening slots. Chief among the latter category is a conference on October 27 (12 noon-7 p.m.) at the Van Leer Institute on the sadly increasingly invasive factor of everyday life of information overload. The Excess hybrid – physical and virtual – gathering will be livestreamed for registrants, and is curated by Edelstein, artist-researcher Dr. Ronen Eidelman and art critic, lecturer and researcher Yonatan Amir.

Eidelman and Amir also serve as the editors of the independent journal of arts, culture and society publication Erev Rav, which is based at Hansen House. The former leper asylum will host a couple of Manofim events, including outdoor children’s workshops, and guided historic tours of the nineteenth century edifice and cloistered grounds.

Manofim not only sets out to fuel local artists and their endeavors by displaying some of their work to the rank and file, the festival also sets out to provide the public with greater insight into what goes into producing art. That will be addressed at the particularly appealing Coincidence program, curated by Hadassah Cohen, which lines up intimate encounters with artists in sessions lasting up to 45 minutes. “Come and meet Jerusalemite artists, get to know their studios up close, and even take part in the creative process itself!” the Manofim web site (manofim.org) cheerfully suggests. Sounds like an offer that is too good, and too alluring, to pass up.

This year’s edition of the annual Artist Appointment section focuses on the theme of “the accidental and simultaneous unfolding of two seemingly unrelated events or situations.” The activities take place on October 27-28 (6 p.m.-9 p.m.) and on October 29 (12 noon-2 p.m.). Prior registration is required, and participants may sign up for two sessions a day.

The exhibition reflects some of the diversity and free thinking ethos that drives the Jerusalem arts scene. Front Crawl curated by Ilanit Konopny at the Artists Studio, sees Shay Zilberman and Chen Cohen cross paths and interweave with one another in a fundamentally corporeal showing of video, collage, photography, sculpture and textile items. The works feed off each other, and reflect a yin-yang relationship of exchange and reciprocity.

Other shows to look out for include Talking to the Wall at Hacubia - Place for Art, curated by Dan Orimian, and which includes works by Avinadav Begin, Sharon Balaban, Uri Duvdevani and Martin Visok; and The New Barbizon Paints Women at the Artists Studio, curated by Avi Lubin, features portraits of women created in the public domain.

Over at the Beita Gallery the The Tip of the Iceberg shows, curated by Avital Wexler, includes works by Shulamit Etzion, Nadia Adina Rose, Haimi Fenichel that address subliminal intent, and A Stone’s Throw Away at the Hadassah Academic College will display photography and video-related creations that take in a range of techniques and formats such as photogrammetry and video mapping alongside site-specific installations and 3D objects.

And if you’re downtown, the Inbal Hoffman Mundane Heights showing should make popping into Ticho House a rewarding experience.

There is also musical entertainment lined up on the festival Mixer agenda, including a meetup between the Rasco rock trio and guitarist Uri Brauner Kinrot (aka UBK) at Hansen House (October 27, 9 p.m.), singer-songwriter Gal De Paz at Ticho House (October 28, 9 p.m.) and a left-field venue setting when the Uzi Navon and Acquaintances funk outfit hits the industrial floor at the Jerusalem Subaru Garage in Talpiot on October 29 (2 p.m.), to mark the release of its Uzi Navon Legacy album.

For tickets and more information: manofim.org