Open Skies - Tel Aviv exhibition aims to reimagine the perception of art

It takes in a motley array of exhibits spread around downtown Tel Aviv feeding off more than 30 projects created by local and non-Israeli artists.

SPANISH SOCIOPOLITICAL-LEANING artist Santiago Sierra’s ‘NO Tarpaulin’ is designed to irk and move the public (photo credit: COURTESY SANTIAGO SIERRA)
SPANISH SOCIOPOLITICAL-LEANING artist Santiago Sierra’s ‘NO Tarpaulin’ is designed to irk and move the public
(photo credit: COURTESY SANTIAGO SIERRA)
As the pandemic goes on and on, new ideas and approaches make their way through the cracks in the gloom. Zoom and other virtual visual platforms have increasingly come into their own as we seek – to paraphrase the original Star Trek opener – to venture boldly where few corona virus-strapped people have gone before.
As the COVID-19 fallout continues to leave its restrictive imprint on our lives, more people are looking to reclaim their wider physical milieu and, betwixt lockdowns, to command an actual corporeal presence in the world about them. That can also involve taking note of things that, in the normal course of matters, they may not have consciously noticed.
This year’s Loving Art Making Art Festival, founded by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, features the neatly named “Open Skies” EU-buttressed section, curated by Avi Lubin. It takes in a motley array of exhibits spread around downtown Tel Aviv feeding off more than 30 projects created by local and non-Israeli artists looking to reimagine the way we perceive the presence and contribution of art in the public domain.
That, naturally, puts the role of the observer – basically, that means all of us – in the spotlight too. How do we feel when we turn past a corner and suddenly espy some work of art looming out of the quotidian urban landscape? We may have passed some square, stretch of sidewalk or park area a million times as we scurry along mindlessly to the office, school or the stores. Then, out of the blue, some oversized, brightly colored and/or intriguingly proportioned creation catches our eye and our everyday commuter experience is transmuted in the blink of a bleary eye.
At least that’s what Lubin hopes will transpire over the next couple of days as Tel Avivians and visitors to the city encounter the “Open Skies” offerings – challenging operational logistics notwithstanding.
“‘Open Skies’ includes 15 projects from Europe, but none of the artists is coming here because of the coronavirus,” the curator laughs wryly.
Indeed, the accommodating celestial moniker appears to be oxymoronic, or simply a contradiction in terms.
‘CRUISING LABYRINTH,’ by Greek visual artist Andreas Angelidakis, invites us to seek our object of desire. (Courtesy Andreas Angelidakis)‘CRUISING LABYRINTH,’ by Greek visual artist Andreas Angelidakis, invites us to seek our object of desire. (Courtesy Andreas Angelidakis)
“Some of the items are being assembled here and some are being reassembled with the artists overseeing the work by remote control. It is a bit ironic,” he admits.
Then again, the exhibition title should not necessarily be taken at face value. There is a conceptual-philosophical subtext here.
“Yes, the skies are not exactly open right now,” Lubin continues.
It is more a matter of striving to engender a more unfettered grasp of where we live, work and play on a daily basis.
“It is not about taking flights. It is about looking at open skies, in the sense of taking a fresh look at open spaces and trying to understand what it means to reclaim the public domain, and not just in principle.”
LUBIN FEELS that art, and the addressing thereof, can offer a jump-start along in the desired direction in the wider sense too.
“It can help us to start rethinking the way we look at the world and how we behave in it. If we don’t want to make do with having only Zoom communication, we have to begin thinking about new ways of operating in the world.”
One way, Lubin suggests, could be to get a little down and dirty with the exhibits.
“Art doesn’t have to be something you see in a museum, keeping your distance and looking at it with some kind of reverence. Art, in the public domain, can be something you can touch and you can use.”
The rethink can also involve adopting a – literally – loftier view of our surroundings. Hillel Roman certainly believes that is one way to go. The Los Angeles-born Tel Avivian multidisciplinary artist has an aptly named creation in the Open Skies exhibition, called High House.
“It is a sort of balcony or house built high up in a tree,” Lubin explains.
That could provide us with all a much-needed brief rat race furlough.
“It draws your attention up from street level. You suddenly become aware of the treetops and the birds. That gives you an opportunity to stop and to sit down.”
There are precedents.
“Look, for example, at High Line in New York. There, art is an inherent component of the park that was built there. Some of it is more classical and conservative, and other works are less so, but it makes us readdress the public domain, to look at it anew, to think about it differently.”
Lubin says he is not averse to some negative responses to the Open Skies exhibits either.
“People can object to what they see. Our public spaces are now frequently used for protests. So that’s fine,” he chuckles. “Israel isn’t very good at resistance and protest. Maybe this will help.”
That ethos makes perfect sense. After all, if we are stuck here for now, with foreign travel currently highly restricted and a far more bureaucratically involved affair – then why not make the most of what we have in our immediate instantly accessible everyday milieu?
Like any purveyor of creative work with any street cred, Lubin feels that art can act as a significant mover and shaker of emotions and of political drive, and just getting us to rise above the apathy and torpor brought on by the endless coronavirus-related measures that seem to stalk our every move – and the ongoing political shenanigans as our prime minister’s trial date looms ever larger on the horizon.
“It sounds a little moronic with all the problems we are suffering from now, but art works on 20,000 different levels,” the curator notes. “Just walking around the city and seeing works of art in Habima Square, Gan Meir Park, Rothschild Boulevard and Allenby Street and Bialik Street – that’s the neighborhood I live in – can change the way you look at your own city.”
That even goes for a professional in the field who, one might have thought, would have been more keenly aware of the aesthetics around him.
“When I was looking for locations for the works, I suddenly began to really scrutinize my own neighborhood. I have been living there for years, but suddenly I saw things I hadn’t really noticed before. Perhaps having works of art outside can help us to really see the things around us. Like with the Hillel Roman work, which can get us to really see the treetops.”
Presumably, the “Open Skies” arousal effect should have an even better impact on galvanizing the cultural rank-and-file, as it were, to greater visual awareness.
All of which can possibly provide the requisite kick up the rear we may need to address some of the burning issues of the day.
“Art can shock us and I am fine with that,” Lubin states. “We have had so many fundamental problems here for so long - social, political, financial and educational – which have been exacerbated during the coronavirus era. People are starving now, but maybe art can cajole them into being more active about their situation, about changing things.”
BRINGING ART to the people, rather than the other way round, may help in that regard.
“When you are so engrossed in existential problems, you don’t really find the ability to be proactive. There is something addictive about burying yourself in your predicament. But maybe coming across works of art on your everyday route can inject some new input and energy into your life, and that may encourage you to do something.”
It is not a matter of just making do, exhibit-wise, pandemic or no pandemic. Lubin has lined up works from a pretty impressive roll call of leading contemporary artists, including Greek visual artist Andreas Angelidakis, Spanish sociopolitical-leaning artist Santiago Sierra, Dutch visual artist Sil Krol, Austrian sculptor, installation and conceptual artist Michael Kienzer, and Belgian art collective and curatorial duo Void Collective.
“There was an artist at the last Venice Biennale called Augustus Serapinas from Lithuania who exhibited three high chairs, like lifesaver chairs, which you could climb up on. There was something sort of playful about it,” Lubin says. At just 29 years of age, Serapinas was the youngest participant in the prestigious Venetian bash. The curator says that the work, in similar fashion to the Roman piece, can offer us a new perspective on our locale.
‘CHAIR FOR the Invigilator’ by young Lithuanian artist Augustus Serapinas, who tends to get the public to take a new perspective on ordinary stuff  (Courtesy Augustus Serapinas)‘CHAIR FOR the Invigilator’ by young Lithuanian artist Augustus Serapinas, who tends to get the public to take a new perspective on ordinary stuff (Courtesy Augustus Serapinas)
“You could climb up the chairs and survey your surroundings, sort of carry out surveillance.” The proof of the pudding was duly provided by the guards in Italy. “The security personnel climbed on the chairs there,” Lubin adds.
Serapinas, in his short career to date, has made a habit of getting the public to take a new perspective on seemingly common or garden items not worth more than a cursory glance. A new version of the outdoor furniture-based work was assembled here for our viewing pleasure and interest.
Lubin feels that the Sierra contribution, NO Tarpaulin, should arouse a great deal of interest here.
“He has been running his “NO, Global Tour” for quite a few years now. It started from a large sculpture, with the letters NO, and he had all sorts of things based on that theme.”
We are getting a taste of his challenging concept here too.
Angelidakis, meanwhile, likes us to get hands-on with his work.
“A couple of years ago I saw something by him in Paris, a sort of black cube that looked like a cruising maze used by homosexuals,” Lubin recalls. The creation in question is called Cruising Labyrinth, which comes in the form of an IKEA-style flatpack product with panels of prefabricated black-painted plywood that can be arranged by the user to create a maze leading to the object of desire. The Angelidakis slot in Open Skies is tailored to its location.
“We are assembling a different version of it in Gan Meir. It is a little smaller but still pretty large and impressive.”
The Void Collective creation goes by the self-explanatory title of Announcements.
“There are gilded loudspeakers that proclaim the dos and don’ts of conduct in the public domain,” Lubin explains, adding that the components will, in a manner of speaking, be site-specific. “I sent them pictures of signs located around Tel Aviv, of cautions, and what we can and cannot do in the city.”
The idea of suiting a creation from abroad for local conditions is strange even in this global village of ours.
“It is really weird,” Lubin admits. “A lot of the activity we undertook to get the works together here was based on video calls to allow the artists to see what we have here. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
Strange times call for strange measures, to paraphrase an observation by Hippocrates, but it looks like Lubin and the rest of the festival curators did their bit to get us out of our cell phone screens and pandemic blues, and striving for higher plains of spiritual, emotional and intellectual designs. Can’t be bad.
The “Open Skies” exhibition will be scattered around the streets of Tel Aviv November 12 to 14.