The Jerusalem art show goes online to defy coronavirus

The bottomless treasure chest of creative endeavor, across all disciplines, genres and cultures, for many of us, lurks just a computer mouse click or smartphone screen tap away.

THE GREAT Gehenna Choir performed two stirring concerts of a cappella works (photo credit: SALA-MANCA GROUP)
THE GREAT Gehenna Choir performed two stirring concerts of a cappella works
(photo credit: SALA-MANCA GROUP)
There is no disguising the fact that these are challenging times. Some of us may be anxious about our ability to stay afloat financially, others may be concerned about the absence of familial proximity, and there may be those who simply feel emotionally and physically asphyxiated by the restrictions on freedom of movement.
This, then, may be as good a time as ever to consider some of the spiritual seams that lie within us and, especially, within the more artistically inclined.
The bottomless treasure chest of creative endeavor, across all disciplines, genres and cultures, for many of us, lurks just a computer mouse click or smartphone screen tap away. As they say – give or take – when the going gets tough, the savvy start looking for additional room for maneuver within the confines still available to them. Currently, that predominantly means roaming the vast domains of the Web world.
The cultural sector has been up and running in that regard for a few weeks now, taking in virtual tours of museum and gallery exhibits, and even virtual festivals and various arts events. In that sense, the Sala-Manca Group has an appreciable chronological head start on most, and has taken full advantage of the seemingly boundless capacity of the Internet rather than the limited physical dimensions of any actual cultural or arts venue, regardless of budget.
The collective – which basically comprises Lea Mauas and Diego Rotman – has been in full flow, proffering a broad range of artistic fare for quite some time, albeit, until recently, with a seven-year hiatus. The independent cluster of Jerusalem-based artists takes in various fields, including performance, video, installations and new media.
The first Sala-Manca effort saw the light of day a full 20 years ago. The curtain-raiser operated under the intriguing moniker of He’arat Shulayim, or Footnote, as artists increasingly found themselves confined to their own home patch, and unable to move their creations to geographic locations where they could be accessed by the general public.
Mauas and Rotman decided to take a leaf out of their own tried and tested exhibiting book.
“He’arat Shulayim is really a series of independent events that began in 2000, in Jerusalem,” Rotman explains.
Those were trying times, too.
“We started it during the Second Intifada, when, then too, people were cooped up in their homes, watching TV.”
Sounds chillingly familiar.
“The aim was to try to generate an encounter, to get people away from that tough reality, and to encourage people to create new works which related to a particular place and point in time.”
There were communication benefits to be had, too.
“We also wanted to make connections between artists, and between the artists and the public, and to establish a community that responds quickly to the reality, and also to present creative efforts,” Rotman adds.
He’arat Shulayim ran for 13 years – not bad going for a self-funded project – spreading the word about envelope-pushing derring-do in the capital from all sorts of innovative quarters, until it eventually petered out.
But now, in equally testing circumstances, the Sala-Manca-driven initiative is back and kicking. A couple of weeks ago, seven or so years on, He’ara 13 proffered a motley spread of several dozen works uploaded on the cooperative’s website and on Facebook, which covered multifarious thematic bases and avenues of expressive attack.
There were quite a few performances for live viewing on Zoom, covering poetry, a couple of choral concerts by the a cappella Great Gehenna Choir, a virtual tour of the National Museum of Brazil, including many works that were destroyed in a fire a couple of years ago but were thankfully video-documented beforehand, and dance.
The presentation-exhibition Durational Works side of the program was equally inventive, with, for example, sculptor Noa Arad-Yairi occupying a four-hour berth with her Infiltration (or: Beyond the 100 Meter Radius) run out, which, true to Arad-Yairi’s artistic calling, tested the accepted – legal – boundaries by placing some of her sculptures a little beyond the Health Ministry-designated perimeter.
The busts she dotted around her neighborhood all bore her name. Arad-Yairi said they were her “representatives, which will remain there until taken by bystanders, who may also, in turn, exceed their 100-meter range to take the sculpture.”
Anyone accessing the He’ara 13 program on April 4 would have had a generous spectrum of works to view, and even with which to interact, including Hadas Ophrat’s whimsical The Beginning of the World 2, which referenced the original 1924 work by Romanian sculptor, painter and photographer Constantin Brancusi, who is regarded as “the father of modern sculpture.” Jerusalemite Ophrat’s slot featured an egg-shaped ice casting of her head and documented its gradual melting process.
Considering the limitations on our living milieu these days, the 90-minute video work by Yehudit Shlosberg-Yogev, who is also based in Jerusalem, Direct Transmission from the Moon, offered – at least on a conceptual level – some respite from the terrestrial lockdown, while Hefziba Shuali Shatz’s Temporary Connections Space provided a virtual meeting place for anyone in need of company.
INTERDISCIPLINARY ARTIST Adaya Godlevsky contributed her interactive A Lead for Hour of Emergency work (Photo Credit: Adaya Godlevsky)
INTERDISCIPLINARY ARTIST Adaya Godlevsky contributed her interactive A Lead for Hour of Emergency work (Photo Credit: Adaya Godlevsky)
TECHNOLOGY HAS clearly marched on a couple of light years or so since the beginning of the millennium. Even so, there were logical considerations to be taken into account.
“In the first few days of the lockdown, we got used to having the contents of museums and other places put out on the Internet,” Rotman notes. “But we understand that what we have to do is to create.”
Easier imagined than applied.
“That’s quite a challenge because artists are not used to creating works with this technology. It was very challenging to create projects that are compatible with these new platforms.”
The dreaded virus was, naturally, front and center throughout the He’ara 13 proceedings, which also went by the thought-provoking subtitle of “Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark (or the Threepenny Platform).”
“The event lasted four hours – all live works,” says Mauas. “They were all live works – performance in front of an audience, for the audience.”
Rather than feeling their adventurous wings had been clipped, Mauas says, the Health Ministry-imposed constraints actually opened up new vistas for all concerned.
“Because of the feeling that they were limited in time, there was a sense of a domain that opened up. The audience generated a sort of festival vibe. They ‘met’ other people and moved around between the various events, and a new domain was created.
People told us – and this was very moving – that, for the first time since the lockdown started, they felt, even though it was through a screen, that they could roam freely through space, in something close to a physical sense. That was very special and very moving.”
The artistic project was designed not only to facilitate new forms of creative expression, but also to get the rest of us to look beyond our own residential four walls.
“We wanted to wake people up from this inertia,” Mauas notes.
He’ara 13 also delivered a positive kick up the backside for some of the exhibitors.
“There was one artist who had stopped working,” Rotman interjects. “She went back to her studio and got her things together, and presented an amazing performance at the event. Another artist, who normally engages in generating connections between people, created something new for the event. And there was a musician who produced an electronic musical work on a treadmill, who has started creating other performance works. That is the great power of this event. People are starting to produce new works. Something special has really opened up here.”
The organizers feel that as our physical environs, which we took for granted in pre-pandemic times, have closed in on us, artistic vehicles offer a way out of the corporeal orbit restrictions.
“This is an area – art – in which we think we have to operate,” says Mauas. “Artistic work is activist work by dint of the fact that it generates different domains, of dialogue, of work, of response.”
Demarcation interfaces, it seems, also shift in such circumstances.
“The gap between art and life also blurs,” Rotman suggests. “The home has become the stage. People enter into your home, where you perform. They host you, and you are their guests. There is this situation of giving to others. Something different and new has come into being here.”
It is as if, willy-nilly, we are turning the tables on the downside of advanced technological means which, paradoxically, are largely to blame for the alienation and the lack of physical contact many of us experience in the normal run of things.
And there could be a lot more where the last batch of He’arat Shulayim offerings came from.
“We have plans for all sorts of things,” says Rotman. “We are looking at joint projects with various artists. And the artists themselves, individually, are beginning to set up all kinds of projects.”
Rotman and Mauas are keen to use the event as a springboard for further endeavors.
“We had a summary session the night after the event with the artists. They each talked about their experience, and people came up with all sorts of suggestions,” Rotman continues, adding that there could be more, much more, on offer on a far grander scale. “One of the artists, from Tel Hai, talked about how it all started back in the days of Second Intifada, and that we had started something that will become a viral phenomenon, right across the globe. Let’s see how far this goes.”
Encouragingly, there have been some kudos from officialdom, too.
“Hila Smoliansky, from the Plastic Art Department of the Jerusalem Municipality, wrote in a post: ‘a new domain has been established by Sala-Manca. The Sala-Manca people are visionaries and pioneers in art in this public domain,’” says Mauas proudly.
The April 4 event was accompanied by the release of a new edition of the He’arat Shulayim virtual magazine, which is freely available on the Web.
All told, 70 artists contributed to the Internet event and the magazine. All involved volunteered their services and worked gratis. Rotman and Mauas believe this sends out a strong message to all and sundry, on both sides of the budgeting divide.
“The minister of culture proposed investing NIS 8 million in digital platforms and events,” says Rotman.
That didn’t sit too well with the Sala-Manca duo.
“That’s crazy – investing NIS 8m. in a platform to present documentation of shows or movies or musicians. We say there’s no need for that [financial investment],” Mauas points out. “The platforms already exist. Just give the money to the artists. So they can work.”
Now, there’s food for thought.
For further information about He’ara 13: and