Time is in the limelight at Museum for Islamic Art exhibition

THE MUSEUM describes Time as “an interactive exhibition for the whole family” and invites members of the public of all ages to try their hand at “controlling time”.

The 'Momentum' installation by Nardeen Srouji takes a 3D staccato look at timekeeping (photo credit: Courtesy)
The 'Momentum' installation by Nardeen Srouji takes a 3D staccato look at timekeeping
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Time, and the amount we have on our hands, has been a pressing issue for most of us since, well, the dawn of time. Then again, how packed our schedule is, or how much temporal room for maneuver we have at our behest, is probably largely down to a matter of perspective.
If that wasn’t crystal clear before the pandemic began making inroads into our daily lives, surely we must now be more aware of the fluid nature of the ostensibly linear progression of the chronological side of life.
Flexibility of the said theme, and adopting any manner of inventive take on the domain and its manifold derivatives, are currently on display at the Museum for Islamic Art, in the Time exhibition, which opened on August 1 and is due to run through to May next year. Curator Eran Shavit, and cocurator Shir Meller Yamaguchi, have put together an aesthetic and conceptual offering that is engaging and compelling, and keeps the visitor on board from start to finish.
When I met Shavit at the museum, the proof of his curatorial pudding was served to me – on a plate, as it were. A man came up to him, together with his wife and three young offspring to praise the curator for his fine work.
“I didn’t know how the kids would handle this,” the man said, “but they are having a great time. And my son wants to tell you something,” he added, ushering his oldest toward us.
Time ebbs and flows in 'Egg' by Guy Hadany
“I didn’t want to come here at first,” said the lad, who looked around 11 years old. “But, I really enjoy the interactive side to it. It’s not just about walking around and looking at stuff. You can really get into it. It’s the best exhibition I’ve ever seen.”
Considering the speaker’s tenderness of years it’s difficult to know how much Time has to compete with, but it was nicely and succinctly put nonetheless.
THE MUSEUM describes Time as “an interactive exhibition for the whole family” and invites members of the public of all ages to try their hand at “controlling time” by employing a broad sweep of artistic technological and interactive tools “to play, experience, consider and refashion the concept of time, based on their own perception.”
Of course when these lines were written it was difficult to know when culture consumers would be allowed back into the museum, but hopefully some degree of sanity will be restored in the not-too-distant future.
The idea of aiming to get the objective, impersonal element of the passage of time to bend to our subjective will has become ever more poignant as technological innovations pop up at continually foreshortened intervals, and increasing numbers of software and actual tangible gizmos spring onto the marketing frontlines claiming to enable us to free up greater swathes of our timetable for… for what? Why, I often wonder, is the driver behind me tailgating me, endangering us both in the process? Is he or she really trying to get somewhere in a hurry because there is some urgent need that simply has to be addressed PDQ? Or are we just obsessed with the idea of “making time,” regardless of the basic lay of the temporal land?
The subjective-objective balancing act runs through the whole of the exhibition, and there are numerous messages to be taken on board and digested. Time is a multi-stratified offering, deftly devised with an abundance of stylistic and topical departures that pull you in and keep you there, so it comes as a surprise when you complete the circular route and you find yourself back at the start.
Following the timeline as long as we can see
The participant roster incorporates artists from different generations, and from different cultures and parts of the world. The better-known exhibitors, at least in international terms, include Zed Nelson and Sigalit Landau, but there is no shortage of interest elsewhere in the showing. The former is a British-based documentary photographer who has achieved global stardom for his incisive no-nonsense shots taken all over the place. His expansive oeuvre includes an insightful collection of pictures from this part of the world too, which feed off political, sociopolitical, historical and even some humoristic sensibilities and are anything but run-of-the-mill stock “let’s do Israel” scenes.
NELSON’S ABILITY to sink his teeth into the subject matter and to convey the emotional substrata comes across palpably in the 12-print Another Year… work, which features a couple Nelson knows personally, and imparts a warts-and-all pictorial continuum as they and their son unequivocally indicate the relentless passing of the years. There is something definitively charming and almost painfully touching to witness the babe in arms grow up into early adulthood, outstripping his father’s diminishing physical stature in the process. The observer cannot fail to spot the simultaneous aging of the parents either, all of which is heightened oxymoronically against a seemingly bland backdrop.
The curator is duly impressed with the power of the Nelson set.
Liat Livni's 'Tornado Hourglass 2' conveys a sense of the frenetic nature of time
“I have held several gallery talks since the exhibition opened and it has been fascinating to hear what people had to say about the series,” says Shavit. “It has been amazing to hear each person coming up with something else they observed in the work.”
The sequence spans a period from 1991 to 2013 during which, naturally, the world around the family members also changed.
“People talked about the figures being barefoot or wearing shoes, the fashions, and whether the boy was more like his dad or his mom. It was fascinating.”
Landau, an internationally acclaimed video artist, weighs in with a similarly emotive work, although she dips into fairytale territory to get her own humanist, rather than plain old sociopolitical, message across. The wall text of the Little Match Seller mixed media installation cites the titular character from the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Match Girl.” It is a bittersweet yarn in which the down-at-heels lass experiences only fleeting relief from her sorry state, and the freezing weather, as she works her way through the matches she was supposed to use to eke out some kind of income for herself and her unloving father. Besides the tear-jerking sentiment that is clearly front and center in the tale, Landau’s installation invites us all to consider the intrinsic value of individual moments in our life – points in time when anything and everything is still possible, and when fantasy and reality merge.
Spelling it out: Limor Tsror's tar on glass creation 'Achshav' (Now) offers a graphic feel of the inexorable march of time
THERE IS much to see and ponder in Time. There are intriguing video works that get you guessing about the temporal ebb and flow, and references to location and how that affects the stage of the day we are at, across different time zones. That is made pretty clear to visitors of any age, and there are a slew of interactive exhibits tailored to infants, too.
Anyone who has watched a sci-fi film or read a book from the genre, may well have fantasized about taking a trip through time. As a youngster, for me, that ambition was sparked by the Doctor Who series on BBC TV, with its eponymous Time Lord to-ing and fro-ing across the centuries, and even millennia, in his spaceship – the TARDIS – which looked like a diminutive police box on the outside but opened up to a generously proportioned vessel in the interior. The World Time installation conveys the idea of parallel worlds in a self-explanatory, comical and highly entertaining way. That is also the message in Romy Achituv’s The Same Time, Another Place interactive video work, which enables visitors to flit between four World Heritage Sites, including our very own Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Beni Efrat’s Can We Turn Back the Wheel creation presents the climate crisis in the starkest of manners, with a futuristic satellite photograph of melting glaciers at the North and South Poles in 2061, and compares that with the way things were in 2014, when he crafted the work. It is a chilling reminder of the ongoing challenge of global warming at a time when we have been inexorably drawn into a more insular local outlook, as we try to keep going on our pandemic lockdown patch.
Even so, Shavit feels there is more than one ray of light and hope in the Efrat installation.
“There are works that infer a situation of irreversibility, such as with Spilt Milk (by Nivi Alroyi). But here there is reversibility. If you sit down and cry about the milk that has already been spilt nothing will get done. You can’t return the milk to the glass, as with some of the interactive stations. But you can make sure no more milk spills from the glass. It is the same with global warming.”
The possibility of taking remedial action is a recurring motif in Time, as in Jerusalem-born Guy Hadani’s opening and closing egg, and Aliza Olmert’s darkly humorous Tikkun print, which shows a cracked egg somehow, desperately, held together by a safety pin.
Internationally renowned artist Sigalit Landau dips into fairytale territory to get her humanist message across.
“There is sadness in that work,” Shavit notes, “but there is a smile there, too. They do say there is nothing more whole than a broken heart, don’t they?”
THERE IS plenty more in the surprisingly expansive exhibition, with references to the evils of consumerism and pollution, Mother Nature’s timeline from succulent eminently edible fruit to moldy expiration, while younger visitors will get some idea of how timekeeping was managed before the advent of cell phones, and other electronic chronometer devices.
The third and final section of the exhibition is a wall – basically an outsized blackboard - entitled Before I Die, devised by American artist Candy Change. After perusing the works in the exhibition and, presumably, coming out with not a little food for thought, patrons are invited to jot down in chalk – in English, Hebrew or Arabic – what they would like to achieve before they shuffle off their mortal coil. There are over 5,000 such walls dotted around the world, as members of the public are invited to write down their plans and dreams for the future, completing the sentence that starts with “Before I die I’d like to…” How about being able to enjoy a hug, hang out, go to concerts, soccer matches, take a dip in the sea and walk around with our faces completely exposed to the elements and to each other?
All we need now is for the pandemic situation to improve, the government-imposed restrictions to be lifted, and to have our cultural life restored to its former robust state of health. As Chaucer sagely advised over six centuries back: “Time and tide wait for no man.”
For more information: www.islamicart.co.il