The body stands at the focus of three new exhibitions opening Friday, February 11, at the Haifa Museum of Art.
Curated by Dr. Kobi Ben-Meir, the new season includes a selection of video-art works by Albanian-Italian artist Adrian Paci, spread on an entire floor under the title Still Voices, and a comprehensive solo exhibition by painter Anna Lukashevsky, who continues her fascination with what she describes as Red Haifa and its working class in Types.
Ben-Meir, who worked at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and enjoys an in-depth understanding of German art, also gifts us with seven original works by German photographer August Sander presented alongside works by Turkish artist Volkan Kiziltunç in The Look.
Sander, a master portrait photographer, changed how the medium was understood when his 1929 book Face of Our Time was released in Germany. He asked his subjects to look straight and depicted them with the apparel of their trades to later arrange them, sans their names, by their professions. The homeless were put last. In 1985, Richard Avedon took a step beyond Sander when he released In the American West, which shows its subjects with a pure white background. With no trace of their social roles.
Ben-Meir places Sander in relation to Kiziltunç, who asked Istanbul residents who lived in neighborhoods destroyed as part of a gentrification process to stand and have their portrait taken in his 2012 work, The Unspectacular. They did not know they were being filmed, and as they look at the camera, the viewer is able to experience a moment of human connection. A similar study of unnoticed time is taken in the 2014 work, The Look, composed of family reels shot between the 1960s and the 1980s by everyday Turkish families.
Sadly, Kiziltunç became sick with COVID-19 and could not attend the press conference. Via phone, he expressed his appreciation to Ben-Meir and his wish visitors would really look at the people he worked with.
This fascination with dead moments is not new. In 2006, Doron Solomons presented his video-art Tonight’s Headlines. In it, Channel 2 newscasters were shown during the dead moments between the headlines. Others might recall Hebrew Lesson by Boaz Arad, where a carefully edited video presents Hitler addressing Jerusalem in Hebrew and asking for forgiveness. What makes this exhibition unique is the shifting gaze from history to private, personal moments. The warmth of the family-made reels stand in contrast to the sharpness of the digital image, which documents all and leaves nothing behind.
Unlike Sander, Lukashevsky honors the people she paints by giving us their names and their line of work. Andrei the Handyman is one, Mali the Secretary is another.
“I paint the working class,” she says. “During my [Vilnius] childhood I was surrounded with Socialist realism and told art must dig deep into the wounds of society and offer solutions.” In other paintings, like Livneh, a man is presented wearing earrings and having painted nails, a sign of a non-binary sexuality. In Yegor, a man has facial tattoos, hinting that class identity was replaced by an inner one turned inside out.
While Ben-Meir points to how Lukashevsky is so familiar with art history her works point to famous European works, such as the 1926 Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden by Otto Dix, which is similar to her 2021 painting Anat, she is quick to correct him. She does not quote from art history, she says, nor subscribe to any school of post-modernism. Any such occurrences come “from within my bones” as an artist, she points out.
This is a unique aspect of her work and is highly unusual in the Israeli art scene. In 2010 she co-created The New Barbizon, a group of Soviet-born women painters who offer realism-grounded painting, an unusual option in this land. Much like how the 19th century Barbizon championed Realism against Romantic painting, the popular art style then.
“There is a sort of communism in Haifa,” she laughs, “because the city is still affordable [when compared to Tel Aviv] so I am able to create art here.”
Paci, a Milan-based artist who showed his works at the MoMA and the Guggenheim Museum, chose Haifa to premiere his 2021 work, The Wanderers. In it, two large screens show different realities. The left one captures various animals crossing the roads of his native Albania and the right one presents people walking to a wedding of sorts. At first, he said, he was annoyed at how he had to wait to let the animals cross, later he thought “aren’t we all living beings in the landscape?” The work invokes media reports on how nature reclaimed towns during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
In the 2018 Broken Words, Syrian refugees are filmed while hearing an Italian translation of their Arabic-told personal histories of violence and escape. What the viewer experiences are the original Arab voices played by multiple speakers. The words are cut and blurred beyond understanding; what one can see are the bodily reactions to the spoken trauma. This powerful experience is usually absent when one reads an article on the ongoing civil war happening four hours by car from the northern border of this country.
In the 2017 Interregnum, Paci shows the viewer news-based footage of a nation mourning the passing of a leader, from Stalin to Albanian leader Enver Hoxha. In it, the physical body of the person meant to lead the country collapsed. Succumbing to the same fate all living beings must endure.
“My focus,” he says, “is how humanity builds its theatrical moments to answer its deep needs.”
The missing body makes another appearance in the 2015 Sue Proprie Mani (To the addressed only). In it, huge screens present actors reading never-delivered letters sent from Italy to soldiers stationed in World War II Albania. A mother wrote to her son asking, is he cold? Is he hungry? She longs to hold his body in an embrace when the war ends. The fate of this soldier is unknown.
The new season at the Haifa Museum of Art opens on Friday, February 11, at 10 a.m. and closes on Saturday, June 25. Adrian Paci will meet the public and discuss his works in English on February 12 at 11 a.m., with Dr. Kobi Ben-Meir. Admission is free. https://www.hma.org.il/eng