Crossing Borders Living Together puts Haifa on the art scene

The 4th Mediterranean Biennale Living Together – Crossing Borders exhibit opens in Haifa.

SCREENSHOTS FROM the art video ‘Inverso Mundus’ (2015) by AES+F. (photo credit: Courtesy)
SCREENSHOTS FROM the art video ‘Inverso Mundus’ (2015) by AES+F.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The new Jezreel Valley railway connects Beit She’an to Haifa with a quick 45-minute trip. In less than an hour, the eye bids farewell to banners depicting bearded men promoting the traditional values of Shas and Roman columns placed on modern turnabouts and welcomes Masada St with its many rainbow stickers, progressive Arab and Hebrew street art – and beer available on tap despite the Passover holiday.
In that sense, it is entirely fitting that one of the most-promoted works within the recently opened fourth Mediterranean Biennale Living Together – Crossing Borders exhibition is titled Inverso Mundus (Upside-Down World). 
The visually stunning 38-minute long 2015 art video by Russian group AES+F leads the viewer into a hyper-realistic vision where hogs butcher people, women in evening gowns place half-naked men in the pillory and street-cleaners smear filth on city streets.
The work refers to same-titled 16th century prints that depicted people carrying donkeys on their backs and schoolchildren whipping their masters among the many examples of the regular order of things being momentarily challenged. 
The cinematic quality of the work lends it extra force, as if it were a vision of a Buddhist hell realm in the Tibetan tradition where the body is hacked and slashed – or a production directed by Hieronymus Bosch. 
The drawings that accompany the work and can be viewed on the AES+F website might remind the viewer of Eric Stanton and his detailed drawings of men subjected by women yet, in this case, the inversion of the power structure is fitting as, historically speaking, mostly women were tortured for inhabiting a body and the pain was usually inflicted by men.
The length of the video, which is shown at the WIZO Haifa Academy of Design and Education where the bulk of the biennale is on display, leads to the question of how an art lover can explore the immense wealth contained in it without being overwhelmed. 
With 60 artists and an exhibition spread out over 10 different locations it would be impossible to see everything in one visit. My recommendation is to consider several visits at different times to watch at least some art videos from start to finish or a single day in Haifa intended to explore some of the works with the option of ending it at the top of Ben-Gurion Blvd to enjoy the Bahá’í Gardens or taking a meal at one of the many excellent restaurants recently reopened in the city.
“People must live with art,” curator Belu-Simion Fainaru said. “The art [at WIZO] is [also] shown in the restrooms at each floor of the building and in the teacher’s room.”
“The artist too cannot live in his studio, but must be engaged in society,” he pointed out.
This is why this large exhibition, which received no state support or grants from the city, relies on the interest expressed by hotel, restaurant and shop owners to host the works.
ISRAELI FILM director Amos Gitai presents the 2018 art-video The Amos Book, 20-minute tour de force where the eye of the camera accompanies actors speaking (directly to the viewer) the words of the ancient prophet in Hebrew and Arabic as violence explodes around them. Ancient warnings about the top of the Carmel withering are experienced very differently when one is on its slopes. To hear, in Arabic, that the bar of Damascus will be broken and its people cut off vibrates intensely when the viewer is reminded of the ongoing civil-war still raging beyond the northern border.
For those keen on video art, I would suggest heading to the Colony Hotel (28 Ben-Gurion Blvd.), where Boaz Kaizman presents his 2010 video-art Maalesh (23 min). As lovely Persian rugs are presented to the viewer, the voice speaking to us through the screen is that of Prof. David Galloway, who was the main curator of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, which was originally conceived by the Shah and opened in 1977, two years before the Islamic Revolution. 
The museum still stands and has some extremely valuable art, such as the 1950 Mural on Indian Red Ground by Jackson Pollock and the 1907 Gabrielle with Open Blouse by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Not to mention a portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol and works by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam. 
The video art is a unique chance for the Israeli art lover to get acquainted with an aspect of Iranian history known to only a select few. Iranian artist Arash Nassiri is also included in the exhibition [at WIZO] where he presents his 2015 art-video Teheran-Geles, which explores the modernization of the Iranian city. The Colony Hotel graciously offers refreshments to those willing to take the time to explore Maalesh, making it an oasis of sorts to the modern art pilgrim.
IF, HOWEVER, the reader is a little weary of watching art-videos at this point and would prefer to admire some high-quality visual art, I suggest climbing up the WIZO stairs to marvel at the photography of Angelika Sher. In a 2019 work, Sher recreated the 1964 painting by Yosl Bergner The Tea Drinkers. Sadly, Bergner is a little forgotten in our own time and this deeply Jewish work, depicting a neatly dressed family around a samovar inexplicably placed in a green field with brooding clouds above, deserves to be better known today. 
Sher, who was born in Lithuania in what used to be the USSR, asked Jewish post-Soviet immigrants to pose as the family. 
“I thought this was a good way for them to get to know Israeli art history,” she said. 
While there, the viewer will enjoy the large paintings of Shira Gepshtein, vibrant and teeming with detailed references to Western and Israeli painting. The eye goes to the bottom right corner to spot painter Zoya Cherkassky holding an assault rifle, and then to the left to see a fragment of a mythic wrestling scene, perhaps Jacob fighting with the angel.
Should the reader wish to stop for a meal, Arabeska on 7 Luncz St would be an excellent choice. A 10-minute car ride from WIZO, the recently opened eatery offers a selection of freshly made Arab food presented with a smile at an LGBT-owned establishment that offers 7% of its profits to the local community at Talpiot Market.
After the meal, the reader might return to WIZO for a final glance and take a moment to appreciate a work by Fainaru himself. In the 2020 Stop Light, the red and green lights do not command the viewer to halt and move but simply announce “still alive.” After a year of COVID-19, what more can we ask for?
THE FOURTH “Mediterranean Biennale Living Together – Crossing Borders” exhibition curated by Belu-Simion Fainaru and Avital Bar-shay will be on display until June. Admission to all 10 locations is free but a Green Passport must be presented. Ben Gurion Blvd. is within easy walking distance to the Haifa Center HaShmona railway station to those arriving by public transportation. 

Those wishing to plan their visit before arrival due to the impressive number of works on display might consult the exhibition’s site: mediterraneanbiennale.com/en/. 

Arabeska is on 7 Luncz St. Please call ahead at 058-720-2007 to ensure a table. The Bahá’í Gardens at the top of Ben Gurion Blv can be visited provided one registers via their site: https://www.ganbahai.org.il/