Art for life

At Zichron Ya’acov’s Habayit gallery, artists with multiple sclerosis interface with the public.

Dani Goren is a largely self taught sculptor  (photo credit: TOMASZ SOLINSKI)
Dani Goren is a largely self taught sculptor
(photo credit: TOMASZ SOLINSKI)
‘Art is a wound turned into light,” noted early- 20th-century cubist art pioneer Georges Braque. Daniel Carlin would certainly go along with the notion of the healing powers of engaging in a creative pursuit.
Now in his late 50s, the youthful-looking Carlin currently has several photographs on display at the Habayit gallery in Zichron Ya’acov, which opened for business last month, with Irit Louzon at the managerial helm. The gallery has a prime location, just off the town’s main thoroughfare and principal tourist attraction – Hameyasdim Street. It is an arts venue with a difference. Habayit, “The Home” in Hebrew, was established principally to display works by artists with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The idea behind Habayit is not only to provide talented MS sufferers with a means of getting their work out there, but also to serve as an invaluable interface with members of the general public who may be blissfully unaware of the degenerative disease.
Carlin is a classic example of how a sharp downturn in physical health can lead to a drastic change in lifestyle and mind-set, and not necessarily for the worst.
Up to around 10 years ago, the US-born orthopedic surgeon was making significant professional strides.
He had made a name for himself as an expert in problems relating to the joints of the body, and specifically in sports-related injuries. Mind you, considering his principal off-work activity, that is hardly surprising.
He was an avid mountain cyclist, and kept himself in top physical condition. He was still doing army reserve duty, generally serving with regular army soldiers less than half his age.
But that came at a price. “I had three daughters who, basically, grew up without a father,” he recalls. “I was always either at work or studies.” And when he wasn’t working or studying, Carlin could often be found tackling all kinds of challenging terrain on his two-wheeler, along with a bunch of like-minded and similarly driven fellow bikers.
When Carlin experienced the initial, shocking symptoms of MS, it turned his world on its head, in social terms, too. “All my friends were cyclists and, suddenly, that stopped. I couldn’t go on operating anymore either. I needed to do something that interested me, and would give me something to do, and that wasn’t too physical.”
Photography came to the rescue. Carlin got his first camera at the age of 12, when his father returned from a business trip to Japan with an Asahi Pentax SLR. He learned how to develop pictures at school, but image snapping was gradually consigned to a remote back burner while he got on with furthering his medical studies and career. When MS struck, Carlin’s backdrop in photography proved to be a lifesaver.
“It got me out of the house,” he says. “You know, when you get such an illness, you just want to stay at home and hide away from the world. So getting out with a camera was very important.” He immersed himself in his newly refound passion, attending all kinds of workshops and courses in order to polish his technical skills and develop his photographic perception.
The latter is a highly significant point in Carlin’s evolving visual awareness. I remarked how his lightblue glasses perfectly matched the tone of his shirt. “I have nice glasses, but I don’t see well,” he remarks. “I have double vision. That wouldn’t help me to operate on someone,” he adds with a chuckle.
But he says he has not only learned to cope with the physical constraints of his disease, but has also gleaned some sensory benefits that bypass the MS-induced limitations.
“I see more. I am more intuitive,” he notes. “I see more because I am listening more.”
That is also a product of his vastly revamped daily schedule. Carlin now works as a medical clinic manager and says he has far more time, much of which he spends with his two young children from his second wife. He also has three grownup daughters from his first wife, from whom he says he separated amicably.
“Now, when I go somewhere, I don’t just take a picture of the place,” he continues. “I sit with the people and get to know them a little bit. Now I take that time.
Before, I was a workaholic. Now, when I take pictures of dancers, I talk to them and get to know them. That’s very important in photography.”
Talking to Carlin, you are swept away on the winds of optimism and getting the best out of life. The same can be said for Danny Goren, who has a bunch of intriguing sculptures on show at Habayit, and also helps to run the place. Goren is also blessed with a beguiling sunny disposition. He contracted MS earlier than Carlin, at the age of 39. That was 16 years ago.
In a cruel twist of fate, Goren previously earned a crust as a carer for people with physical disabilities.
But he sees no irony in the role reversal.
“It wasn’t a dream job for me,” he says. “I didn’t have all sorts of qualifications, I didn’t study, and I had to keep a family, so I needed to work. That’s what I did.”
Being a carer may have been a default occupation, but Goren says that did not affect his performance.
“I did the work out of love,” he states. “I am full of optimism. I don’t dwell on things.”
Four years ago he opened his own gallery, a stone’s throw from Habayit. “When Irit came up with the idea of this place I really liked the idea. This is about art and about helping people with MS. What could be better than that?” Goren duly shut up shop and got on board the Habayit train.
He says he is happy to create his own works of art, but he says he gets an enormous amount of pleasure from selling others’ creations. “When I sell something made by someone else, and I call him, the joy I hear at the other end of the phone makes everything worthwhile.”
For Carlin and the other artists who put their creative wares out in Zichron Ya’acov – including painter Raya Lider, jewelry designer Yael Zohar, stone sculptor Rachel Katvan and papier-mâché artist Tiva Noff – Habayit is a crucially important factor in their work and their life.
The new venture in Zichron Ya’acov is an offshoot of the Multi-Disciplinary MS Rehabilitation Center (MSRC), located near the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Tzrifin, near Tel Aviv. The center also conducts research and provides therapy services.
“The gallery constitutes a first-of-its-kind initiative in Israel that will expose the public to the patients’ world, their struggles, and their life with the disease,” explains Louzon. “Taking part in a productive activity, which has a purpose, is a source of personal empowerment for the patients, which is conducive to the rehabilitation process.”
If Goren’s positive philosophy is anything to go by, Habayit is on the right track.
“You know, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles,” he posits. “You can grow to be 1.6 meters tall or 1.8 meters.
You don’t moan about it, you just get on with it.
You can’t make a lemon out of lemonade. It’s all a matter of how you look at things. You can find yourself in financial straits. If you are a pessimistic type, you won’t get far.”
Goren knows what he is talking about. “I got to a situation whereby I wasn’t able to work, so I just decided to do what I love.”
He is a helpful soul. “When I was carer, I helped people, but here you’re talking about the essence.”
He could have easily sunk into depression after contracting MS, but he is clearly made of tougher stuff.
“I went to the National Insurance people, and they were really great. I told the social worker I wanted their help to open a gallery. The doctor didn’t want to sanction it, because he knew MS is a degenerative disease, and he thought I wouldn’t be able to run a place. But the social worker agreed, and here I am today.”
Habayit exudes positive vibes. It is awash with the colors of the works on display, which cover a wide range of disciplines and styles.
“The name ‘Habayit’ was chosen because we want to give MS sufferers a home and to give them support and improve their lives on all levels – physical, emotional and socially,” says Louzon.
“This is a bit like a social support group for all of us,” says Goren. “You can feel the love and the joy here.
You can’t ask for more than that.”
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