Creating Dialogue

In the interest of integrating art into the broader social context, the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon considers it vital to collaborate on the local, national and international level.

‘Civil Alliance, Palestine 47- 48,’ Ariella Azoulay, 2012 52 (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Civil Alliance, Palestine 47- 48,’ Ariella Azoulay, 2012 52
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Situated on the grounds of what used to be a school, the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon comprises three interlocking buildings. The center is a hub of artistic activity that houses regular exhibitions, an extensive video archive, which is home to prominent artists such as Sigalit Landau and Yael Bartana, a radio station and an active education program.
Despite its name, the center exhibits only a token amount of digital art – its primary focus is video art.
The scene is an almost makeshift art space – buildings connected by pathways, rooms with alcoves, nooks and crannies and a basement housing the archive that provided the impetus for the latest exhibition. There is no sense of entering into a sterile museum-type space; the raw and sprawling environment is in effect the very antithesis of the standard “white cube” museum format that we now come to expect.
This lack of formality is counter-balanced by the center’s earnest, hands-on approach to an active engagement with contemporary art practices and their roles in relation to Israel’s political and social reality. The center, which is a nonprofit organization funded by the Holon Municipality, presents its organizers with a dilemma best summarized by its director and chief curator, Eyal Danon.
“How can you act and present an art program, which in many cases opposes the policies of the state, while being a public institution?” Since its establishment in 2001, as well as its aforementioned activities the center has provided a platform for Israeli, Arab and international artists and curators that has resulted in a growing network and ongoing project called “Liminal Spaces.” It was this network that indirectly led to last year’s “Picasso in Palestine” event. The center’s former director, Galit Eilat, and Charles Esche of the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands coordinated with Khaled Hourani, of the International Academy of Art Palestine in bringing a Picasso painting to the academy in Ramallah.
The painting was the first major work of art to be put on display beyond the Green Line.
Danon sees contemporary art in Israel as “marginal... a small and very uninfluential field,” but he is also aware that this grants the center more freedom to pursue its activities. “We are allowed to do more because we are power-less,” he says.
It might appear to the casual bystander that the center has an agenda.
It does, and part of this agenda is to stimulate discourse and promote engagement on political and social issues in Israeli society. Not an agenda one could consider particularly offensive.
The center’s educational program, coordinated by Ran Kasmy-Ilan, concentrates on trying to build connections with schools, youth movements and community centers and is primarily responsible for an ongoing project based in Holon’s Jesse Cohen neighborhood.
The project, which has also established a small gallery space in the area, is an attempt at integrating art into the lives of the residents in what is known to be a poor, underprivileged area.
According to Danon, “the question is how to reconnect art into the broader social context so that it can regain its position of influence. For us, it has to be through a process of collaboration.”
These collaborations take place at the local, national and international level, including regular contact with art collectives in the Balkans, an area the center developed an interest in due to similarities in the regions’ geo-political make up.
The present exhibition, titled “To Where,” is the result of a project two years in the making. It takes a look at some of the different threads of Zionism that have presented themselves over the course of the movement’s history – from the more obscure strands that manifested themselves in the early part of the 20th century up to the present day. In the process, we are asked to consider whether there have been missed opportunities and, says Danon, “do we need to rethink the whole idea of Zionism?” The search for a Jewish homeland beginning in the 19th century took place amid the growing influence of America, the “New World,” and against a backdrop of political and social upheaval in Europe.
Diaspora Jewry and, more specifically, Jewish assimilationists, who were essentially a product of the Enlightenment, were just as susceptible to the flow of ideological and nationalist tendencies that permeated Europe during this period.
These tendencies gave birth to a number of suggestions as to where this homeland should be located, most of which have now become the stuff of Zionist myth and folklore. The idea of a Jewish state in Alaska, Uganda or at Grand Island, New York, now seems hard to imagine, but such propositions were then seriously entertained and argued about. Debates, conferences and congresses were the order of the day.
Two of the personalities who played a part in these events, Joseph Otmar Hefter and Mordecai Manuel Noah, are represented in the exhibition through historical material and paraphernalia in the form of posters, photographs and postcards and, in the case of Hefter, a documentary exploring his life.
Both Hefter and Noah were renaissance men who were productive in many fields. Hefter, a sometime graphic designer, wrote a pamphlet in 1938 entitled “Room For The Jew!” in which he offered a blueprint for the workings of a Jewish state, be it in Alaska, South America or Australia. Some of the graphic work connected to his proposed movement is on display and, in conjunction with the images based around Noah, contribute a visually strong “Old World” feel to the exhibition.
Israeli artists such as Yael Bartana, Ronen Eidelman and the Public Movement art collective have been exploring ideas of “Old World” Europe in their work for some time now and adapting it to modern and, in some cases post-modern, scenarios.
Images resonant of the “Old Country” as well as of the early pioneering days of Zionism haunt the work of Bartana. Her installation, entitled Tools for Political Movement, displays photographs, flags and other insignia generated by her fictional creation, The Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland, and a short video that reads like a promotional piece for the project. The video work shows a handsome, smartly attired woman, dressed in the movement’s uniform, set against a blood-red backdrop. The woman speaks in German, is accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack and exhorts Jews to return to Poland.
Bartana is playing with notions of power and propaganda and the fascist overtones of the piece are unmistakable – whether or not she is being ironic, the effect is chilling.
Striking a somewhat softer note in her work titled The Sun Glows Over The Mountains, Nurit Sharett traces the role that her grandfather, Moshe, played in Israeli public life. Interspersed with landscape shots reflecting a stillness so at odds with this country’s daily life and through recollections and reminiscences of his former colleagues and the film-maker’s parents, a portrait is drawn suggesting that the present State of Israel is a very different place from what they imagined or wished for.
Particularly moving in this work are the scenes with Sharett’s parents, who were both in the Palmah and helped to found a kibbutz in the South and have seen many changes take place in the state’s history first-hand.
Two other works of note contribute to what is a strong and multi-layered exhibition: Michael Zupramer’s Heb 2 and Ariella Azoulay’s Civil Alliance Palestine 47-48. Azoulay’s work is a convincing, staged recreation based on a series of meetings that took place between Jews and Arabs in Mandatory Palestine. Filmed in documentary- like fashion, the work does not attempt to offer any solutions, merely to relate that there were significant instances of solidarity between two peoples – instances that have now become forgotten pieces of local history.
Accompanying the exhibition is a free, well-written and nicely illustrated program presented in newspaper format.
"To Where” runs until July 14. For more information: