Imagine... Yes, just imagine. Let your hair down, forget all your worries and cares – as Petula Clark trilled nigh on six decades ago in her Billboard 100-topping hit single “Downtown” – and just do your thing. That, in a nutshell, is the credo of the A-Genre Festival, taking place at the Tmu-na multidisciplinary arts center in Tel Aviv September 6-9.
Art is about creation, about stepping outside one’s comfort zone, going with the inner flow, and fashioning something new, unique, and unprecedented. But, according to Itai Doron, that sadly is not always the case these days. He suggests that is largely down to the constricting breadwinning facts on the ground. Artists should be able to shut out the corporeal-fiscal reality around them and dig into their own world to produce something fresh and genuine; but, at the end of the day, they’ve still got to pay the bills.
Doron says he and co-artistic director Dr. Erez Maayan Shalev, supported by center artistic adviser Nava Zuckerman, would like their professional counterparts just to go for broke. The festival, he proffers, is just the time and place to do that. “We all live in such a powerful reality, in art, too. At the end of the day, there are timetables and budgets, and so many constraints that the brain sometimes forgets to imagine, to think about what we can do.”
History of Tmu-na
Over the past 36 years Tmu-na has hosted all kinds of artworks that pushed the envelope as far as possible beyond the realms of mainstream entertainment, left consumers with a sense of having experienced something out of the ordinary, and sent them home with food for thought.
It started out as a fringe theater base that created plays which did the rounds of the global left-field circuit. In 1999 Tmu-na developed into a multidisciplinary center for dance, music, literature, and the fine arts. It still maintains a robust, packed performance schedule, hosting around 550 theater shows, 80 dance projects, 50 literature and poetry nights, and over 350 music events annually.
The center’s expansive credo feeds directly into this week’s event, too. Doron believes A-Genre is a much-needed beacon of unbridled artistic pursuit in a largely humdrum, bottom dollar-driven industry. He feels it not only offers consumers something different; it also serves to inspire professionals to go the extra creative yard or two. “A-Genre is a rare festival, particularly for the community of artists here, and that subsequently projects onto the audience. It sends out a call to the world. It sends out a call in terms of the content. It says, hey artists, come and respond to our declaration of intent.”
The idea is to shake things up, even if the end product is not always pretty. “We say this is our statement. Go with it, argue with it, reject it. Just come. The other line of thought is, reject this, fight it, or go with it, but don’t restrict yourselves to a single genre.” Hence the festival moniker. “We want artists to respond to us, but not in the genre they normally work in.” That should set the creative cat among the routine pigeons.
The word “imagine” is a leitmotif of the thinking behind A-Genre, and the lineup itself. Indeed, the festival is subtitled “Imagine for a moment,” and the envisaging-fantasizing theme recurs across the program. The main slot of the four-day itinerary goes by the name of “Imagine for a moment, Art,” with a three-and-a half-hour slew of shows, lectures, installations, exhibitions and other creative output that covers numerous artistic bases. Doron and his pals have really gone to town with this.
The lineup features such adventuresome folk as director, writer, and performer Danielle Cohen Levy, composer, conductor, and dancer Matan Daskal, artist Maayan Shira Hadar with her New Mythological Order offering, and Hashoteret Az-ulai. The latter is the working sobriquet of a performer called Idit – at this stage her family name remains outside the public domain – who will be instantly recognizable to people who have attended demonstrations in Jerusalem against the judicial reform. She appears as a clown version of a law enforcement officer, complete with de rigueur red nose, outdated oversized cop uniform with heart-shaped epaulets and wig, oozing goodwill and sunny disposition to all and sundry.
Doron says that serves the subversive, shake-up festival ethos. “The festival made us imagine how police clowning turns into regular practice, just like medical clowning.” That seems to be a salient point and one that might just take the edge off the protester-police interface and keep the channels of communication between opposite sides of the political, sociopolitical, religious, or any other divide open. That could help to obviate violence and enable everyone to have their say, and be listened to. “We could have clowns in the most challenging places, bringing hearts together and generating radical listening.”
It gradually dawned on Doron that having Hashoteret Az-ulai – the pseudonym is a play on the name of the protagonist in Ephraim Kishon’s iconic satirical movie The Policeman – could be a perfect fit for the Tmu-na event. He is keen to spread the good word, and there appears to be a “start-up” in the making, too.
“We are initiating the world’s first course in police clowning,” he chuckles. “We will have an enlistment table, and we will try to persuade people to join up to the Straight to the Heart Police Force.”
“Imagine for a moment, Art” covers vast tracts of creative intent. “There are 11 works in that program,” Doron explains. And there will be ample opportunity to get on board the smiling countenance train, with the event taking place on September 6, 7, and 8. “All the works are new, created for the festival, which I call imagined art.”
The subversive art plot thickens. “The works of art may not be able to exist in the real world, in the current conditions, and we use all sorts of cunning methods of scripts, imagination, mirage-like visions, which get us to think about what art is capable of doing,” as noted in the festival explanatory material.
That is very much at the core of the festival, and at the heart of the entire Tmu-na philosophy. Doron says that goes both ways, and is aimed at himself and his professional counterparts, too, not just at the public. “We wanted to remind ourselves about the actual potential – not the routine potential, but the radical element – of art. We said, let’s go all the way with this.”
Doron suggests that artists, across the board, are not only limited by financial considerations; the actual space in which they work – routine four walls and regulation ceiling height – can also stifle creative leaps of faith. He reiterates the go-with-the-flow perspective on art and life, and says the artistic directors offered carte blanche all round. “We have one work which really kicks out against the whole concept of the festival,” he notes. “That’s also important.”
The work in question is Hofa’at Ore’ah (Guest Appearance) by Danielle Cohen Levy. “We have been working with Danielle for a few years now, but she tried to imagine all kinds of things and didn’t really manage it.” In the end she attacked the theme from the opposite direction. “She said that by using her imagination she fell in love with what exists, and not with what there isn’t. She uses recordings of the work process with her. She criticizes the festival. We like that a lot!” he laughs.
Looks like the gloves are off over at Tmu-na this week, with a lineup that also includes Shachar Blumenfeld’s discourse with Russian 19th-century mathematician-philosopher Georg Cantor, an optimistic look at what this country could really become – with reference to the current reform protests – and a political, rabble-rousing and comedic look at the world of drag queens.
The public will also be drawn into the thick of the thought-provoking action, and can have their say on the creative proceedings. “Instead of printing a program, this year we decided to give all the festival attendees a notebook. We decided we want to invite the public to go through the same experience we had in putting the program together, to use their imagination, too. They can write their thoughts down about what they see at the festival. One of the events at the festival is called Starts. People can write down the first line of some crazy imagined play. Why not?”
For tickets and more information: (03) 561-1211 and www.tmu-na.org.il