A wildfire of art in Tel Aviv

Hundreds of exhibitions are on display in he citywide Month of Art, incorporating the Art TLV biennale.

It's a Thursday night in Tel Aviv and the sparks areliterally flying - outside the Engel Gallery on Gordon Street, artistJack Jano is using a blowtorch to put the finishing touches on hisinstallation, "SoferStam" (Torah scribe). Art enthusiasts mill about,sipping wine and watching from a safe distance. The brave dart pastJano and enter the gallery to explore.
A sandy path leads the viewer through heaps ofHebrew, forged from iron. The metal is rusted and, in some spots,coated with a green patina; the font is reminiscent of ancient script.From the piles of letters, words emerge, lying prone on the ground orstanding proudly, rising from the surrounding babble. The viewer stepsaround "emet" (truth), then walks past a large "shema" (hear) - the first word of the "Shema Yisrael"prayer. Following the trail through the Hebrew language, the viewerfeels the gravity of the Jewish people's history and religion in thisshared heritage.
Jano continues to play the role of wordsmith in a videoinstallation in the gallery's inner room. In an endless loop, theartist appears before the viewer on half a dozen screens, in half adozen disguises, prattling away in multiple languages.
While the metalwork seems to assert the importance of language,the video seems to question this same assumption. The viewer is leftdisoriented, and certain, perhaps, of only one thing - Tel Aviv isanchoring its place on the contemporary art scene.
Jano's exhibition is just one of hundreds on displayduring the Month of Art in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The citywide art month,which is a part of Tel Aviv's centennial celebrations and incorporatesArt TLV, began on September 10. That Thursday evening, more than 80galleries, studios and exhibition spaces - from Jaffa to north Tel Aviv- opened their doors in the spirit of ohavim omanut ("LovingArt"), the theme of the festivities. Tel Avivians and internationalstook to the streets, clutching neon green and white maps dotted withparticipating venues.
The flurry of art events - which include works from the worldover - points to Israel's desire for recognition on the internationalart stage. But this doesn't mean the Israeli scene has lost a localflavor. Rather, Israeli art retains a unique tension that comes fromgazing toward the outside world while simultaneously peering in at ourown country.
Kishon Gallery's group show "Foreign Memories"perfectly fuses both impulses, offering the contemplations of threeyoung artists who are pulled toward other places, physical andemotional: Zero Cents, an American who makes his home in Israel; Klone,a Ukrainian-born Israeli; and Haim Mark, an Israeli who left thereligious community as a teenager.
Mark's work examines the conflict between the traditional worldof his childhood and his own creative impulses. While the two sides areat odds, Mark can reject neither. Mark's attraction to art was born ofthe rigid environment of the yeshiva he attended as a boy. Hisrelationship with art also began with the yeshiva, in the most literalsense, as he broke into it at night to draw on its walls.
Although creativity offered Mark escape, it also pushed himfurther toward the edges of society. Today Mark, left with a deep,abiding appreciation of the values of the religious community, remainsdisplaced in the secular world.
That continued tension is apparent in Mark's work. A tallit -splashed with wine that reminds the viewer of spilled blood - isstuffed into a tight box. Not only is the tallit stained, but thebeauty of the fabric is undermined and contorted by the casing aroundit.
"Foreign Memories" also introduces the viewer to work that is sometimes regarded as alien to the gallery world - street art.
Using spray paint and acrylic on wooden boards, Zero Centsbrings his trademark backward writing and visceral, monstrous imagesindoors to Kishon Gallery, located on Rehov Frug. A skeletal figure,its eye sockets empty, stares at the viewer. Its teeth extend farbeyond the edges of its jaw, seeming to devour the composition. Thebottom half of the board is awash in pink, save for the word "nothing,"which is scrawled in white from right to left. Zero Cents's work isalso currently on display at the Haifa Museum of Art.
Klone's creatures are well-known to Tel Avivians, who have seenthem wheat-pasted on the sides of buildings throughout the city.Occasionally the figures have snouts, elongated ears and sharp claws.At times their oddities are more subtle - an image that, at firstglance, seems human is infused with small changes, mutations thatrender them animal-like and that only surface when the viewer studiestheir form.
When confronted by these creatures - whether on the street orin the gallery - the viewer is forced to consider how to relate tothem. Are they beast? Are they man? Or are they something otherworldly?
"I was striving to make a new species," Klone comments. "I wasmixing the animals we call predators with humans - the other kind ofpredator, and a much more dangerous one."
Humans, Klone explains, are destroying each other and their environment.
"There's a need for some kind of evolution," he says.
Though Klone's work may seem to look ahead, it often includesRussian words and phrases, a reminder of his childhood in the Ukraine.
SIMILARLY, ART TLV 2009 offers meditations on the past and present while keeping an eye trained on the future.
This spirit is perhaps best embodied by the display at thehistoric Mani House. Located on Rehov Yehuda Halevi, the Mani House wascompleted in 1913, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Thefirst owner was a Jewish resident of Palestine, Shlomo Barsky. In 1930,Rabbi Yitzhak Malchiel Mani, the first Jewish judge of the SupremeCourt in Palestine during the British Mandate, purchased the home.
The exhibition there, simply titled "Second Show: ContemporaryArt from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem," bridges history and theimmediate.
Upon entering, viewers are greeted with Efrat Natan's iron"Swing of the Scythe." The sculpture is composed of more than a dozenscythes, joined to form a semi-circle that mimics an arcing movement.The tool and the suggested motion invoke the mythological imagery ofthe kibbutz, filled with hearty pioneers swinging the scythe as theywork the land. But the sharp metal is menacing, as well, reminding theviewer of the Grim Reaper's harvest.
Upstairs, on the second floor, is Ori Gersht's videoinstallation, "Pomegranate." Initially the image, which is a revisionof a 17th-century still life by Spanish artist Juan Sanchez Cotan,appears to be static. But the pomegranate, a fruit commonly associatedwith both the Middle East and Rosh Hashana, bursts suddenly, suggestingthe region's volatility.
"Second Show" also includes a variety of workfrom prominent international artists, as do Art TLV's otherexhibitions. Three hundred artists from both Israel and abroad areparticipating in the event, which is the flagship of the Month of Art.Art TLV offers viewers 10 exhibitions, including the one at Mani House.
Art TLV was launched in 2008 by four prominent figures from theIsraeli art scene: Irit Zomer, Yehudit Haviv, Rivka Saker and ShifraShalit Intrator. In the future, the event will be presented everysecond year to coincide with the Athens and Istanbul biennials, forminga local corner in the Mediterranean art triangle.
For a full list of events related to the Month of Art in TelAviv-Jaffa, including information about Art TLV, see www.tlv100.co.il.
Art TLV was launched in 2008 by four prominent figures from theIsraeli art scene: Irit Zomer, Yehudit Haviv, Rivka Saker and ShifraShalit Intrator. In the future, the event will be presented everysecond year to coincide with the Athens and Istanbul biennials, forminga local corner in the Mediterranean art triangle.
For a full list of events related to the Month of Art in TelAviv-Jaffa, including information about Art TLV, see www.tlv100.co.il.