Moav revisited- an Interview with Hadas Kedar / Anna Bromley and Ofri Lapid

The following interview with curator Hadas Kedar was conducted in response to our visit to Arad in May 2018. The visit was part of an exchange program between doctoral researchers of the Academy of Fine Arts, Hamburg (Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Hamburg) and the Institute for Public Presence, Holon. The objective of our program was to examine the notion of Public Presence in relation to German and Israeli artistic practices, through an intermediated and reflective exploration of marginal sites, monuments and local landmarks. As art practitioners and theoreticians engaging in sightseeing, we were attuned to the landscape’s innate bearing on the course of our experience, while reciprocally it being sculpted by our own movement- a group of tourists- re-defining and affirming its stature.

With the understanding that when one travels the land one complies to its predetermined routes, we wished to explore scales of participation or resistance, outlining the fringes of sight and of site. Kedar’s work in ‘Arad Contemporary Art Center, her guidance through the city of Arad and its architectonic landmarks, Mizpor public sculpture by Igael Tumarkin being the last of them, lead us through some of these ambivalent perspectives.

Anna Bromley and Ofri Lapid (AB & OL):

In a recent essay, geo-philosopher Giusy Checola outlines that the theory of territorialization which investigates the construction of the binary system of nature versus human presence had formed in the debates of the 1980`s and 1990`s and thus coincides with the national institutionalizing of site-specificity in public art projects, most specifically in the US. These two tendencies are entangled within the “geographical humanistic project”, and it`s production of “new meanings of place, – such as buildings, monuments, neighborhoods, agricultural areas, and forest”. Becoming special signs, these “settle into our sphere of existence and in cultural heritage. So the landscape is no longer taken as a territory, it no longer exists in and of itself but (…) (it) exists because human communities have characterized places with symbols and values”.[1]

Last year, you curated an exhibition that revolved around Igael Tumarkin`s iconic monument Mizpor – a  South-Israeli landmark from 1968.[2] You can take this monument as precisely an examination of the recharacterization of the landscape by means of ever moving symbols and values. It articulates enormity, or massiveness, being almost unremovable from the Negev-scape. Like many other Israeli monuments from the 1960`s and 1970’s, it can`t be overlooked – but it can be – one way or another refunctionalized as a kind of dwelling for different desires. Rumor has it that teenagers frequent some of the monuments from this time period and make them love nests.

Hadas Kader (HK):

I’m glad you initiated this conversation with Giusy Checola’s text. I find that her comprehension of the roots of institutional interest in socially engaged art and place-making profound. As a cultural producer in a small city, I reflect upon the role that art in public space (or in Checola’s words–place-specificity) plays in our community. Checola traces back the roots of current place-specificity to the land art and artist-led place-making of the 1960’s. These developed side-by-side, with the geographic theory of territorialisation, the theory that deals with “investigating how the relationship between human communities and nature grow and evolve…”.[3] Both the artistic land interventions and the geographic theories seemed to develop from a strong need for presence of mankind in the land.

During the research of the public, environmental sculpture Mizpor , I was interested in how it’s ethos was connected to the Zionist quest to ‘bloom the desert’ – a declared intention of Zionism to geographically disperse its population in order to appear as a frontier and the gradual etherification and jewishification of the Negev desert.[4] Tumarkin’s sculpture was not built as a monument. It was not an emblem of a military action–as were the numerous monuments of the time – and was not necessarily involved in actively occupying land. Nonetheless it is difficult for me not to connect its enormity, it’s massive presence, with Zionism’s occupying ethos.

The research question that accompanied “Jubilee Year for Mizpor in Arad” traced the DNA that first appeared with the first generation of Israeli land and how it evolved in the work of second and third generation of artist (born after 1980). What I found was a myriad of methods in which the younger generation dealt with the occupying presence and the territorial dominance of first generation Israeli sculpture. The main methodology I deciphered was a strong inclination to deconstruct the enormity and occupying presence of the original sculptural work. The female artists that dominated the exhibition turned to media such as animation, photography and video which displayed an immaterial approach to this inclination of deconstruction.

The temporality of new media served a contrast to the massive, everlasting presence of Tumarkin’s sculpture in Arad. Two video works that were exhibited, “Kiss a Sculpture” by Alona Weiss and “Moav” by Yarden and Omer Halperin were uncannily similar. Both videos documented feminine bodily interventions before, underneath and upon the sculpture.[5] The artists chose to deal with the solid, masculine presence of the piece with a playful approach that included acro-yoga and arobic exercises. By physically interacting with the sculpture – jumping, laying, stretching – their engagment with the sculpture’s dominant presence depicted the younger generation’s frisky and mischievous approach to the Israeli first generation sculptural legacy.

AB & OL:

Mizpor Moav, 2011, Vered Navon

One work, in your exhibition catalogue, particularly caught our eye: In a photograph by Vered Navon a beduin child and a donkey rest on the monument, a scene from everyday life. In this, the monument seems entirely appropriated, or integrated in the everyday practice of the local inhabitants. In the catalog, Navon accompanies her photo with a personal text: “In our story, the strong mother is walking by foot, while the children sit on donkeys, this is the way in which they are making the long way down to their village in a godforsaken place.”[6] The form of her writing, a sort of a reflection which resembles a diary entry, does not claim to represent a single all-inclusive truth but rather expresses the possibility of different yet coexisting interpretations, as it suggests one of many scenarios. She also writes about them crossing the “borders of civilization”, as the monument being its last landmark.

HK:

The location of Mizpor was  specifically chosen by Tumarkin due to its strategic setting at the edge of the city of Arad, which is on the Eastern edge of the Negev desert, overlooking Jordan. Navon’s camera captures the tension that lies in the meeting point between the city and the desert; between traditional and modernized; Bedouin and Western typologies.

In the text that accompanies the photograph, Navon describes the mother of the boy depicted in the photo. She is a “strong mother”  – one that guides the boy and his donkey back to the Bedouin village. The mother is not in the frame but she is sensed with an all-encompassing presence. She is mother-earth. The link that ties the boy to his ancestral land.

Navon’s camera captures the Westernized, urban gaze on a rooted and antique presence in the desert. The text comes to an end with a linguistic paradox: in Hebrew, the same term is used for a ‘canyon’ and a shopping mall. For Navon this paradox clasps the contrast between the city and its residents and desert dwellers and the nature surrounding them.

AB & OL:

There is another photography that we wondered about. It is from the Zaz Performance Festival 2017: Yeuk To, an artist from Hong Kong is tilting the ground in a miniature–but the miniature is a reflection in a glass.[7] For us, belittling the monument denotes the notion of the ”cute” in the writing of Sianne Ngai, in which she claims the cute as a integral category linked to modernity, and undermining the interesting, which is tied to the nervousness of the circulation of information. The cute, as Ngai argues, is connected to intimacy as in the writings of Gertrude Stein. Moreover, it calls for objects–cute objects: Objects, which we deem as passive, enticing a desire to cuddle, and at the same time sadistic desires for mastery and control. The cute employs the surface of harmlessness, and the lowbrow to resist and to redefine dominant aesthetic normatives.[8]

To Yeuk, “A part in our life II”, 2017 photo: Doron Orgil

HK:

The performance artist, Yeuk To, is seen in the foreground of the photograph tilting her head holding a glass on her ear. In the background the sculpture by Tumarkin. The monument is seen minimized through the glass. The notion of “cute” as discussed by Sianne Ngai is interesting in context of this photograph. Cuteness arouses everyday emotions such as empathy, curiosity, enjoyment. Ngai discusses how everyday emotions can become the beginnings of aesthetic judgment. In Yeuk To’s performance and it’s photo-documentation, the simple emotions that arise serve as an alternative to the massively large sculpture. Their simplicity provides the viewer an alternative aesthetic route that transcribes the sculpture a mundane presence.

AB & OL:

In your essay MAMAD Art, you stress the ambivalence inscribed into many Israeli households: Analyzing lifestyle and interior advisers, you describe the attempt to camouflage the constant Israeli state of emergency, that leads to the apartment shelter, that the Israeli building guidelines implant in every building.[9] It`s all about not recognizing that room as a potential shelter in an emergency situation, but to put it to use as something else: a storage, a studio, a library–as if it was a calm, mild, and gentle place for intimacy. In how far would you say that the binary of emergency/intimacy is implicated in the history of Israeli monuments, if at all? Is the repurposing of the monument not also a way of camouflaging the state of emergency of the past, and maybe of the present?

HK:

Monuments are constructed in order to commemorate those who have paid the price of the ongoing conflict in this area. Art is employed in monuments in order to demonstrate the significance of the sacrifice of the soldiers’ lives. In contrast, the art that adorns the walls of the bomb shelter – whether wall paintings or figurines  – is there in order to disguise the emergency situation and the ongoing threat on Israel’s households. Art in the bomb shelter camouflages its’ threatening features so that  house-members are  not constantly reminded of the fiercely truth that a price must be paid to for this area to stay quiet.

In the case of monuments, art relays a forlorn message of the toll of war. In the case of the bomb shelter, art is a veil on the threat to the peaceful intimacy of a household.

AB & OL:

Following our line of thought in contextualizing and revisiting heritage, we were reminded of one of your photographs: A naked women`s body formed the nose of the face of Herzl – the “brain”, who conceived Israel–drawn on a wall.

HK:

The photograph “What’s up a man’s nose?” (2005), a is documentation of a performance piece. Lying upon the graffiti-sprayed nose-less profile of the founder of the state of Israel, Theodor Herzl, my body makes up his nose. It is a paraphrase on the poster “What’s on a man’s mind?” that shows a woman’s naked body upon Freud’s profile. It touches on our mutual patriarchal history. The photograph was part of my solo exhibition “Health” (2005) that was shown at the Artist’s House in Tel Aviv – Yaffa. The exhibition dealt with biographical and national father-figures: my father and my father’s great uncle, Theodor Herzl.

“What’s up a man’s nose?” 2005, Hadas Kedar, C-print, variable dimensions

This artwork played a big part in my biography. It was at this time that I decided to devote myself almost solely to activism. I was reading Herzl’s diary and identified with his inner clash between activism (to found a state) and art (to write about it). At this point I found myself completely immersed with human-rights and social change issues. I co-founded Parrhessia, an Israeli-Palestinian collaborative group of artists and educators that worked with organizations to promote their political agenda through visual communication.

Coming back to the artwork “What’s up a man’s nose?” This photograph connects a myriad of issues that are relevant to growing up in Israel and belonging to the family of Herzl. . I chose to perform this piece on a wall because it has a strong political connotation in the Israeli discourse  I chose a specific wall that was at the time the neglected south of Tel Aviv – Yaffa. My naked body contrasted with the surrounding architecture and emphasized the sensitivity of the feminist subject in the patriarchal system of Zionism.[10]

AB & OL:

Isn`t there still a burning question: What if instead of repurposing the symbolism of monuments, we would opt for tearing them off the ground?

HK:

I follow the global de-colonization movement and especially the de-colonization of monuments. I believe it is high time that the the residents of the state of Israel lose their sentimentality and nostalgia towards Israeli monuments. We must teach ourselves to avoid celebrating art that perpetuates the conflict and to promote land art, such as Mizpor by Tumarkin, with an aesthetic rather than a militant ethos. It is not easy eradicate the aesthetic qualities of monuments – their enormity, massiveness, geometric shapes – but I strongly believe that this liberation will allow a new form of land art will fill the space.

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During group visit in Arad, 2018 “Israeli and german perspectives to Public presence. Photo: Birgit Schlieps

About the authors:

Anna Bromley develops exhibitions, installations, performances, texts, radio conversations and plays. Her interest is aimed primarily at breaches and interruptions in/of representative ways of speaking and talking. Her work has been presented at: documenta14 Kassel, HKW Berlin, Musrara Mix Jerusalem, depot Wien, Schauspiel Dortmund, nGbK Berlin, Fondazione Arthur Cravan Milan, City Museum Ljubljana, and Kampnagel Hamburg. Since 2010 she also conceives and produces curatorial formats – mainly in non-hierarchic collectives and collaborations – dealing Central European ways of disziplining body and psyche, and ways to circumvent dominant techniques of the self. The anthologies Glossar inflationärer Begriffe (Glossary of inflationary terms, Berlin 2013, Mexiko City 2014) and Jokebook (Berlin 2015) arised from her curatorial research groups.

Bromley`s radio practice is rooted in the community radio reboot.fm in Berlin. During her year-long fellowship at the nGbK Berlin, she presently organizes collective radio experiments exploring the radical democratic curatorial practice of the nGbK.

Annabromley.com

Ofri Lapid’s visual and text-based work explores the social and economic agencies that are invested in the making of cultural heritage and their interrelations in academic research, in field work and in the museum realm. Her work manifests in various mediums; video, photography, performance and installation, mainly based on a site specific practice which transpires in collaboration with and in relation to the local community, such as in Gold Digger, rural Bulgaria, Partapur Showcase, Rajasthan and the Trading Pasts in the Peruvian Amazon. Her work was exhibited among others in Bangkok Biennial,, Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof, nGbK Berlin, Casa O’higgins Lima and currently in the Sculpture Park in Madhavendra Palace, Jaipur and was published in various publications most recently in “Archive Dekolonialisieren”, and “Jalta Journal”.

Hadas Kedar is an artist/curator based in Tel Aviv and Arad ( Negev desert). She is a PhD Candidate at the Research Platform for Curatorial and Cross-disciplinary Cultural Studies, Department of Art at the University of Reading (UK) with the Postgraduate Programme in Curating (Zurich). She is a lecturer in the Visual and Material Culture Department, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design; The Kibbutzim College and at Sapir Academic Centre.

Kedar is  the founder of ‘Hahar 6’ Art Institute (f.2018); ‘Arad Art and Architecture’ International Residency Program (f. 2014); Arad Center for Contemporary Art (f.2016) and ‘Nuzhaa Youth Gallery’ (f. 2011), Jaffa.

She curates exhibitions and residencies that explore the linkage between art, architecture and land-use. As an artist, she participated in exhibitions worldwide, including Camden Arts Centre ifa Gallery (Berlin + Bonn) and Israel Museum. Kedar organized and presented in academic conferences, including:  ‘Collecting and Provenance’ (2016, Israel Museum); ‘Art, Money and Power’ (2013, Tel Aviv Museum of Art)  and ‘Warsaw Under Construction’ (2015, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw). She is a recipient of the Artist in the Community (2014-2016) and the Creative Encouragement (2012) prizes from the Israeli Ministry of Culture.

The project „German and Israeli Perspectives to ‚Public Presence’” was supported by a grant from the Stiftung Deutsch-Israelisches Zukunftsforum | קרן פורום העתיד גרמניה – ישראל

And Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Hamburg

[1] Giusy Checola: The Imaginary Institution of Place. In: The Understanding Territoriality Project (Eds.): Understanding Territoriality: Identity, Place and Possession, Fabrica: Brighton, 2017, https://understandingterritoriality.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/the-imaginary-institution-of-place.pdf, (25-33), p.26f. Retrieved 28.09.2017.

[2] Jubilee Year For Mitzpor Arad, Exhibition with contributions by Tal Alperstein, Yarden Halperin, Omer Halperin, Laura Kirshnbaum, Roy Menachem Markovich, Guy Nissenhaus, Chen Serfaty, Goni Riskin, Igael Tumarkin, and Alona Weiss. Curator: Hadas Kedar, Arad Contemporary Art Center, December 8, 2017 – February 11, 2018.

[3] Giusy Checola: The Imaginary Institution of Place. In: The Understanding Territoriality Project (Eds.): Understanding Territoriality: Identity, Place and Possession, Fabrica: Brighton, 2017, https://understandingterritoriality.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/the-imaginary-institution-of-place.pdf, (25-33), p.27f. Retrieved 28.09.2017.

[4] Zvi Efrat, The Politics of New Towns, The Israeli Project : Building and Architecture 1948-1973, following an exhibition at Tel Aviv Museum of Art 2004

[5] Alona Weiss: Kiss a Statue, 2016, http://alonaweiss.com/kiss-a-statue/. Yarden and Omer Hailperin: Moav, Video: 2:55 mins., https://vimeo.com/133881405. Uploaded 9.07.2015. Retrieved 7.11.2018.

[6] Vered Navon: a woman, three children, two donkeys and a desert. Jubilee for Mizpor Arad, exhibition catalog, Arad Contemporary Art Center, 2017. (translation from Hebrew: Ofri Lapid)

[7] Jubilee for Mizpor Arad, exhibition catalog, Arad Contemporary Art Center, 2017

[8] Sianne Ngai: Our Aesthetic Categories. Zany, Cute, Interesting. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 2012. For an excerpt, see: Sinne Ngai: Zany, Cute, Interesting. In: The Margins, Feb.2, 2013. https://aaww.org/our-aesthetic-categories-zany-cute-interesting/.

[9] Hadas Kedar: Mamad Art. In: Ran Kasmy-Ilan: Good Grief. Roy Menachem Markovich. Artists Residence Herzliya: Herzliya, 2017, pp. 4-8.

[10] For exhibition views, see: https://sites.google.com/site/kedarhadas/health. Retrieved, 7.11.2018.