Border Patrols – Journey Log / Avital Barak

In the course of 2019, a group of artists, curators, and researchers gathered in the Institute for Public Presence at the Center for Digital Art (CDA) in Holon. The group’s aim was to identify, mark, and research the various spatial borders currently existing in Israel. The liminality of border spaces brings with it high potential for action and creativity that deviate from the mechanisms of order and control, and thus summon performances and interactions that cannot exist in the (geographic, social, and economic) center. In the course of the year, we went on a series of liminal tours: in textual, aesthetic-political, and geographic-social spaces.

This issue constitutes a journey log of the group’s border patrols; it does not seek to draw conclusions, but rather to document and describe processes, thoughts, and out-of-the-ordinary encounters that took place during the different tours. In search of the gestures, the movements and the cracks that typify liminal spaces, and invite artistic interventions, we visited the Status Quo spaces of the holy sites in Israel/Palestine, the urban seamlines of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, mediumal borders, and colonial/national conflict sites.

Our point of departure was a project of gathering-journeying around borders, titled Liminal Spaces, which took place from 2006 to 2009 in conjunction with the CDA. The project was a collaboration between Palestinian, Israeli, and international artists, curators and researchers, that took place in Israel, Palestine, and Germany, and explored the intermediate spaces of living, doing, and action which are increasingly divided and separated by walls, roadblocks, and ideologies.

In an attempt to understand the restricted, segregated, and torn time and space in which we currently live, the present group sought out the meeting points, the liminal spaces, through which we may understand, again and differently, the current reality, our possibilities for action, and the collaborations still taking place in spite of impossible political conditions. The Liminal Spaces project of a decade ago engaged extensively with theories of time and space, which were at the height of their conceptualization in our milieu at the time. The engagement with space and time has, of course, not ceased, but our perspective (both theoretical and actual) has evolved and changed, even though in many respects the possibilities have been reduced.

The group’s first tour outside the CDA in Holon was to an exhibition that represented Israel at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018, and was then shown at Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

#1 Visit to In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation

Exhibition curators: Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Ifat Finkelman, Oren Sagiv, Tania Coen-Uzzielli

The holy spaces in Israel/Palestine can be viewed as generating intersections, as some sort of geographic, spiritual, political chakras that create upheavals in the local reality of life. Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation used architectural tools to present and research five holy spaces that hold religious significance and meaning for the three monotheistic religions, and discussed the violent political volatility of the struggle over the sites: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Rachel’s Tomb, The Cave of the Patriarchs, The Western Wall, The Mughrabi Ascent (Temple Mount).

The Status Quo is a system of mechanisms, agreements, and arrangements that organize and regulate movement in, possession of, and access to these spaces. It is, in effect, a system that runs parallel to state politics, and maintains a rigid, yet dynamic, web of connections, regulations, and agreements that curb the volatile, violent potential inherent in them, and enable conflicting groups to live side by side. Throughout the site’s history, moments when the Status Quo is broken have been attended by outbreaks of violence, but the periods of calm between them are always accompanied by constant and dynamic negotiation over its borders and validness.[1]

The holy sites in Israel and Palestine were an excellent point of departure for our research; since we did not intend to physically tour the local holy spaces, we seized the opportunity to tour their artistic, architectural representations. The Status Quo itself is a border space, the same liminal attributes apply to it too, and, consequently, there is a potential in it too, at times explosive, at times surprising (in a good way), for encounters, collaborations, and alliances that could not have existed otherwise. The holy spaces themselves function as border spaces, and constitute, in different periods and under different regimes, meeting places with amplified creative potential.

visit at “Statu Quo” Exhibition, photo: Udi Edelman

The group’s next tour engaged with the encounter between artistic action and border spaces on a number of layers.

#2 Tour in the North – Cabri: Atelier Shemi, The Gottesman Etching Center, Jewish-Arab Collective Gallery in the Galilee; Nazareth: Masar Association

The tour to Kibbutz Cabri was organized and led by Michal BarOr and Avshalom Suliman following their collaborative artwork Nahar (River). Nahar engages with the question of “source”, and raises the tension between natives and settlers to the surface through the stories of members of Kibbutz Cabri, which was established after they were forced to abandon their first settlement, Beit HaArava, during the 1948 War. Employing practices of imitation, replication, cutting, and pasting, BarOr and Suliman addressed the multiplicity of narratives, the clashing sources, and the cracks in the ostensibly monolithic myth of Zionist halutziut (pioneering).

In Cabri, the tour began with a visit to the atelier of artist Yechiel Shemi, and the tension between the Canaanite ideology to which he subscribed early in his career, and the Zionist halutziut ideology that represents the mindset of the place today. In the etching workshop, all the divisions between geosocial center and periphery collapsed when we discovered that Israel’s most notable artists pilgrimage to the workshop in Cabri, which is considered a center and an authority. In the Collective Gallery, the issue of collaboration between Jewish and Arab artists resurfaced, under which conditions is it possible, and under which organizing story.

In Nazareth, we met with Masar Association director Ibrahim Abu Elheija, and his life partner, artist Manar Zoabi. Manar participated in the Liminal Spaces project, so we were interested to meet her now, a decade later, to understand how she sees action in liminal spaces today. Masar Association was founded in the late 1990s with the aim of creating an educational alternative for Palestinian children in Nazareth and its environs that would not be dependent on the content or funding of the Israel Ministry of Education.[2] In the past twenty years, the Association has grown and expanded, and its school currently caters to first- to twelfth-grade students. The Association engages in education and research, and encourages community involvement that supports Palestinian society both locally and countrywide. The encounter with Ibrahim and Manar was enlightening and inspiring, and reopened the question regarding the possibility for joint action, but also highlighted the limitations and conditions under which such collaboration can occur.

al-Nahr village ruins, photo: Avital Barak

Although our next tour took place in Israel’s geographic center, from a cultural, social, and political perspective, it couldn’t be more liminal.

#3 Tour to Tel Aviv Central Bus Station

The tour was led by Hila Harel, who, as part of her regular activities, leads alternative tours in south Tel Aviv in general, and the Central Bus Station in particular. When it was built in 1993, after decades of plans that didn’t materialize, it was the world’s biggest bus station. It was meant to become a thriving business center that would transform the impoverished neighborhood into a local mini-downtown. However, instead of the white giant “elevating” the neighborhood, it only compounded its decline. Over the years, when it transpired that neither passengers nor the city’s residents were frequenting the new shopping mall, the stores emptied, and were gradually abandoned. The vast maze changed its look a number of times, and today its active parts constitute a parallel world inhabited by a rich diversity of the world’s cultures that have gathered in Israel in the form of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and local residents who do not have the seal of approval of the Israeli melting pot. Drifting, or perhaps getting lost, along the corridors of the station leads to small but diverse Asian food outlets, stores selling clothes from Africa, a South American dating board. A miniature metropolis, hidden from view, where diversity does not cause friction, but enables existence. Between the various cultural representations, one can also find artistic interventions, some guerilla, creative eruptions of protest, some commissioned, as part of the real estate deal – art of the familiar.

Situated on the top floor, after a row of subsidized studios, just after the foreign workers’ clinic, and the Unitaf kindergartens, is YUNG YiDiSH, a world within a world within a world that barely exists anymore. YUNG YiDiSH is a culture center, a magnificent library, a conservation project, or perhaps the revival of a forgotten language and culture, which, like all the other languages spoken in the Central Bus Station, does not belong to the governing hegemonic space. The possibility for Yiddish to exist in the Central Bus Station is a wonderful example of the possibilities, at times bizarre, that exist in liminal spaces. The parallel universe in the Central Bus Station is key to understanding the augmented border space reality, wherein the term “multiplicity” in its diverse hues is accorded the simple meaning of existing together, side by side, different kinds of neighbor interactions, collaborations, encounters. Maybe we shouldn’t be fighting for its demolition after all. The vast tract of land on which it is built will immediately become another piece of prime real estate. There is no question that this space is living on borrowed time, but while there is no agreement on the fate of the Central Bus Station, hiding under its faded concrete skirts are fascinating and inspiring performances of living.

In this issue, you will also find the textual wandering of Iris Pshedezki following a tour she led along Jerusalem’s mental-spatial seamline, and her video work that traces poetic wanderings along Israel’s borders; an essay by Hagar Ophir on a journey into a mystical, historical, performative space; and a monologue by May Zarhy about the space between darkness and light, between body and space, and between mediums and her choreographic practices. A conversation between Michal BarOr and her father, architect Amnon Bar Or, reveals the Freudian palimpsest of the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv, where the group went for its final tour of the project. Hila Harel’s perception of what there is receives anti-capitalist expression full of joie de vivre in the poetic text by Sharon Kantor. In the series of collages by Noa Reshef, reality and fiction, history and conspiracy, intermix and challenge the “professional” and “rational” assumptions of archeologists and other experts regarding the origins of the human species. Yoni Niv examines the borders of representation in a new media installation, which is based on the works and life circumstances of composer Yossi Mar Haim and his life partner, artist Michal Naaman. The photographs by Dan Lahiani present the water seamline crossing Graz in Austria, creating a dynamic liminal space that disrupts the city’s tranquil everyday life routines. Thalia Hoffman’s trail marking project invites us to challenge and disrupt the region’s political borders by creating potential trails that someday might help us to travel to Lebanon for a visit. This issue hosts Adi Sorek with a poetic urban text about a City of Shelter, its meanings, and surprising manifestations.

tour at T.A central bus station, photo: Avital Barak

Heartfelt thanks to all the members of the group, and the guests who joined us in fascinating encounters.

Adam Aboulafia, Amnon Bar Or, Michal BarOr, Daphna Ben-Shaul, Eyal Danon, Noga Davidson, Yasmin Davis, Tzfia Dgani, Udi Edelman, Vardit Gross, Tzvika Gutter, Hila Harel, Thalia Hoffman, Dan Lahiani, Ilanit Konopny, Tamar Latzman, Yoni Niv, Hagar Ophir, Iris Pshedezki, Noa Reshef, Eran Sachs, Avshalom Suliman, Avigail Surovich, Meir Tati, Ido Tsarfaty, May Zarhy.

main image: from “untitled” by May Zarhi, photo: David Kaplan

translated by: Margalit Rodgers

[1] For more on the exhibition, see the curators’ article: “In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation”, Volume # 54, 2018, http://volumeproject.org/in-statu-quo-structures-of-negotiation/

[2] In 1996, a group of Arab activists and parents from Nazareth embarked on a protracted process that ultimately led to the opening of the first class in an alternative educational institution in 1999. http://www.masar-edu.org/