Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meeting at the Well: Israeli Artists Examine Water

Lab 2.0 5/19/2015 by Susan WeinbergOur lab session today explored our theme of water as it relates to Israel and the ways in which Israeli art deals with this theme that is so central to Israeli life.

Phil Rosenbloom and Suzanne Fenton began the session with a quick view of artworks they had gathered by Israeli artists that relate to water. As they showed the image briefly we were to write one word that came to mind. That was our introduction to a variety of work to which we returned later in the session.

We then surveyed some of the leading artists who deal with themes of water. One of the most fascinating has to be Sigalit Landau. She views her work as a bridge maker and uses not only water as a medium, but salt, a central image of the Dead Sea. We viewed several videos of her work.

Salted Lake uses shoes as metaphor, shoes constructed of salt from the Dead Sea. These shoes are then placed on a frozen lake in Gdansk, Poland and through time-lapse photography she captures them as they melt and "drown" in the water. The sounds of the port change to a cold whistling wind as day turns to night and the shoes slowly sink. It reminded several of us of the Budapest memorial of shoes along the Danube.

Another work by Landau is titled Dead See and presents an aerial view of a raft of watermelons floating on the Dead Sea as they slowly unwind. In the midst is the naked body of the artist as she reaches to several watermelons that are sliced open, exposed as she is to the stinging salt.

In Mermaids she presents a video of three nude women on the border between Gaza and Israel scratching the sand as they are pulled back into the water. Slowly their woman-made created border disappears.

Other work that we viewed included Yaacov Agam's Fire and Water Fountain at Dizengoff Square and the Dale Chihuly sculpture of Fire and Water at the Aish HaTorah World Center at the Western Wall.

We examined water issues in Israel and the resolve to innovate to address the perennial shortage. The Sea of Galilee accounts for 30% of drinking waters supplemented by aquifers, reservoirs, groundwater and desalination plants. Groundwater comes from two main aquifers, the Coastal aquifer and the Mountain aquifer. Both lie under the Palestinian territory, in Gaza and the West Bank respectively. More than half of Israel's total natural water originates outside of its borders in Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank.

Alexander Kushnir, Head of the Water Authority spoke of the accomplishment that 80% of purified sewage goes back to agricultural use, far in excess of the 18% of Spain, the next most successful. Despite many successful innovations, Israel is still challenged when rainfall declines and desalination has become the focus, albeit a controversial one. Green organizations are concerned that more saline will be pumped back into the sea altering its composition.

We shifted our attention to how the well and climate has shaped Biblical history. Wells are a frequent image within the Bible. Hagar in the wilderness with her son Ishmael runs out of water and await death when God opens her eyes to a well before her (Genesis 21:19).

Joseph is thrown down a well by his jealous brothers (Genesis 37:12-36) and is ultimately rescued and goes on to become viceroy of Egypt.

Often the well is the place where the patriarchs met the matriarchs, happy hour at the watering hole. Rebekah and Isaac meet at the well (Genesis 24: 11-20) as do Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:2-10).

The concept of the well is celebrated through ritual. At Sukkot there is a water ritual known as the Rejoicing at the Place of the Water Drawing. The celebration, and it is truly a celebration with music, dance and juggling, is based on Isaiah's promise, " With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3)

We returned to the images that we viewed at the beginning and focused upon work by Avital Geva in the Greenhouse Project. His work with school-age children, both Jewish and Arab, is focused on building coexistence projects. They study recycling water combining science and art installations. We also viewed a video of Spencer Tunick's Nude Dead Sea shoot, designed to focus upon the theme of water in Israel. The video gave the sense of a social gathering as participants gradually grew comfortable with this massive skinny dip in the Dead Sea.

As we shared our one word describing each piece, we found that we filtered our reaction through our own experience, sometimes with widely diverging responses, other times quite similar.

We concluded our session with a photo shoot of sorts. Various vessels were provided containing water and we were invited to photograph them and send the photos to Phil who will take the images and compose them into a larger collage-like image of an oasis. Soon we were manipulating the water, pouring, spilling, splashing into images of fluidity.


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