Tag Archives: art

street art, Nachlaot

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As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the features of that walk through the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem was the examination of the graffiti found there. I enjoy street art, and have grown more tolerant of the scribbles and the name inscriptions that are also included in the category. But I’ve noticed that even in those cases where I was really impressed by a painting appearing on a street wall, after a short while I tend to take it for granted, as I pass by again and again.

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But sometimes, the unexpected can spark a greater interest. That is, if a picture has been moved or changed, or one that I especially liked has disappeared or been blocked by some other structure. Then, there’s that chase after old friends. And part of the chase is always the discovery of new contributions unnoticed before. Many are difficult to photograph because of limited space in the small alleyways of our city.

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what is written on the side: “How can I ask for what I really want as if I were joking?”

There is a series of very special miniatures that I like… they are in a place exposed to harsh nature and may not last all that long. Another series of paintings I especially enjoy, have something to say in the way of morality and self criticism. They are on a wall that seems almost too public. I worry that they will soon be replaced by advertisements. I remember some biting messages that had a short public life before being painted over by someone who didn’t care much for what they said.

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On my walk last week there were the big paintings, colorful and full of life. And there were also some very modest ones that you could easily miss, if not looking for them. Some seemed like footnotes to those ‘in the know’. One of them said, ‘sex now’, and I suppose it was meant as a retort to the many banners of ‘peace now’ that can be seen around the country. The drawing under that title was unexpected, and wide open to interpretation.

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One of the most interesting series I’ve encountered here might have been produced by three separate artists. As they appeared, I imagined two artists adding their works to the original inscription, though it could have been produced by the same artist who came back to the scene and added yet another and then another. All of the illustrations speak of a longing for Jerusalem by the Jews of the diaspora.

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There are these closed metal boxes that one finds all around the city, containing electric meters and connections of sorts. It is common to find paintings on their sides. Sometimes it’s a very abstract composition of form and color, and sometimes a picture of a butterfly or bird. It seems a lot of work was invested into this rendition of the inside of a refrigerator filled with drinks.

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this image was etched into the wall

the Sabbath approaches

Oh how beautiful it is in Jerusalem, as the Sabbath approaches, and each of us, in his own way prepares to welcome her, to embrace her, and accept her. Whatever we were doing all week comes to the end of the chapter. There is a break now. We are aware of time and a freedom that transcends most human affairs. But it is not all spiritual. There is bread and wine, and the finest delicacies prepared for the palate. And the song of one’s heart is translated to a song from the throat… welcome to the ear. Even when we are in mourning, there is a break for the Sabbath. The clothing is different, we wash ourselves, and reboot our minds, and bless our friends and ourselves… Sabbath be blessed, blessed be our children, blessed be our friends, blessed be our aged… blessed be the queen Sabbath.

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an alley in Jerusalem

a personal note

It is my custom to write a post each Friday. Today, I find it very difficult to write. In the past few weeks, I tried to explain the situation here. But I think I have just scratched the surface.

Sometimes you get bad news… that you have so and so many weeks to live, or that a dear friend has died, or that someone that you trusted with all your heart has betrayed you… it’s very bad news, and you just don’t know how to take it, how to internalize it. You want to shake yourself loose from this terrible thing, and you can’t… as if you were being electrocuted, and you can’t let go of the wire that is burning you alive. You may rant and rave, or groan and moan. Some people just shut up. They don’t say anything.

And some people, gifted by god with an awareness of the universal, are able to translate their sorrow and heartache to a parallel universe, and tell the story as an analogy. They have that wonderful ability to eat their cake and keep it too. They can pour out their hearts, and not get buried in the details. This is the source of art for many. And when I read such a narrative that may have been written a hundred years ago, it seems as if the writer was telling my story… even though the details of his tale have long ago withered and decomposed.

This is the sort of thing I’m going through these days, I tried writing about it, but it didn’t work. The wound is too fresh. The pain is too jagged. I haven’t yet internalized it, and don’t know how long it’ll take. At this point, everything else seems irrelevant. So I probably won’t be writing again till I recover.

Peace be with you, my friends…
From an aching heart.

a woman's prayer
a woman praying

a fence worth looking at

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As I have mentioned previously, Hebrew is a conceptual language. It is built on a great many roots which are found in all verbs. When the same root is found in different words they reflect a conceptual relationship. For instance, the words: writing, dictation, correspondence, letter, and reporter all have a common root. The very nature of the language hints at certain values which are part of our culture. And so, it’s interesting to find that the root of the word ‘definition’ is the same as that for ‘fence’.

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A fence, we learn, gives definition to an area. Which goes together well with a saying I’ve heard in English, ‘a fence makes good neighbors’. This fence was found in one of the two industrial neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Talpiot and Givat Shaul. Both of them accommodate factories and workshops. And since there are workers there, they also have restaurants and simple eateries, shopping centers and stores. And because no one sleeps there at night, you’ll find night clubs there too, so people can enjoy themselves as noisily as they care to, at all hours. And where there are fences, they are meant to hide an unsightly industrial property or designed to keep people from wandering into a construction sight.

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I was visiting some clients in Talpiot when I first noticed this fence. It was made of sheet metal that had been put up between posts in the ground, and was painted in three colors with black lines. Turned out that a few businessmen had put together the money to buy paint, and some students from the Bezalel Art Institute in our fair city had volunteered to decorate the fence. The unpretentious stick figures fit in nicely with the many examples of graffiti found in the area. The paintings have a somewhat humorous, minimalist approach. And in my eyes, it’s art.

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As for fences, their very existence is something of a provocation. One wants to trespass or transcend. But if they’re designed well, they might seem like the skin that surrounds and protects our bodies. Though Jerusalem was a walled city in ancient times, there are relatively few fences within the city. The housing is fairly dense, yet here and there are open spaces, which provide that very important taste of nature in the city. I hope to do a post very soon on some of those public spaces here.

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You can see the set of the fence pictures here:

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Heaven’s Roots

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Sculpture and the Jews

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We have a problem with art. In Hebrew, art and craft are almost the same word. They come from the same root, which is also the root for the word ‘faith’, from which the English word ‘amen’ is a derivative. Amen simply means ‘(I) have faith’. It is a Hebrew word. And though sculpture of a certain kind was found in the holy temple, it has most been associated with idol worship. And there are specific laws found in the bible prohibiting making reproductions of men or women, animals, or even objects found in nature. Throughout our long history, the plastic arts have been avoided by most of our people and those artists who did produce something, were always the exception to the rule.

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During the 18th century, there was a movement that gained some popularity among our people who were living in Europe, called ‘the enlightenment’, which tried to import some of the cultural standards and the knowledge which had been accepted in the west into our own culture. Despite the opposition of most of the religious leaders of the time, the movement became quite popular, and is credited with easing some of the anti-semitic laws which severely restricted us, as well as promoting greater integration between Jews and non Jews in Europe. It also brought about the modernization of a great many Jewish communities. Scientific and literary texts were translated into Hebrew, and absorbed into our common culture.

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But influenced by cultural prejudices an ingrained attitudes, even the non religious, secular, and highly educated creative souls among us were reluctant to express themselves in the arts. And when they did, they often chose some sort of abstraction or embedded a flaw in the image so as to make it clear that the work could in no way be interpreted as idolatry.

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The concept of one god who could not be represented by any image was in direct opposition to art as understood by other cultures. Sculpture suffered the worst. And to this day, one can find numerous abstract works of sculpture on some of the streets of Jerusalem, but the more realistic, representative pieces are hidden away in private spaces.

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One of the most interesting sculptures in modern day Israel was created as a memorial to the holocaust, and is hidden away in a forest, and completely unknown by most of the citizens of Jerusalem. It presents images from the history of our people and particularly from the holocaust in a series of reliefs found on a large column.

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Aside from the religious injunction prohibiting idolatry, modesty is considered one of the most important virtues. This too, has dissuaded many artists from using nude images. Even so, the restrictions inspired a creative spark as well, and I have seen fascinating two dimensional sculpture, and other variations on the use of three dimensional media by a number of our local artists.

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The conflict between the arts and our traditional view of the world is felt in other areas as well, including music. I hope to write about that one of these days. And because I feel limited regarding how many images to show on a blog post, I might add another post regarding the many ways Jewish artists have tried to express themselves in sculpture while still respecting the prohibitions of our culture.

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thinking of tolerance

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A newly found blog friend of mine, Corina, posts a regular sort of weekly post, in which she says, “If we were having coffee”, and then shares what’s been happening in her life, or some ideas she’s been thinking about. Turns out there are a lot of people who post their Weekend Coffee Share as a regular feature. Last week, when I was writing about the walk along the promenade opposite the old city in Jerusalem, I mentioned the monument to tolerance, and I thought I’d use this template to discuss tolerance this week.

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The monument was built by Aleksander Gudzowaty. And he carved his thoughts on the subject into stone, next to the sculpture, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English so that everyone might think about his inspiration for building this piece. When considering publishing the photo of the shrine, I couldn’t help thinking of how such righteous messages are received on the internet. There are so many fine posts regarding improved human relations, sensitivity to our fellow man, and peace. So how is it that within most societies, we see countless examples of needless cruelty, prejudice, and unfair treatment?

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What is the true measure of tolerance? Does it mean that when working alongside of a man or woman whose skin is of a different color than ours, we should treat him or her as an equal? Well to tell you the truth, I believe that a person who judges others by the color of their skin, is so unaware or stupid, that he might be a danger to himself. When I hear jokes about dumb blondes I have to make a quick exit to get a breath of fresh air. And on the other hand, someone who insists and preaches to us that blacks deserve equal rights to whites sounds much the same as someone who gets on a podium somewhere and announces to us that the world isn’t flat. So just maybe, tolerance demands that we listen to those who declare the obvious with respect and patience.

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It might mean that one who is a vegetarian or vegan have patience with those who eat cows and chickens, insects or frogs… for if we travel around the world, we find that there are those that eat horses, and those who eat dogs and cats. Tolerance is accepting the habits and customs of those unlike ourselves… as long as they don’t attack us or murder or kidnap our children. But at what point do we put an end to tolerance? There was a museum exhibit in New York, a number of years ago. As it happened, I was visiting there at the time, and heard the controversy first hand. It seemed that an artist of some sort was granted the opportunity to exhibit a little figurine of Christ on the cross in a bottle of piss. I don’t have to explain to you what this provocation did to those people who see Christ as a physical manifestation of god himself. There were those who felt the exhibit should be removed from the museum. Others felt that removing it would be a deathblow to freedom of speech, and the cultural enrichment of the American people.

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Sometimes it’s hard to know just how tolerant we should be if it is peace we truly desire. When one thinks of tolerance, one remembers all those circumstances in which we were bothered by the behavior of another, and overcame our immediate desire to make light of the taste or behavior of another. Perhaps some of us are too quick to take offense. Maybe we are insensitive to others, and don’t give them enough space… don’t respect their need to express themselves, or to follow their own intuition or beliefs. But is it possible to tolerate any and every affront… or attack. How do we design the borders of social behavior? I would like to ask you, my reader. Is there a point at which tolerance must stop? And what is that point?

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Where I’m staying as I write this post, I am about half a kilometer from a Moslem neighborhood. On schedule, a number of times a day, the local mosque broadcasts prayer calls at full volume, with powerful loudspeakers aimed in my direction. Even listening to the music, with the windows closed, the prayer is heard, disrupting all other sound. I do believe in the freedom to worship. But I find such practices disturbing.

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poster composed of paintings by children on the subject of ‘different but together’

Here in our country, we have neighbors who opposed our laws and believed that we had abused the rights of their co-religionists. They started shooting rockets at us. To insure that we wouldn’t strike back, they surrounded themselves with their own children while they were shooting at us. They would shoot at us and run away, leaving their children surrounding the rocket launcher. And when there was return fire, they held a press conference, waving the body parts of their children to show just how cruel we were.

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The monument found in Jerusalem is the work of an artist who appeals for sympathy regarding the beliefs and practices of others. But let me tell you how the concept of tolerance is used in mechanics or in building. When a part is made that has to configure within a machine or a physical system of any sort, it’s dimensions are cited by the engineer or designer. However, since an exact measure is often unobtainable, the tolerance describes the allowable deviation from a standard. For example, the range of variation permitted in attaining a specified dimension in machining a piece.

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sculpture by Ran Morin

Is it not necessary then, that we delineate our objectives in codifying human behavior within a social system before we speak of tolerance? Otherwise, we may find ourselves looking out at the world from behind the teeth of predator who is about to swallow us up and devour us, about to leave this world behind forever…