The Eva Hesse Documentary that was screened this week at the Film Forum in New York City documents the life of Eva Hesse, the artist and the person. We learn about her struggles and achievements and her desire to move beyond and, often, right through the confines of structure and tradition while searching for meaning in the midst of the absurd. Towards the end of the movie a close friend and fellow artist relives one of Eva’s last thoughts before she finally succumbed to cancer. In a response to a concern that her revolutionary use of latex would eventually cause her works of art to disintegrate, she said,” it doesn’t matter.” Eva then grasped a glass, threw it against the wall and as it shattered exclaimed, “Art shatters, as does life – it doesn’t matter.”
The powerful and poignant irony of this statement comes on the heels of countless art exhibitions and books written about Eva Hesse since her death in 1970 at the age of 34. This masterful and awe-inspiring documentary, produced by Karen Shapiro and directed by Marcie Begliter, indicates that Eva’s creative genius mattered, as does life.
Two years ago, at the conclusion of the latest war in Gaza, I spoke to a young soldier and asked him how he was doing, he replied- “ b’seder (fine) it was fun.” I was shocked and did my best to convince him that I knew what he really meant and how he felt. You experienced death; you killed and saw your friends killed and since life matters, I exclaimed, you couldn’t possibly have had fun! I insisted that he probably meant something along the lines of, ‘In the heat of battle, you felt alive.” No, he said, it was fun. I couldn’t understand; only judge. Life mattered; how could war be fun?
Too bad that the young soldier didn’t take a glass and, like Eva Hesse, throw it at me shattering my need for clear definitions, structures and limitations. The soldier understood what I couldn’t fathom – nothing matters and it all matters.
We all create our own works of art cherishing our achievements, friends and loved ones with the understanding that that we, too, shall return to dust as stated in Genesis 19:3 (כי עפר אתה ואל עפתשוב – בראשית ג,19). So, it really doesn’t matter what we achieve and who we love because everything eventually vanishes into dust. Glass shatters into a hundreds of tiny pieces. Yet, we choose to live, create, love and also kill and judge – all within the framework of uncertainty and absurdity because we seek meaning, substance and, at times, even a form of Kedushah (holiness).
Under the wedding canopy we shatter the glass hoping that despite the uncertainty of marriage and life, ours will be filled with meaning, love and creativity. Life doesn’t matter; yet it matters a great deal. Call it fun, absurdity or holy, call it whatever you want. What matters is our personal meaning we give to it.
Eva Hesse, my Aunt; mattered to me and her artwork matters to people throughout the world, even 46 years after her death.
The Eva Hesse Documentary will be screened in Israel at the Tel Aviv Cinamateque (DocAviv) on Thursday, May 19th at 8:30 p.m., May 20th at 10:30 a.m. and May 23rd at 12:45 p.m. l look forward to seeing you all there.