Each Fall for the last ten years, the Manofim Festival has opened the gallery season in Jerusalem, revealing an amazing array of art spaces, whose purpose is to celebrate art and artists in the capital.
…The exhibits range from the abstract to the realistic and technological. Installations abound, often expressions of complex philosophical concepts. Photography is well represented. One of Israel’s most creative photographers, Neil Folberg of Vision Gallery has dazzling photographs of mountains and deserts, as well as photographic variations on the themes of the Impressionists. His present exhibit for the Festival goes back to very human works he did in Macedonia in the seventies. Architecture is important reflecting Jerusalem’s multi-layered history. There are large institutional venues like Van Leer Institute, the Israel and Islamic Museums, and Hadassah Academic College, and smaller, intimate spaces, individual and private galleries, some co-op, often hidden among a patchwork of older buildings with creaky stairs in quaint Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Agrippas 12 Co-perative Gallery and Marie Gallery are two such places, their balconies adjacent to each other, entered from the back courtyard of Agrippas12. Established fourteen years ago, Agrippas 12 is a meeting place for seasoned artists, multi-media creators and sculptors. It radiates a Jerusalem sense of solidarity, thoughtful discussion, a place where it seems everyone knows everyone.
Each gallery of course does its own curator’s thing, but as explained in the rich program brochure found at festival sites, “the exhibitions …… turn the spotlight on social, political, and historical issues”. This year there were two social issues particularly imbedded in the festival , as they have been imbedded in the minds of artists and Israelis in general for a long time: the threat to the world’s ecology, and the shadow of the Arabs who preceded the Israelis in the land these last centuries. Layers, of nature, flora and fauna, and that of history can be excavated in these exhibits of contemporary art.
At the Marie Gallery, attention was turned to the threat of plastics. Yanay Geva, the curator of the exhibit,“Plastik Arts”, presented a fascinating paradox, that “plastic is the “eternal disposable”.-“the more the artwork assimilates greater amounts of plastic, the more it will succeed in perpetuating itself.” In an ironic aside, Yoel Gilon’s contribution to the “Plastik Arts” exhibit is “Van Gogh Chair Painting From Keter Plastic.’’ The iconical Van Gogh work lives on in Keter plastic.
One of the qualities of art is its immortality, that it lives beyond its creator. The artist achieves eternal life through his/her art in plastic because the process of disintegration of plastics is very slow. But there’s the rub. For this very reason it is a toxic art medium, destructive of the environment. The cheap plastic toys and household objects thrown randomly on a plastic mat on the floor, highlights the proliferation of the material, its danger to our air and water, exactly because it boasts the immortality every artist yearns for.
” The Festival prides itself on being alternative, which seems primarily to be meant in the political sense. This year’s Festival began with a focus on the upscale neighborhood of Talbiyeh in Jerusalem and an exhibit called “Properties,” in which visitors toured homes in Talbiyeh excavating its many layers of history. Palatial homes were built in the mid-nineteenth century by wealthy Christian Arabs who subsequently fled during the War of Independence. During the tour, “The Houses Speak Arabic,” Dr.Anwar Ben Badis, a Jerusalem-based linguist and teacher of Palestinian culture, related the stories of many of the families that had lived there. Talbiyeh remained a bourgeoisie residential neighborhood with Israeli academics, diplomats, and government officials now living in these homes, sharing the area with official government and cultural institutions. The Jerusalem Art Conference that took place during the conference addressed what they called “spaces of unease,”in which the scars of the Arabs who fled can be felt in the changes effected by those who moved into the homes. There is a tension between preserving the architectural heritage and desiring to cover it up.
Gabi Bonwitt, a clinical psychologist and training psychoanalyst and Amnon Bar On an architect specializing in preservation and restoration of historic buildings, gave fascinating talks, imposing psychological concepts on the architectural processes that took place. They perceived the houses to have experienced post- traumatic symptoms. But these post-traumatic signs are not only a result of political strife. They surface for many reasons. If there is any place where the scars of the past are viscerally felt, it is the Hansen House which was once a leper hospital and for years afterward children would talk in hushed tones as they fearfully walked by its threatening stone walls. The exhibit of photographs of the nurses who once attended those stricken with illness also contribute a layer of psycho-architecture to the now- bustling cultural center and restaurant site.
Another building which might be seen as suffering from post-trauma is the Ticho House,constructed by a wealthy Arab, Aga Ashid Nashashibi in 1864, and bought by the opthalmologist, Abraham Albert Ticho and his wife,the artist, Anna Ticho in 1924. The sprawling home which the artist, Anna Ticho bequeathed to the Israel Museum and where she painted and exhibited her primal rocky landscapes of the Judean hills, and entertained the intellectual elites of Jerusalem in the 1920’s, has been redone into a minimalist structure designed primarily as a restaurant with exhibits of modern young artists, while most of Ticho’s rhythmic landscapes have been sequestered in the Israel Museum across the city. Thanks to the Manofim Festival there is currently an extensive exhibit of Ticho’s work in the house where it rightfully belongs. How good it was to view the gnarled trees,the airy flowers, the powerful Jerusalem mountains, in the gallery of the Ticho home again..
One cannot but help think how much the festival of gallery openings in Jerusalem is truly alternative, strong yet modest, in contrast to that of its sophisticated sister city on the Mediterranean.