Albatross, Ruth Tal’s solo exhibit at the Jerusalem’s Nature Museum in the German Colony, taps like the little hammer checking a reflex; it hits on the exact nerve that lies latent within every Israeli and we cannot help but react.
She presents oil paintings and etchings spanning from 2010 through 2016. Curated by Avital Naor Wechsler, the works explore a little-discussed fact of local life.
Grabbing a few hours getaway time at the beach — whether getting together with the hevreh, managing to coordinate everyone in the family to meet at the shoreline, or enjoying some solitude — is a welcome respite. Nature takes over and does its therapy.
But not always so in Israel.
A quintessential Israeli experience is kicking back and being pulled into reality with the buzz of a helicopter crossing the horizon, the thwack, thwack, thwack of the blades swirling overhead meshing with the beat of the waves hitting the beach.
And the magic is gone.
Hmm, something must be happening in Gaza. Hmm, the Air Force is on patrol. Denial shifts in and the beach day continues.
A day at the beach can be marred by the harsh reality of our neighborhood. Similarly, the Tuscan-like vineyards of the Galilee or Golan mix with the thud of artillery just beyond view.
Tal contrasts the absurdity of relaxation under such circumstances with the shapes of an albatross, the largest bird, not native to these shores, and morphs that image into the shapes of airborne helicopters.
Many of the pieces were completed during the Protective Shield War of 2014. The works show pastoral scenes yielding as more threatening visions leach into the beach idyll.
The Hebrew text accompanying the exhibit refers to mariner’s superstitions surrounding the large bird, both as a symbol of good luck or as fear of harming one. Wechsler points out witnessing the metamorphosis of watching the change from a live bird to an iron one.
The poem, L’Albatros by Charles Baudelaire also accompanies the exhibit, translated to Hebrew.
Albatross “includes about 17 works, four of which are oil paintings and the rest various kinds of prints, including some details, and a vitrine displaying quick sketches,” says Wechsler.
As I viewed some of these works they recalled tessellations by M.C. Escher. Influenced by Moorish architecture when traveling in the Middle East, he experimented with mathematics to create his etchings, some of which he called Metamorphosis.
Tal’s interpretations are less grid-based and more organic, bringing to them the flow of the natural surroundings. The tension in them sets them apart from conventional seascapes.
The Nature Museum is a fitting venue for these works which focus on the search for calm within stress. The gallery is located in an outer building of the museum’s grounds, itself a destination, an escape to nature in the city.
This is one of the few still-untouched areas that gives the German Colony its charm. Only a block away from busy Emek Refaim Street, the Nature Museum seems frozen in time. The stone building, dating from Ottoman days, stands among olive trees and well-tended plants. Once a rural mansion, it opened in 1962 to serve its present purpose, a place for children to engage nature.
One wonders whether, with new hotels rising close by and Jerusalem Municipal plans for a light rail to traverse Emek Refaim Street, how long will this oasis of quiet last?
For now, it is well worth a visit to this secret garden to take in Tal’s examination of the our efforts to be normal when life is everything but.
Albatross continues until October 18, 2016.
The Nature Museum, 6 Mohliver Street, Jerusalem
Sun, Tues, Thurs 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Mon, Wed 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sat 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.