text_canto - barbara nahmad

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by Luca Beatrice

The event we desired so much arrives, the dawn of our days: it’s a Friday. May 14th, 1948. All the radios around the world broadcast David Ben Gurion’s speech (…) The world, divided between enchantment and anguish, holds its breath: will the Jewish people, as it sees an ancient dream become reality, finally change its face, if not its fate?
Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea. Memoirs.
More than 60 years have gone by since the founding of the State of Israel. It was 1948 when prime minister Ben Gurion bid farewell to the last British troops asked to leave the Holy Land. The shadow of war was lurking on the newly drawn borders. Only a few hours later, the territory designated by the UN was already a target for the first attack. Vice-versa, the inhabitants of that land would end up paying a high emotional and economic price. We all know the rest. And yet, without going into the international controversy that debates the reasons, causes and effects of an unresolved conflict, today, as then, one is struck by the social and cultural vibrancy that has always been a characteristic of this land. The newly created Jewish homeland was home to laymen and agnostics of varying levels of conviction and the three great monotheistic religions lived under the same sun. In 1948, the new colonists arriving from the Middle East, from Europe, America and Asia were all driven by the same desire for a Judenstaat (the creation of a Jewish State). The citizens of this new world were German architects, followers of the Bauhaus movement, who brought Modernism which ruled the streets of Tel Aviv with over 4,000 buildings, the offspring of the school of Walter Gropius; and kibbutz farmers, as tradition tells us, between agricultural textbooks and volumes of Russian literature, particularly Tolstoy, under the tents and on the cots where they read the Bible together with essays by Karl Marx in the evenings. They were American students and Hungarian shopkeepers, learned university lecturers side-by-side with workers and shepherds. As soon as Israel was given its flag and its currency, its ancestral – even ‘umbilical’ – destiny was already mapped out: a crucible of culture, ethnicity and religion. A destiny marked by a cosmopolitan style that the cities slowly built up on ancient foundations, cementing the contradictions of struggles and pilgrimages with the iron will of a gathering of people that was in other ways spontaneous. A destiny that was joined by a desire for belonging that absorbed the many influences, and continues to draw from those influences that are thrown together and mixed within it, creating a live and pulsating material where unique cultural interferences take root. I have heard it said that ‘you can get lost in Jerusalem and still feel at home’ (Nathan Englander), that Haifa is the realm of possible cohabitation, that Tel Aviv is the most lively city in the Mediterranean. I then read a book which was the result of a partnership between an Israeli and a Palestinian writer: young and courageous, ironic and anti-rhetorical, Etgar Keret and Samir-El-Youssef – the former a Jew, the latter an Arab – in their collection of short stories Gaza Blues, build up a puzzle of situations with different points of view, all with the same sense of restlessness that characterises these unresolved tensions. Their writing demonstrates what the chorus of an exhibition of international artists in Tel Aviv can mean: the possibility of uniting diametrically opposed worlds that can live together with mutual respect in the pages of a book (as in their case), and in a few square metres (as in our case). Landing with 14 artists – from the USA, Europe, the Middle East and South-East Asia – in a joint exhibition whose common denominator is the word ‘world’, means trying to describe the compositional balance of different experiences that converse with each other with all the precision of an orchestra. It is no coincidence that Tel Aviv is the location of Ermanno Tedeschi Gallery’s new adventure, it’s no coincidence that the exhibition summarises the contamination of such different backgrounds until they merge into a single theme approached from different levels: the curator’s intention to coordinate the complexity of the different modes of expression of each artist, in the hope of finding in those very interferences the value that comes from contrast. It is a polyphony that is harmonised by the freedom allowed each one to speak through their own communication medium: from chewing gum to origami to paper dusted with gold; to oils used in all their material possibilities, protruding, almost pungent, that can flow into the depiction of famous faces or metropolitan environments. Extremely colourful or monochrome, unique pieces or serial productions, cold photographs or composed sculptures, entrusted to the technology of small plasma screens and glass art, ancient (western) fresco techniques using (eastern) rice paper, letters as lines and symbols as colours near installations made of cement and nails, electrical sockets and lights, bronze pillars and knotted ropes. Speaking of choruses, I’d like to mention another young man from contemporary Israeli literature: the controversial Eshkol Nevo. It is no coincidence that he too is part of that new scene that has shifted the spotlight from Jerusalem – with the now famous names of Grossman, Oz and Yehoshua – to Tel Aviv where today it is possible to express oneself with an unprecedented number of registers: other generations, other needs. Together with the abovementioned Keret there is the surrealist writing of Orly Castell-Bloom and the backlit writing of Benny Barbash, closing with Nevo’s plurality of voices. I find the first setting described in Nostalgia quite entertaining: the novel opens with a view of two hills, where two twin villages sit opposite one another. One rich, one poor, one populated with rich Askenazi European Jews and the other with Jews from Kurdistan. What sits between the two? A nice shopping mall, the only possible point of contact between the two. Capitalism as a metaphor: it doesn’t matter where you come from, as long as you pay! Valerio Berruti’s young girls in the I Wish I Was Special series personify that Symmetry of desires that Israel contains. The fresco as an expedient for a youthful approach, secure, with no uncertainties. Enrico De Paris is the Meccano of irony, the deep-sea diver of technical hybrids that finds in science the subject matter for eccentric sculptures and colourful polyptychs: he simulates complex chromosome chains and invents microcosms where small people and animals live together among blown glass, high-definition screens and psychedelic lights. For Shay Frisch Peri, the ready made world of electric sockets and light bulbs, assembled in precise patterns, transforms the ancient theme of the menorah (the seven-armed candlestick, one of the Jewish religion’s key symbols) into an installation of neo-realist descent, always accompanied by precise structural drawings made in Autocad. Daniele Galliano’s paintings draw their subject matter from the controversial 1990s, metropolitan crowds on the one side and intimate solitude on the other, combined today in constellations of presences on a black background, a new formula for describing the individual and the multitude. In contrast, the use of oils for Robert Sagerman is a synthesis of European Post-Impressionism (Seurat) and American Action Painting (Pollock), physical and material, layered in orchestrations of pointillist tones. Riccardo Gusmaroli’s imaginary routes follow the coordinates of paper boats – a kind of tiny origami – that trace possible connections around continents in gold leaf: whirlpools as global movements of people and things, fragmented maps, nomadic wandering and precise directions. In contrast, Sharon Pazner’s installations chase the contradictions of the materials used – nails and cement – with subjects sketched in poetic reiterations of flights of birds and small imploded houses. The need to migrate, in Hebrew ‘מעוף’ and at the same time stillness and belonging to one land only. The cinematic vision of David Kassman’s photographs – accustomed as he is to constant travelling and photographing every corner of the planet – is different. Windows on the world that add the right dose of introspection, adapted to surreal aesthetics, to this documentary and objective style. In contrast, Barbara Nahmad’s great portraits are of a socio-political nature: the Israeli prime minister Ben Gurion and the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, two icons lifted to universal models for their ability to overturn international order, going beyond the limits imposed by clichés. Tobia Ravà’s symbolic reasoning is more transcendental in nature, as he approaches the depiction of religious landscapes and places using formulaic combinations of numbers and letters derived from the mystical branches of Judaism (from the Kaballah to Chassidism). The assembly of colours and shapes, painted on – always with the canvas on the floor – or through burning thin sheets of paper that are then glued one on top of the other in concentric patterns, is used in a different way by the Korean artist Minjung Kim in her hypnotically colourful rosettes. It is a combination of the study of oriental calligraphy, Taoist philosophy – the fullness in the void and cosmology – with the stylistic abstractions typical of western art and evolutionary theories of the universe. Of Hungarian origins, Sam Havadtoy grew up in 1980s New York, a friend of Andy Warhol and the entire artistic scene that dominated the city: Keith Haring, Jasper Johns and Donald Beachler to name a few. His deep admiration for the minimalist artist Agnes Martin is reflected in obsessive serial repetition, in combinations of over 40 different versions, layers of paint that build up until they leave no trace of the handwritten phrases on the canvas. Alex Pinna’s tapered sculptures are reminiscent of Giacometti, the bronze virtuoso, of a shape that merges with its immaterial shadow. It is always a line that winds, that lengthens, that reaches for the infinite around symbolic representations of existence. And speaking of existence, one asks that question with the subtle irony that art has the privilege of using without offending: Must we atone for everything? Are the sins of our fathers and our ancestors ours too, according to a process of being eternally ‘vanquished’? Maurizio Savini makes the world genuflect to itself: it’s a strong and scornful image. Disguised as a bow, it bends the world map in the name of an expiated rebirth. The desire for inclusiveness that the Judenstaat inaugurated was the engine that inspired a contamination that unhinged institutional limits in order to build its own new laws. Today we can glimpse the fruits of this: multiethnic and polyphonic, the universe we will describe ‘shares the same sun’ we spoke of at the beginning: as a party summoned to participate in this adventure, all that is left for me to do is to go discover this utopian ‘possible world’ and carry in my heart the taste of what will be a unique experience.

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