Outlining the End of the World
Several decades have passed since the publication of Amos Kenan’s apocalyptic book – “The Road to Ein Harod”, depicting events after a militant right junta takes over Israel in a military coup, executing its dissidents without trial and deporting its Palestinian residents. The nameless hero, whose biography dovetails with that of Kenan, escapes his Tel Aviv apartment, now under lockdown, making his way to “Free Ein Harod”, the last bastion of secular sanity.
Efrat Galnoor embarks on a journey in Kenan’s footsteps. Her journey also begins in a Tel Aviv apartment: the exhibition space and residence of Oded Shatil. The Herzliya Artists’ Residence is the second stop on the way to Ein Harod. Loyal to the chronological order of the book, and a main character that successfully ees his city home to swim across to Sidna Ali beach on the Herzliya shore, Galnoor takes her rst step at the lifeguard station on the beach nearest the mosque, making her way east towards Herzliya. She is neither running or hiding, simply roaming and documenting the routes of her travels. The paintings she presents in the Residence gallery can be read as a map of her meticulous actions: at the western end is the Herzliya lifeguard station and the Sidna Ali Mosque, and eastward are the housing projects built on the ruins of the Sidna Ali transit camp , itself established on the lands of Al-Haram Palestinian shermen village. Later on, her journey takes us across the Coastal Highway Intersection, the one on which, in Kenan’s book, a tank lurks for the refugees attempting to cross over to the Sharon region orchards (no longer in existence), and nally brings us to “…that vast coastal city sprawled across northern Tel Aviv, which actually never ends”, and then northward to the valley on the way to Ein Harod.
Acontemporary reading of “The Road to Ein Harod” is a profoundly unsettling experience, not merely for the possibility of a violent and nationalistic post- democratic Israel, one that has undergone ethnic cleansing, a sheer nightmare. First and foremost, it rocks you because the distance between this dystopian hell and the reality of our lives is increasingly diminishing, as in the plot. Since the book’s publication, we have learned that no dramatic overthrow was needed to erode away the foundations of Israeli democracy. We have grown accustomed to the barbed wire fences and concrete walls, the guard posts, the machine guns, and military order. We are used to the existence of people between the Jordan River and the sea who are overprivileged, while others lacking even basic human rights live alongside them (“we” are used to this, we who still enjoy our full rights under the law).
Kenan’s book was published in 1984, evoking George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, but also the year of Israel’s establishment in 1948, the year of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe. The book was written after the dramatic 1977 shift of power in Israeli politics and the First Lebanon War, etched into collective memory as Israel’s rst elective war, the rst fracture of the self-defense myth. It came out following the collapse of socialist defense mechanisms and the opening of Israel’s economy to the world – the year in ation soared to over 400%, a Jewish terrorist launched a LAW rocket at a Palestinian bus, and other Jewish terrorists, members of the Jewish Underground, tried to blow up the Temple Mount with 29 of them arrested while setting explosives on Palestinian buses after previously installing explosives in the cars of three Palestinian mayors and committing a murderous strike in the Palestinian College in Hebron. “The Road to Ein Harod” is a doomsday prophecy based on the fears of its time, describing a secular apocalypse and the ruination of the Zionist dream.
Amos Kenan belongs to a generation that could envisage a future, one that sought to move ahead to the horizon before it. In contrast, we are ever more restricted in our conception of a future without a calamitous conclusion. We are no longer convinced, but rather alarmingly concerned. Images of the end of the world are hurled at us from every angle: a nuclear or ecological holocaust, epidemics and mega-terrorist attacks, the rise of machines and alien invasion, the war to end all wars. World destruction has become a contemporary and powerful means of entertainment. Along with fear, gazing into this grim future of our imagination (and the imaginations of others enforced on us) also holds some meagre consolation: those things lost to our miserable future selves is still within our grasp. Right now. The bleak horizon reminds us not to take what we have now for granted. Future shortage is the solace of those enjoying the privileges of current wealth.
However, dystopia is not just an expression of fear. It is not merely a warning, or rebuke, or consolation. Dystopia is the failure of imagination. A breakdown in perceiving the future. Our dif culty in drawing a horizon and picturing what could await behind it inhibits our ability to see the range of possibilities spanning past to present. Our inability to visualise a future that is anything but a more extreme version of the present is a sign of conservativism, and of an inability or unwillingness to change.
Kenan and Galnoor share the belief that landscape shapes identity, and identity determines culture. The bodies of work of both deal in the panorama of Israel. For Kenan, this investigation manifests in an attempt to meld with the local space and its history. For Galnoor, her gaze must pinpoint the misgivings and doubts this daily space can arouse – one that in routine times fades into the background so that its easily ignored, but a focused stare can strip bare its contradictions, the rough seams of Israeli landscapes, and the things that may erupt from behind them.
Galnoor’s attention on Israel’s sites is particularly interesting in view of her part in the tradition of local landscape painting – one of the founding pillars of the pact between the land and its residents. Well-rooted in this tradition, Galnoor winnows in to twist and crack it, to nd her place within it. In each of her exhibition paintings she employs a different approach. Not committing to a single perspective, or any one painting stroke, or even to a uni ed base. Several of the works were painted on
the classically stretched canvas, others on fabric rolls or paper hung on the wall, and some on cheap cardboard packaging. Galnoor brings together lean and rich painting, transparencies and opaque blotches, careful touches and violent bursts. The works take over the gallery walls, their edges merging together like a patchwork quilt, constituting an uneven and inevitable façade of the local landscapes – and at the point in which the wall ends, Galnoor also dominates the windows facing the Artist’s Residence garden, appropriating it also in her sweeping, site-creating painting action. This site – the panorama of present-day Herzliya, mapped through Galnoor’s interpretation of Kenan’s book and her roving through familiar territory – is skyless. The heavens occasionally emerge between the tree’s canopy or above the buildings but are generally obscured. Instead there is a bold, dense block of colour. Usually the background is yellow, the most audacious and brazen of hues, seen from afar. The opaque stripes that appear on the windows facing the garden replace the skies above the mosque, where one usually nds black-and-yellow lines, like those of the Kach Movement or the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club.
Yellow also appears in the video work exhibited in another gallery space, where Galnoor tells her daughter the tale of the evening primrose that blooms close to the mosque with the sea waters nearby. Galnoor adheres to the format of educational walks and tutorials, central components throughout the generations to disseminate love of the land, presenting the ower so resistant to winds and sea spray that grows along the coast, an invading species that reached the region in the late 19th century, around the time of the rst immigration wave, its yellow owers opening only at night. In another video, she describes
wind owers, red buttercups, and poppies, a bright tapestry long thought of as a metaphor for fallen soldiers.
Utopia, by de nition, is a state beyond reach. Attempts to materialize it are predestined to fail, and such attempts reveal how fragile it is. Amos Kenan is one of a generation that tried to realize utopia; Efrat Galnoor is of a generation shaped by that attempt. She is aware of the blinding nature of idealism, she grew among the growing cracks within Israeli society and from a history of local landscape painting. Kenan’s generation grappled with epic themes, while Galnoor extracts the ongoing, persistent, and invisible trauma embedded in daily life.
She does so with various means, but above all by walking.
“The road to the kvutza is not short, neither is it long”, hums Kenan’s hero to himself. And the road itself is what matters, particularly when the destination is so very dif cult to imagine – “the end of days whose beginnings have been lost along a road neither short nor long”.
Translation – Mor Ilan