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And if there's no sea, then there's also no boat 

There used to be a natural world that dwarfed us in size. Threatening, unimaginable, uncontrollable. It was the world, and we lived within it. It was not enough for us to dwell and study this world, to become assimilated inside it—in order to survive, we sought its subjugation. Its taming. And so, we did; the magical journey from the agricultural revolution to the industrial revolution, to automation and biotechnology. We developed mechanisms of monitoring and control that were continuously improved and upgraded. We decided to separate from nature, to become creators, masters of our own destiny.

It didn’t exactly go according to plan. Or, rather, it may have gone much farther than expected. Finally, our measure of impact on nature exceeded our abilities.

Now we talk about “climate change” and not destruction. We discuss “global warming” and not mass mortality. We speak about “saving the planet” when the real topic is our own salvation.

No wonder our sense of guilt and terror is too difficult to contain. And no surprise our discourse on global warming runs the gamut between guilt and denial. And when we do manage to take action, its only objective is to stop or slow down processes begun centuries ago and will continue long after. We are chasing quick fixes at a time when the entire system is in the midst of a momentarily delayed but still inevitable collapse.

We are the asteroid handing above our heads, already visible to the naked eye.

“And if There is no Sea, There is no Boat” is a group exhibition that initiated various encounters of humans and non-humans across the planet. It shifts focus between lushly green environments bursting with vegetation fed from abundant running water to the arid and sunbaked desert plains. It swings between actual growth and economic growth.

This is an exhibition that deals with the aesthetics of mass extinction.

Don’t worry, I’m binding your wounds

They say the problem is that we have forgotten that the earth is our great mother. But perhaps our problem lies elsewhere. Ourselves the products of a patriarchal and capitalist society, we scorn the earth precisely because we have not forgotten. We do indeed see it as a feminine entity (virgin or fertile, sometimes barren). And thus, it seems it should be available for our use, meant to serve and nourish us without conditions and without complaint. If the earth is a resource, we are all resource developers. The opposite of utilization is waste, and we have been as wasteful as you can get.

Center stage in this exhibition is the musical film “Alles hat Grenzen, NUR DER MONDFISCH NICHT” (“everything has its limits, except for the moonfish”) by  Sylvia Eckermann and Gerald Nestler (Austria).

The narrator of this film is mother nature herself. Her voice is echoed in the flow of water (the source of life, a utilized resource), juxtaposed by Sylvia Eckermann and Nestler with evidence taken from various corners of the globe, showing sparce water supplies harshly controlled by government systems and subject to human manipulation. The film swings between vibrant areas rich in streams and waterfalls to parched, salt-packed, and cracked soil.

Human figures occasionally appear in these evergreen scenes: a man and a woman. He, dressed in a Western business suit, sliding down a steep incline, fleeing for his life against an unknown force. Prey. She, garbed in a bright red suit, attempting again and again to reach a cliff, slithering repeatedly and then hitting the ground. If these be Adam and Eve, the state of Eden is a paradise no longer.

In another scene, an abseiling team is harnessed to ropes, working to establish a tourist stand at the halfway point to the chasm, in a place no human has ever been. As if to prove that without a tourist industry in sight (meaning a place for us humans), nature has no value of its own. Nature is just the setting upon which we are forced to validate ourselves. Eckermann and Nestler seem to be saying that when natural growth is set against economic growth, economics will always win the day.

The choice to create a musical is surprising. This is not the way we usually discuss ecology. Musicals are a part of “show business”, a familiar and popular tradition that has no room for the indictments or disbelief most often associated with deliberately obtuse eco-diatribes.

The music, written by the Viennese composer Volkmar Klien, does adhere to the strict guidelines of musicals. Dramatical moments are always accompanied by song, embodying the soaring voices of the earth itself. The musical “numbers” constitute the frequency on which the eco-subconscious is audible. Earth’s voice is spoke through several figures, including fishermen and scientists, culminating in the peak moment when Earth takes the form of a dark-skinned and pregnant woman.

Thus, using a form of entertainment well outside the exhausting debates on the “climate crisis,” Eckermann and Nestler present a vision of human and non-human coalescing as equals.

“Surveying” by Itay Marom tracks a group of land surveyors marking distances of the Namib Desert in southern Angola, the world’s most ancient desert spanning 81,000 km² of sand. This team of men traverses this abstract, yellow landscape of shifting dunes set against a blue sky. The tracks of their off-road vehicles will soon disappear with the wafting sand.

The group, employed by an oil corporation, install pillars cast in concrete across the dunes, segmenting the space, staking a claim. Dominating the space. To make a profit. The desert is vast. The task seems impossible. Unending. While this “conquering of the desert” serves a destructive and ruinous industry, one cannot deny the beauty of the attempt. The men, the vehicles, their heavy equipment, the raven spiraling the heavens, and each grain of sand—all seem to merge into a dance.

Perhaps the beauty here is drawn from the fact that we cannot conceive of their mission being completed. One imagines these men could go on forever, cursed as Sisyphus to push the rock up the hill ad infinitum. Can there be a greater capitalist failure as that of Sisyphus—whose entire existence became endless and fruitless toil?

Nevertheless, Albert Camus famously wrote: “We must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

A light box presented by Leigh Orpaz includes a photograph of three identical black Giant Schnauzer dogs standing on a chiseled stone platform by a pool.

Private pools are themselves a tamed, convenient, and demarcated model of the sea. Blue as the sea waters, blue as the skies. Diving in seems like leaping into an engineered fragment of the firmaments. The enormous Schnauzer is also a “domesticated” beast. Man’s best friend is a man-made construct; dogs were the first animal we altered to suit our needs (excluding our own transformation). The three highly groomed dogs, products of a physical and behavioral domestication process lasting millennia, are stationed beside a sea square on ground also manufactured, polished, and cut into tiles. Their black glossy coats, the pool’s hyper-realistic blueness, and the still chiseled stone: all man-made, all designed to create a user-friendly, subservient “nature.”

Another light box shows the pool’s rim and a ladder on the backdrop of snow piled to the very edge of the pool. Nature encroaching to reclaim what we took away—stopped at the limit.

Alongside these two light boxes, Orpaz also exhibits the video work “The Beach” (2010). It presents the lakeshore of a public park near Shanghai. The lake is artificial, the sand imported, and planners thoughtfully chose to complete the park experience by placing actual-size human figure sculptures in various poses (swimming, running, holding hands, etc.). Orpaz holds the lens static, like the vacationing figurines. Speakers play mechanical elevator music in the background, saccharine sweet. Visitors to the park can be seen crossing the screen, passing the sculptures.

None of the human visitors is engaged in any of the recommended activities. And why would they? The sculptures are already fulfilling the “vacationing” role, freeing actual people from the need (and requirement) to do so. Going to the beach has become an inter-passive experience. Consumption-based pleasure is so deeply rooted in our psyche that it can be transferred onto non-human objects to be experienced in our stead.

The video work “The Quiet Beach” (2011) by Efrat Vital was shot on the Bat Galim neighborhood of Haifa, an area hemmed in by the water break provided by the Haifa naval base. The sea barely appears in the work and yet its presence is palpable.

The image seems like an arena divided into two zones: in the direction there is sand and beach goers, and in that direction stands a dockyard hanger and naval architecture in cast steel. Between them stretches a net fence covered in impenetrable steel sheets and crowned in barbed wire. This division severs and links these cohabitants (unknown to one another) in one closed, horizonless system.

The work is remarkably quiet and most of the humans on screen are women: a female soldier surveying the beach from her observation post, beach goers tanning or exercising. The concrete Brutalist architecture of the observation post immediately brings attention to the fine, thin sand— one of the components used to make concrete, and yet so different from its byproduct.

All these entities exist in the same space, facing the same lens. Sand, concrete, bathers, soldier, barbed wire. Perhaps a submarine armed with nuclear warheads below the surface in the bay waters. All are on par, equal, whether are gaze in there to capture the moment or not. They are all things in this world.

Anna Yam presents a series of photographs made from browsing through family albums, a brief phenomenon that peaked with the emergence of the automatic pocket camera. Thirty-six possible shots in each roll of film, thirty-six emortalized moments, then printed and memorialized in linear order. Momento squares meticulously assembled into albums, ratifying our existence, our presence, and our joint experiences.

Yam used her own family albums and those of others to create the series. Photographs were selected and paired. Perusing albums of various families reveals one unavoidable fact: everyone created the same albums, and wherever they were—everyone had the same expeirnces. Each photograph in the series presents a single figure or a couple against a natural backdrop.

The visual display of a person at the forefront of nature is a cliché of many variations: a long-established geshtatlt based entirely on the romantic notion that we are separate from nature. It serves as scenery, a code embedded in the photographic act even prior to its execution, a pre-ordained fantasy. Nature and people are subject and object. Master and minion. We cast ourselves into a familiar image, fixing our viewpoint, veryfing our place. The site ceases to exist. It remains only within the confines of a white-edged rectangle. We were there.

In another photograph, a man is seen swimming in a pool while fog, created from the tempretaure difference, hovers overhead. One vaguely discerns the profile of a concrete structure in the mist. This is no “normal” photograph. Something seems off. Anna Yam created the distortion; the sites she chooses lack any tangible structure, deliberatly exposed to erosion. Yam does not plan the shoot, merely deciding the conditions in which it will take place, and these must always be flawed. There are always elements tilting the scales to failure. Yam examines the gap between what “should” be presented and what it is designed to contain. The gap between what was promised, and what is never delivered. Her works are self-destructive, seeking the missing element. Why? Perhaps because that is the human experience: flawed, random, squandered, and lacking cohesion.

“To err is human,” and any “error” immediately implies there is a “correct” way to proceed. Viewers approach these photographs expecting to see a worn and recognizable image. Yam chooses to interrupt that encounter. Her deviations are entrenched in life itself, which is naturally confounding and complex. “Dirty.” Use of “bad photographs” and focus on “marginal” subjects expose life’s true nature, always on the seam between fantasy and a stubbornly uncooperative reality. The impossibility of something does not stop us from craving it, and Yam’s decisive life-moments are captured in a way as dirty as life itself.

The Courage to be Hopeless

There is no sense in dreading the world’s ending. The reason is simple: fear always focuses on the future, on the unknown. But the end of the world in not somewhere in the distant future. It is here. So, we are free from expectations. The catastrophe is already happening. We are already on our way to the inevitable.

And yet, there is still much to do. Still much to save. The denial, the terror, and the guilt will do us no good. They do not motivate us to action, only preventing us from the universal solidarity needed. Solidarity that includes not only all people—but also all life, and maybe (I dare to say), one that includes everything in existence.

The global economy indeed includes every living thing, large and small, human and non-human. In an omni-economy, there is no distinction between “man” and “nature,” or between “natural” and “synthetic.” Everything plays an equal role. This is the only form of economy worthy of the moment: not capitalist theologies, but a true depiction of the composite of components that is the world system.

This kind of economy does not adhere to the hierarchy we find so comforting. It does not debate “progress” or “economic growth.” It carries no illusions regarding the ridiculous possibility of returning to the “good old days.” It would better for us to muster the courage and face the fact that we are not separate from the non-humans around us, that our existence is not so immovable and is actually in constant motion.

The world is not a noun. It is a verb. Man is also a verb as it is an act of evolution, a continuing sequence for the next week, the next month, the next year.

The name of the exhibition was taken from the poem “Ze Mikvar”, published in the book “Tzror Shirim Gnuzim” (2019) by Hakibutz Hameuchad Publishing

Soon at the Artists Residence

Opening: Saturday, October 23, 2021

8:00 pm

Participating Artists:

Events with the Exhibition:

Partners:

Soon at the Artists Residence

from->>till

Itay Marom

from->>till

Alina Orlov

from->>till

Goni Riskin

from2021-10-14->>till2021-12-31

Keren Bergman

Cafe Yodfat

Residency Program for Israeli Artists

from2021-10-19->>till2022-05-31