Ofakim: Horizons Rewoven
20/02/2018 Drorit Gur Arie
One should start with seeing, or rather not seeing, even blindness. In her work To See the Sea exhibited in Istanbul in 2011, Sophie Calle invited some of the poor inhabitants of this megalopolis, those who cannot even afford a simple ride to the other end of the city, to see the sea. Calle videotapes the lucky ones chosen to get their first glimpse of the sea with their backs to us, in a manner which does not give away their excitement. Finally, having calmed down a little, they turn to her camera and their faces say it all. The entire event takes place in the Kadiköy neighborhood—mythically dubbed “the city of the blind”—on the Asian, Eastern, denigrated side of Istanbul, in an area where Byzantium once stood.
Yosef-Joseph Dadoune too addresses sight—or, to be more accurate, eclipse—once again, in the context of a city. He goes to the desert, to his childhood realms and current hometown Ofakim, which sank in the golden dunes, used to disappointment. As indicated by Shani Bar-On in her essay in this book, Ofakim is a traumatic creation of Zionism, one of the instant towns that emerged in the area during the state’s nascent days, the product of “social engineering” which cast thousands of immigrants from North Africa and India into the dead wilderness, often against their will.1 The manner in which the development towns were constructed—”a violent act of hybridization by the state’s Blitz architecture,” as noted by Zvi Efrat in his book, The Israeli Project2—doomed them to a death foretold. The “tower and stockade” principle innate to every town and city of the Israeli project—an emergence ex nihilo of an ideological projection at all costs—turned out to be a symptom of “horror vacui,” forced in order to fill and nationalize landscapes out of blindness to geographical, climatic, and cultural differences.3 Ofakim was established in 1955 without suitable employment, education, and health infrastructures, and its residents experienced humiliating economic distress. Its industrialization in the 1960s brought about temporary relief in the residents’ lives, who could make a living in the textile plants erected around it by government initiative, among them Of-Ar (1961),4 which Dadoune has repeatedly visited in his work. The factory’s closing in 1988 and the collapse of the other local factories, one by one, reflect the erasure of the city from the map of national commitment. Ofakim, where wages are among the lowest in the country, sank into oblivion and has since known hard times.
A Beacon in the Desert
In the past twelve years, Dadoune’s work has emerged from and alluded to Ofakim: he documents the abandoned buildings in the city, delves into the neglect and degeneration left in its body by the vision of industrialization, maps out the desert on which it borders, photographs the vast void and the blinding light, conceives of symbolical tikkun rituals in the arid landscape, gathers military leftovers, and even conjures up the hidden shadow of its uninvited occupants, the local Bedouins, who draw on the walls of its ruins. Dadoune produces films, collects archival materials, initiates guided tours for public representatives, academicians, and cultural figures, invites journalists, and tries to convince as many as possible to reserve an hour and a half for a visit to this forlorn desert town. He goes from door to door, attempting to set a new social order in motion in Ofakim, where he returned in 2008 in search of a multicultural space not alienated to its origins and not limited to the boundaries outlined by the hegemonic center. His work is carried out in multiple channels: artistic practice, an empowerment project for youth, initiation of pedagogical programs (e.g., a research semester for students of architecture-related fields intended to spawn proposals for rehabilitation of buildings in the city, in collaboration with Yitzhak Krispel, a local social activist, and Zvi Efrat, former head of the Department of Architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design).5
The crowning glory of this extensive activity is the Of-Ar Project, which explores the environmental potential inherent in the deserted, monumental building of the Of-Ar factory intended to be transformed into a new type of community center, a “cultural hothouse.” Having outlined an initial conceptual program for the project, Dadoune harnessed Yitzhak Krispel and Efrat-Kowalsky Architects for the tasks of development and practical planning. The results of this encounter between an artist, a local entrepreneur, and architects are clearly discernible in the functional-visionary program they formulated and in the model of the renewing factory presented in the exhibition, awaiting an executor who will find it inspiring and accept the challenge.
Dadoune invests time and energy, perhaps against all odds, to activate municipal and state systems, so that they may work toward delivering Ofakim from its status as a “non-place place” and to obtain the resources required for a comprehensive process of change. One climax of this activity was a special event, centered on the screening of the film Ofakim (2010), which he created in collaboration with youth in a cave east of the Ottoman Patish citadel. This exterritorial event, outside the white cube of the museum institutions and the architectural standards of cultural centers, was honored with the presence of the Ofakim mayor, entrepreneurs, art and other culture figures, and members of the community. One can only hope that it will not remain a “voice crying in the wilderness.”
In an essay discussing the attempt to “be” in a place and strike real roots in it, vis-à-vis the schizophrenia of the Israeli and Jewish place (makom) and against the backdrop of historical rifts and inner contradictions between exile and ownership, religion and state, Judaism and Israeliness, Jews and Palestinians, Zali Gurevitch and Gideon Aran stress: “A place is a given and a creation; one cannot do without it, yet it is dependent on construction, not only in the physical sense—[…] a home, a city, a country […]—but also in the cultural sense—text, myth, history, ethos, border. […] The socio-cultural notion—the discourse of the place and its vernacular, which are bound up in interrelations and by context—[…] defines a piece of land, a spot, a landscape, or some structure. […] A place is set up and located among people, amid concepts.”6 The closed factories and the myriad ruins tackled by Dadoune in his work do not form a romantic-melancholic backdrop for yet another film like Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964), but rather a “place” in the physical and theoretical sense, un urgent call to introduce an agenda which will breach the boundaries of the periphery—periphery in the geographical sense, but also in political and human senses. His films peruse the Zionist rhetoric of “conquering the desert” and “settling the frontier,” which entailed the subjugation of the desert and gave rise to the towns and cities randomly established in the 1950s. The cycle of works Ofakim is a decisive attempt to present that which is far-removed from the nucleus of Israeli culture by means of a fresh gaze at intentions that collapsed and hopes that were trampled under the wheels of a hopeless experiment with human beings; Ofakim is a case study of Israeliness past and present, a microcosm fixed in our consciousness as “the end of the world, then south,” yet conceals the possibility to re-weave new horizons.
In recent decades, more and more artists have been involved in artistic-communal activity which blurs the boundaries between art and life, encouraging social activism. This tendency originates in multi-participant projects initiated by the US government during the Great Depression (Federal Art Project), mainly intended to supply work for unemployed artists, but also to promote an all-American solidarity by means of collaboration and recognition of regional art practices. The participants of the Federal Art Project gave art lessons and included the members of the community in the creation of monumental murals; the current incarnations of their activity are discernible in public display spaces in slum districts, which perceive their major role as advancing a dialogue between artists and the community.7 Artists initiate the rehabilitation of building façades on run-down neighborhoods, presenting portraits of “nameless” people from the suburbs on buildings and bridges which thus become a giant outdoor museum, instructing local residents in activities to empower and lever the community, giving voice and platform to excluded populations, and expanding artistic creation beyond its hegemonic realms, in a political act which brings the place up in the world.8 Dadoune’s work in Ofakim is a one-artist guerilla commando, leaving documented marks in the field. At the same time, in the spirit of the tendency reviewed above, it is also a carefully planned strategy which intervenes in the communal everyday via local activities of education and enrichment, while interweaving the local occurrence within the networks of the hegemonic center by exposing the ongoings there for all to see and recruiting high ranking officials to promote this cause.
Rising from the Dead
Dadoune’s early works—photographs, performances, sound works, videos, and films such as Universes (2000-03), Chanti (2005-06), and Sion (2002-07), featured in the comprehensive exhibition “Sion: A Cinematic Trilogy” at Petach Tikva Museum of Art (2007, curator: Drorit Gur Arie)—have made him a significant voice in a group of young Israeli artists engaging with the tension between sacred and profane, the spiritual and the corporeal, East and West. Dadoune’s rituals of lamentation and healing (tikkun)—comprising images of spiritual passion and bodily abjection, birth and destruction, exile and redemption, in historical and mythical contexts—offered the viewer an inconceivable blend of religious symbolism and the materiality of flesh and death, of action and affect, of “empty,” static desert shots and stormy human-beastly acts. Most of his images were taken in Ofakim and the area via a simple, almost skeletal procedure: positioning the camera facing a desert landscape, opening the eye to the “void”, and suspending the viewer’s gaze at it. A retinal sheet of sorts is thus stretched over the viewer’s eyes, a white fabric which allows the static images to float thereon in long, slow scenes occasionally cut by sequences of action and motion: a herd of sheep or a camel caravan crossing the frame, into which Dadoune casts his solitary figures. The pensive sentiment, so unIsraeli in its temperament and pace, echoes as homage to the great forefathers of the cinema, especially Soviet cinema (the Russian Andrei Tarkovsky, the Armenian Sergei Parajanov). It was an attempt to answer the question positively whether one may create art in Israel which draws on cultural and spiritual sources from the past, yet adapts itself to a visual language congruent with “desert time.”
In this respect, Dadoune enjoys an affinity with another local historical precedent, since his earlier project explores questions asked by artists associated with the Canaanite movement (and before them, also by the Bezalel artists of the early 20th century), who conceived of a fantasy with an ancient origin—or origins—in the absence of a Jewish artistic tradition. In a reality which was a projection of an ambitious match between constructions from a (mythical, imaginary, or historical) past and modernist values of progress and avant-garde, they created a unique artistic synthesis, a healing of the fragments of their artificial, rootless existence in a new land. The Canaanite movement put forth a different proposal for “Hebrew” avant-garde in Eretz-Israel, other than the “violation of the conventions of representation” which guided the new Horizons artists toward lyrical abstraction “at the expense of” a gaze at the very real ruins comprising it. Itzhak Danziger, Kosso Eloul, Ahiam, and other “Canaanites” indeed observed—albeit with an Orientalist gaze—the ruins and remnants of ancient art in the geographical sphere of the Middle East, like drawing “ancient waters.” By the same token, the images of Sion and its rituals in Dadoune’s films are, inter alia, akin to a conjuring up, an extracting from the deep waters of the Jewish-Hebraic archetype world.
In contradistinction to all these,9 Dadoune’s current works mark a process of drawing nearer to the actual reality, as reflected in his forlorn peripheral town. Dadoune forsakes the primeval biblical realms, moving from the past to the present, from the mythical and tribal to the historical, communal, and political.
What There Is
As a rule, “what there is” is more important now than “what was once”: Dadoune’s current works outline a process of development whose essence is underlain by a transition from a dramatic world of mytho-poetic images which draw on the precedents of the past, to a grave, visual language and a direct and painfully sober gaze at recent history and current politics. Today, Dadoune focuses on the concrete “home” (Ofakim), converting the formal tension between images whose movement is perpendicular to the horizontal, static, lifeless desert landscape (which characterized works such as Sion) with clusters of concrete gazes. The series of short films Horizon Fragments (2009) consists of slow observation of frame fragments as if they were sections of a painting over which the eye passes. Dadoune juxtaposes raw materials: plowed fields of the kibbutzim in the area, herds grazing in the open fields outside Ofakim, factories and warehouses seen through the window of a car driving by the industrial zone, the orphaned deserted interiors of the Of-Ar factory and the adjacent Merhavim cinema. All these were present in his earlier works, but now they are no longer signified as yet another archetypal landscape, but rather remain as the eye sees them, bare, dusty, dead factories, breached ruins populated by squatters (Bedouins, horses, crows) which use them for chance loitering or to feast on the blood. Ofakim is revealed as a ghost town where time has frozen. Momentarily it seems as though one may breathe life into the cobweb blanket covering the cinematic body, perhaps as in Giuseppe Tornatore’s nostalgic version (Cinema Paradiso, 1989), but reality soon proves us wrong. In Israel of the early 21st century, the doors of the only cinema in town are apparently closed for good.10
Formally speaking, the suspended, slow, almost passive gaze, familiar from Dadoune’s early films, is sustained here; there, however, Dadoune filled the void with a choreography and a pathos-filled momentum of body and face in the figure of actress Ronit Elkabetz and her grand garments, scorched in the eye against the barren desert—whereas now, the camera’s eye remains wide open, often very close to the ground, being filled, almost by itself, with whatever enters its scope. There is a movement of acceptance, reconciliation, and containment here, when Dadoune reduces both the human presence captured in his lens and his own presence as a director, surrendering himself to an empty gaze or a stare, having prepared the ground for this devotion by a minimal range of basic decisions (camera position, frame width). While this gaze is conscious of its location in relation to its object or the specific site, it nevertheless comes there “empty” of the determination to document something specific, letting “what there is” take place—or not—and be captured on film. Instead of the pathos and drama, we get the near nothingness of the unmediated material reality. Instead of a conjured up fantasy or a myth hiding amid the folds of a sun-beaten soil, we are served a landscape which is no longer heroic, conveyed in a language of cold and detached topographical investigation. Like the sequestered wastelands of Californian Lewis Baltz, Dadoune captures the borderland between wilderness and settlement via deliberate, almost expressionless anti-aesthetics as it were the finding of a consciousness scanner.
A Gaze at the Cadaver
Dadoune’s early body of work is rife with symbolism of corpses and sacrifice victims (dead sheep, goats, deer heads), images of flesh worn like a garment on his own body, ritual sites in nature (Amuka, Safed), and performative near-ritual states, where the self is that of the artist (and his counterparts) as a victim, an outcast son, an eternal outsider. Such a reading presents Dadoune’s work as a vehicle with which to seek meaning on the line between life and death, for the act of sacrifice (for someone or something) infuses death with a mythical, tribal-collective, or private-existential “meaning.” On this level of iconographical reading too, the transition from images of corpses to a real cadaver in the form of the deserted factory and ruined cinema involves a shift from the mythical arena to the reality of the social sphere. The victim cast in the wilderness like a bleeding wound is Ofakim itself, and its sons and daughters, who, like the corpse of the deserted plant, were left to rot in the sun. It is the civilian body which the Israeli settlement enterprise failed to keep alive in the Negev, and its disintegrating end calls to mind Russian necrorealism which feasted on the degenerate body of the limping Soviet machine.11 The corpses in Dadoune’s recent films, as in the necrorealistic films, represent desistence—the ruin of the Of-Ar factory attests to failure, not only of Ofakim as a city, but also of the vision of settling the Negev. But Dadoune does not settle for indication of this cadaver. In his new cycle of works he opens the door to a new horizon, an outcome of the transition to the here-and-now of the community.
If the desert per se was the master-image of the films Sion and Universes—desert in the symbolical and metaphysical sense—then it is now replaced by Ofakim. It is from that city that Dadoune repeatedly departs to the desert, and to which he returns to observe it and work in it. The corpses of deer and the body crouching on all fours like a wild animal, wallowing in the desert soil against the backdrop of Sodom, the biblical town of sin, are replaced by the industrial corpse with which Dadoune now reconciles in a socio-political process, endeavoring to make it a home. He returns from the realms of the sublime to the concrete town abandoned in the battlefield by the Zionist Project, before it slips for good between our fingers and becomes a complete myth.
The Tale of a Tree
In Dadoune’s early work the corpse is, as aforesaid, a victim, and as such, it exists in the symbolical sphere; through it, he indicates the individual (the artist and his counterparts) as society’s “other,” as one who is rejected by the consensus on the one hand, but also as one whose very deviation from the boundaries of taboo may offer society something old-new. In Dadoune’s new works, the corpse is already a part of society, a testimony to or a monument for an economic crisis (the factory) or a lost cultural vitality (cinema). In this sense, the cadaver in Horizon Fragments deviates from the realms of the icon; it is no longer a ritual object in an exorcism, but rather the motivation for social action spawned in the encounter with art. At the same time, many modes of expression have survived the change in Dadoune’s artistic language, and the two video works shot in Ofakim in 2010, Phoenix I and Phoenix II, interestingly exemplify this. The first features Dadoune, harnessed and suspended horizontally above a solitary wild flower peeping from a fold in the earth. His face is expressionless, laconic like the situation itself: a man hung horizontally over a flower. In the second work the static camera delimits a wide frame spanning an empty lot on the outskirts of the city against the backdrop of its ugly houses, and in the middle—a monumental acacia tree. The hydraulic arm of a large crane slowly lifts Dadoune to the treetop, leaving him there, suspended between heaven and earth. The small “hovering” human figure vis-à-vis the tree solidly planted in the soil of the place generates a powerful, amusing image, capturing the fine irony concealed in Dadoune’s works under the guise of pathos and drama. What is the purpose of this climb? Does the artist wish to measure the tree’s height through the scale of his own body or simply converse with the tree at its top?
Either way, the act appears wholly far-fetched, thereby turning arrows of irony toward the artistic act as well. Dadoune “talks with the acacia (Heb. shita)”—the primordial tree, but he also converses with the system (Heb. shita). What system? The political order, the local council, municipal officials—the system which enables him, whether enthusiastically or with an indifferent shrug, to return to Ofakim and operate in it as an artist “suffering” from social-spiritual pretense. The title of the works, Phoenix, implies yet another direction: the artist as the legendary bird, rising from the ashes of the built space and returning to “talk with nature”—if only a disempowered, domesticated, even ridiculed nature. From this perspective Dadoune’s video acts appear like humorous statements about the work of art—humor underlain by both irony and gravity, namely the faith in art’s power to be an analogical means to change the world and the belief that the artist can go on operating, like the phoenix.
If in Phoenix Dadoune is busy with a symbolic attempt to converse with desert flora, in his film Desert (2009) he goes further, burying trees. A giant crane gapes a hole in the desert earth, hiding in it, one by one, the identifying marks of the Zionist enterprise of conquering the wilderness: a palm tree and a cypress tree. At the end of the burial ceremony the crane drops two large concrete cubes on the fresh mound, sealing the land’s conquest. The biblical mound, signifying a pact between man and God (makom, also denoting place in Hebrew), transforms into a gravestone and a memorial for the Zionist ethos and Israeli modernism. The burial act, under notions such as conquest of labor and redemption of the land, also refers, with bitter irony, to the burial of those settlers who were cast into the frontier areas in the name of the “robe of concrete and cement” vision of settling the Negev and became pioneers against their will, a-priori ascribed to the social margins.
The burial of the trees, as opposed to planting as striking a root in the homeland, is yet another expression of the failure of the Zionist melting pot, which dreamt of a “production line” of citizens devoid of a past, while ignoring ethnic differences and class gaps; concurrently, it also alludes to 1960s earth art and another conceptual burial (of truth) by American sculptor Walter de Maria, who in Documenta VI in Kassel (1977) drilled a hole, one kilometer deep, introducing therein a solid brass rod of the same length (The Vertical Earth Kilometer). The futility of his act, which cost 300,000 dollars and was paid by an American fund whose money was earned drilling oil, warned against the problematic nature of art-money-government relations. Since Dadoune’s hole was dug amid different fields of center and periphery, the burial in the ground may be read in the spirit of artistic acts initiated in Israel in the 1970s, especially that of Micha Ullman as part of the Metser-Messer Project in 1972: digging holes and switching soil between the eponymous Jewish kibbutz and neighboring Arab village. Dadoune expands the issue of ownership and territory to explore the “subterranean” strata of the place, in protest against erasure of the primeval order of the desert in favor of the reign of concrete and insensitive settlement.
The New Cooperative
Dadoune’s activity in Ofakim includes a comprehensive plan to empower youth and strengthen their affiliation to the place.12 Youngsters—third generation of immigrants from North Africa and India and second generation of immigrants from the FSU, some the children of Of-Ar employees—participate in diverse enrichment workshops: yoga, dance, cinema, hiking in the Negev, visits to museums, and acting lessons taught by actress Evelin Hagoel. Some of the young participants have already been cast by Dadoune as actors in his video Ofakim (2010) which, with the “photo-realistic” still photographs accompanying it, outlines a social portrait alluding to Gustave Courbet’s critical work in Paris in the 19th century. As a painter-laborer in the spirit of the Revolution, Courbet endeavored to give a voice, a face, and a platform to plain folk, who were presented in his paintings on a scale theretofore exclusively reserved for heroic themes.
In Dadoune’s film, the youth of Ofakim stand in “freeze” positions in the semi-ruined interior of the Of-Ar factory, as if they were standing at attention in memory of its running days. In the middle lies a military missile reminiscent of the threat constantly looming over Ofakim and the area, and its being a city imprisoned between training camps and military fire zones. Subsequently, the adolescents carry the missile on their shoulders as if it were a coffin in a silent procession, marching without any clear purpose between the city’s apartment blocks and the verdant field of the kibbutzim, which offer a sharp contrast to the gray cityscapes and the desert sands. The walk in the desert sketches an imaginary line on the soil, like the stone lines created by Richard Long (A Line in Ireland, 1974), but the young people here create the line not from stones, but with their bodies. The Sisyphean procession raises questions about the relationship between the individual and the group, with the young bunch invoking the cooperative spirit prevalent in the early days of settlement, while at the same time triggering military hazing.13 In this film, Dadoune establishes a symbolic community which embodies the historical drama that began with wandering in the desert and ended with settlement and estates, clinging to the land. The biblical story is reconstructed here as a (human rather than divine) promise unfulfilled. At the climax of this elusive settling quest, the young members of the group set fire, possibly hinting at the promise which later along the way dissolved into nothingness like a vision or a mirage in the desert, as a metaphor for Ofakim’s desperate state. The divine command “go forth [from your country]”—to wit: uproot yourself from the place and from your home and wander to another place, abstract yet bearing a promise for land a place and a share in the resources of the land—is revealed as hopeless in the film. The vision of the positivist tradition of a rooted affinity with the land and culture is unfulfilled in the explosive reality enacted by this mute theatrical group, in the tangled drama of an ingathering of the exiles in the desert.
New Horizons in Ofakim
In his essay about the ruin as an icon in local landscape paintings, Gideon Ofrat maps different approaches to the image of the ruin—from the picturesque approach originating in European romanticism, which finds aesthetic pleasure in the ruin; through the metaphysical-catastrophic approach which binds the ruined landscape with the destruction of the Jewish people; to critical observation of the ruins left by the 1948 war, which mark the act of destruction and erasure of Arab villages. Ofrat indicates the link between these ruins and the spreading of national parks throughout the country, as well as between the archaeological urge to dig and bring to the surface the traces of the ancient past while transforming the archaeological ruin into “lofty Zionist nature,” and the repression of the ruins of the recent past.14 While the Of-Ar factory, whose planning and construction were associated with conscious differentiation between local workers and others,15 is not a trace of destruction and erasure of the other, it nevertheless conceals the principle of differentiation at the core of the Zionist vision and its dissolution as being a victim of the national back-turning at the frontier. The miniscule utopia created by Dadoune in collaboration with architects Zvi Efrat and Meira Kowalsky, and the local entrepreneur Yitzhak Krispel, is based on inversion of the differentiation principle, introducing a fundamental combination of business activity, social entrepreneurship, and cultural creation, and in its striving for a unification of forces between the local inhabitants and the members of the neighboring kibbutzim and moshavim. This vision proposes a cultural center which differs fundamentally from any known typology such as the kibbutz culture center (Beit Haam), the municipal gallery, or the culture, youth, and sports center (matnas), typologies which duplicate given, shelved architectural matrices waiting to be “dropped” into various periphery towns regardless of all local idiosyncrasy.
Rehabilitation of the Of-Ar building, planned in the 1960s by architects Rudolf Reuven Trostler and Yitzhak Rapoport, crosses the old, semi-ruined structure with the social and natural space to create a unified setting which supports diversified activity. This act, the initiators believe, could lever urban renewal and contribute to the positive placement of Ofakim. The “cultural hothouse”16 reuses the building without destroying, renovating or rebuilding it. It leaves the building as is, stripped of its roof, as a multipurpose culture compound attentive to its surroundings, to the various populations comprising it, and the cultural difference, following the principles of sustainability. This approach, which may offer a creative solution to other peripheries as well, is tantamount to a rectification (tikkun) of the wrongs of the melting pot perception, yet one which does not fall into the pit of “separation” and subordination, and does not erase the past on its way to constitute a new reality. The cross between an urban ruin and a lively interior, between an old structure and the aforementioned “new nature,” between open and closed spaces would produce a platform for unusual relations between culture, leisure, employment, and business, based on recognition in the ability of art and architecture to influence social life. As a containing, multi-cultural alternative to the kibbutz seclusion, the renewed Of-Ar (if and when implemented) would form an architectural icon for the city of Ofakim, a flag-project which will enable its citizens to take an active part in cultural activity and contribute to the dynamic shaping of Israeli society.
In the end comes the phase of retraction (tsimtsum)—indrawing, away from engagement with the city, the community, and the circles of entrepreneurship, into the place to which Dadoune strives to arrive at the end of the day: home, his home. The utopian project Home (2010), a home in the desert—a towering black cube, three stories high, located on the border between Ofakim and the open desert expanses—was created in collaboration with architect Doron von Beider. The poetical black cube turns its back on the peripheral apartment block imprisoned by rows of identical, nondescript houses, mocking the “Build Your Own Home” (Bne Beitkha) trend whose unconscious modularity took over entire neighborhoods throughout Ofakim. The residential home shaped as a black cube—almost entirely impervious to the outside, save two strips of light in the walls and two light shutters in the ceiling, like a telescope looking toward infinity, past and history—epitomizes Dadoune’s work. The black cube contains hints of the Kaaba stone with its sanctity and purifying force, and it rests like a silent, dark primordial shrine underlain by a water pit, a biblical tunnel or a ritual bath. The black cube, with its emptiness and the measured strips of light that penetrate it and are emanated therefrom, is also a provocative statement about the architecture of bare concrete. With the tree planted at its heart, towering to its full height, it is akin to an oasis for body and soul, a hideout, a refuge, and a ceremonial site for rituals of mourning and creation from one end of the world to the other.
1. In the immigration waves of the 1980s and 1990s, newcomers from the FSU and Ethiopia were also settled in Ofakim.
2. Zvi Efrat, The Israeli Project: Building and Architecture, 1948-1973 (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2004), p. 29 [Hebrew].
3. The most direct expression of this “horror vacui” may be found in David Ben-Gurion’s words, as quoted by Efrat, ibid., p. 781: “If you look on the map, you will see lots of empty places in the South; nothing terrifies me more than this emptiness.”
4. An abbreviation of Ofakim-Argentina, the investors’ country of origin.
5. In his studies, Zvi Efrat elaborated on the vision of the “factory towns” of the 1950s and their bleak situation today; op. cit., n. 2.
6. Zali Gurevitch and Gideon Aran, Al Hamakom (About Place: Israeli Anthropology) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1992), p. 11 [Hebrew].
7. London’s Showroom gallery, for instance, promotes educational projects in collaboration with artists, writers, and neighborhood residents, much like the Israeli Kav 16 Gallery in southern Tel Aviv. Petach Tikva Museum of Art has also, in recent years, initiated diverse activities involving the local community, underscoring tolerance and multiculturalism. In 2010, the Museum’s education department—consisting of respected artists—held a summer workshop for children of refugees and migrant laborers in collaboration with the Mesila organization, and initiated activities for immigrants from Ethiopia, together with the Midrasha School of Art and the Ner Etzion school, focusing on the politics of identity and exposure of the artistic and cultural idiosyncrasies of this community.
8. Several examples: In the beginning of the 1980s artist Tim Rollins began collaborating with a group of high school students at risk from the Bronx self-named K.O.S. (Kids of Survival), whom he met in his capacity as an art teacher. This collaboration spawned a practice of collective art based on reading and interpretation of texts whose outcomes were exposed, among others, at the Whitney Biennial, New York, the Venice Biennale, and the Documenta in Kassel, Germany. In the year 2000, Edi Rama, an artist and the mayor of Tirana, Albania, in collaboration with artist Anri Sala, launched a successful project intended to improve the city’s appearance and rehabilitate the citizens’ trust, vis-à-vis the chaos in the Albanian capital after the fall of the communist regime. Puerto Rican artist Chemi Rosado-Seijo, exhibiting alongside Dadoune in the current cluster of exhibitions “Art-Society-Community” at the Museum, worked with the residents of the El Cerro barrio south of San Juan, painting all the village houses in diverse shades of green, in homage to its spontaneous-vernacular architecture, creating a topography that assimilated in the local landscape while forming a giant painting, which became a local source of pride and a tourist attraction. Another artist participating in the current exhibition cluster, Czech Katerina Šeda, activated the inhabitants of three villages over a year-long period in a type of game which gave meaning to their lives. Street artist J.R. created monumental portrait photographs of anonymous figures in the streets of cities and suburbs the world over (Paris, Rio, Tel Aviv) which he mounted on buildings or dilapidated bridges in Africa. In Israel he presented titanic portraits of Israelis and Palestinians, which he hung (illegally) on either side of the Separation Wall in eight Israeli and Palestinian cities along the separation route (Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, etc.). The Jerusalem Muslala group and the Self-Broadcasting Authority group (also participating in the current cluster) are working toward creating an artistic space as a tool for social change along the border between East and West Jerusalem.
9. In fact, Dadoune’s second film, Chanti, refers with a certain measure of realism to the idea of the shanty town—improvised dwellings made of scrap metal on city outskirts, suffering from poor sanitation and chronic unemployment. Already in that film, Ofakim was perceived as a type of shanty town, as Dadoune juxtaposed depictions of the open desert landscape with hints of destruction and ravage; for an elaboration, see my essay “Desert Margins,” cat. Yosef-Joseph Dadoune: Sion, A Cinematic Trilogy (Petach Tikva Museum of Art, 2007), pp. 11-12, 15-17.
10. The Merhavim cinema operated for only a decade, between the 1960s and the 1970s.
11. In this I refer to the avant-garde cinema created in Leningrad/St. Petersburg in the 1980s, which from one’s point of view today offers a powerful expression of the apocalyptic disintegration in pre-post-Soviet Russia before and immediately after the Chernobyl disaster. The appellation “necrorealism” was coined by theoretician Viktor Mazin in reference to Yevgeny Yufit’s films, among them Vesna (Spring, 1985)—a black-and-white 16mm manifesto focusing on the corpse of the Soviet machine under the mercies of a post-ideological society where people are cast back into a spiritual and moral chaos of social cannibalism. Present-day Russia under Putin seems to be an embodiment of this horrific vision which fills Yufit’s frame with a (nuclear) cloud and beastly terror.
12. In the chronicles of communal-artistic activity in Ofakim, one should mention local sculptor, Haim Tedgi, who taught art in the youth clubs and residential blocks with the municipality’s encouragement, and subsequently founded and directed the Ofakim Art Center. Artist David Wakstein also operated in Ofakim as part of the Art Stations he set up in several periphery towns. His activity consisted of master classes for children and youth instructed by Bezalel students. His activity was largely based on the model of the “great master” who introduces the ideas and images and includes the students in implementing them, while the latter nourish his own art work, becoming a part of it. According to this model, the artist is situated at the top of the artistic pyramid, while the participants are harnessed as assistants in a technical activity partly involving industrious-physical effort. Dadoune’s practice is different by virtue of his being a part of the city, an insider who initiates a process of empowerment and unmediated cooperation aimed at a comprehensive urban vision. Dadoune enables these youths to experience themselves as the film’s protagonists, while he himself momentarily disappears behind the scenes. The physical work in the yoga and dance workshops he initiated enables the participants to open up to an enriching energetic process devoid of hierarchies intended to expose the voice of the periphery and launch rehabilitation processes from within the place.
13. The film Chanti is centered on a violent male ritual conversing with macho initiation rites prevalent in Israeli military culture, often involving humiliation and radical stretching of the limits of physical ability.
14. Gideon Ofrat, “Ruins, Wreckage, Destruction,” cat. Ruins Revisited: The Image of the Ruin in Israel 1803-2003 (Tel Aviv: Time for Art – Israeli Art Center, 2003), pp. 76-77 [Hebrew].
15. See Shani Bar-On’s essay in this book.
16. See the project’s program in this book.