The artists in the exhibition:
Mordecai Ardon, Maya Aruch, Yael Burstein, Chen Cohen, Aniam Leah Dery, Noam Enbar, Moshe Gershuni, Shirel Horovitz, Lilach Pnina Livne, Gal Melnick, Eran Nave, Issachar Ber Ryback, Avi Sabah, Lihi Turjeman
What is the root of the close relation between faith and art, embodied in the linguistic affinity that exists between them in Hebrew? And what can we understand about the artistic act through the prism of this connection? Both are driven by yearnings and hopes to transform and reveal new knowledge through practices and actions that are ceremonial in nature. For an instant, amen (אָמֵן) and artist (אָמָּן) become one. The word “amen” is usually translated as “agreement” – “so be it,” that is to say, it is a word that expresses complete conformity and acceptance of an existing order, whereas artists are generally identified with opposition and a critical position. The etymological proximity between the two words in Hebrew lends itself to a surprising possibility, suggesting that creating a change in a given situation does not necessarily require resistance but rather requests its full and sincere acceptance.
The Believers is the last installment in a trilogy of exhibitions that took place at the Bat Yam Museum of Art over the past year, examining the nature of the connection between art and faith. Plenty, New Age, and now The Believers – this trilogy stems from a political, economic, and social climate where more than ever (and perhaps just as always) one must have great faith in order to create and present art.
The artists whose work is presented in the exhibition are of different generations in contemporary Israeli art. While disparate in their styles and practices, nevertheless it seems that a common primal pulse reverberates through their works. The works belong to the present, but at the same time their contemporarity is not the outcome of the response to an existing state of affairs, but rather generated by a long, timeless duration that imbues them.
The moon and the molted snakeskin are two ancient images reiterated throughout the exhibition. The snakeskin becomes a staff, a pillar, and an arm, or a moonlit winding road. Over time, the snake that crawls on its belly – contemptible, vile, and questioning – also became the symbol of medicine, mainly due to its ability to shed its dead skin, and with that – reveal the regenerating truth of its cells. The slough acquires its shape from the sum of all movements that the snake performed in the process of shedding it. It is an inanimate object that carries and distributes the energy and effort poured into it, and perhaps it is a fitting metaphor for the artistic object: an object that becomes the carrier of the energy and the actions absorbed in it, and reverberates towards those who gather around it. Indeed, perhaps more than the participating artists are the believers, the exhibition alludes to the need of art itself in believers.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” – these words open Moshe Gershuni’s 1986 series Four Serious Songs, featured in this exhibition. Taken from First Epistle to the Corinthians, the text delineates the inextricable link between faith and love. It is a small, decisive, and heart wrenching series. “And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing,” paints Gershuni with an image of a slough or a tallit snaking across its length, as though the image itself wishes to set free from its own skin and metamorphosize into a higher existential entity. If the essence of faith and art is to instigate a miraculous transformation, Gershuni engraves on the paper’s “skin”: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” No change can come about without love of the existing, the only possible movement is that of love.