What do famed Tel Aviv street artist Dede, an Israeli photojournalist, and Ai Wei Wei have in common? They are all participants in "Dangerous Art," the newest exhibition cluster at the Haifa Museum of Art. We sat down with curator Svetlana Reingold to scratch beneath the surface and grapple with the lines that separate private from public, social from political, limited from limitless, to work out what makes this art "dangerous."
First off, what is it about the art that makes it dangerous?
Art has the capacity to challenge the existing power structures and undermine social or political conventions, hence it can challenge and endanger the dominant hegemony.
Artistic Activism is still a new concept in Israel. Can you define “artivism” for our readers?
"Artivism" strives for equality between the two components - art and activism. Contemporary art criticism claims that art can function as an activist arena of political protest. This idea is expressed in the works of many artists who seek to create out of deep social involvement.
How do you believe contemporary art can function as a venue for political protest?
Contemporary art contains the political-critical dimension, mainly in images that reflect the suffering of the "other," and in images that seek to transform the "other" into a space of political activism.
Is it fair to say that this whole exhibit is one giant protest? If so, what for?
The exhibition as a whole seeks to express the idea that freedom of expression is essential and necessary for artists. The exhibition protests against moments of restriction and limitation of the freedom of expression of artists and civilians, both in Israel and worldwide.
What first inspired you to curate this exhibit?
In recent years, freedom of expression has been decreasing in the social and political spheres, and especially in the fields of culture and art. These processes create trends of opposition among intellectuals and artists. I wished to express that and expose the audience to forms of artistic expression that respond to the restriction of the freedom of civilians and marginal groups.
The upcoming exhibition deals with a wealth of social issues. Can you name a few?
The various exhibitions in the current cluster deal with a range of social issues, including LGBT rights, the struggle of women for dignity and equality, the struggle of refugees in Israel and abroad to improve their living conditions and to obtain legal status that will enable them to enjoy a safe haven, life in Israel under what feels like a constant state of emergency, and the state's use of force against its citizens, as in the case of the Ethiopians' protest, or the evacuation of Amona.
“Trigger warnings” (warning the viewer that the following artwork might contain distressing material) are a big controversy around the world—in poetry, writing, videos, and artwork. I’m wondering if you feel the exhibit needs these disclaimers?
The title of the exhibition pre-reveals its dealing with controversial issues, and therefore I do not think there is any need for any further warnings. We chose to present socially and politically involved art, and if the works attract any reactions among the audience, then we have achieved our goal.
How did you find the contributing artists for the exhibition cluster?
I've been following some of the artists for a long time, and found their work interesting and relevant to the subject matter. The other artists I found through an in-depth study process conducted prior to the exhibition regarding social and political activism in the field of local and international art.
Can you tell me about a couple of artists that really stick out to you?
Maria Acha Kucher, an artist of Peruvian origin, has created a large-scale project that depicts women participating in public protests around the world, including social and feminist movements. The goal of the project is to increase the visibility of women's minds and place them at the center of social struggles.
The photojournalist Eldad Refaeli participates in the exhibition "Struggle, Protest - Knight, Mask" and presents photographs depicting the next stage of the social protest in Israel, which began in 2011 and then weakened and strengthened in small waves.
The “Queer Show” exhibition argues for queer performance in the public space. Would you agree that the exhibit itself is a “queer performance in the public space”?
Possibly yes, the exhibition presents artists dealing with issues related to the LGBT community, thus enhances the visibility of these issues in the museum space, which constitutes a part of the public space.
You curated the last exhibit “AnonynmX,” which also dealt with the borders between the public and private realms. What is it that intrigues you about the play between private and public?
In this day and age, the blurred boundaries between the private and public spaces has become an inseparable part of our lives, and this lack of separation dictates our daily sharing practice. I see this as a contemporary phenomenon that has far-reaching implications in terms of how we conduct our lives, a phenomenon which, of course, also affects artists and their relationships with the audience.
There are so many talented street artists in Tel Aviv…what prompted you to call upon Dede?
Of course Israel hosts a wide variety of wonderful street artists, and not in Tel Aviv only. Dede's works specifically matched the exhibition's themes: they express protest against the way in which the art world exploits the neglected neighborhood environment, while on the other hand, the images of the birds that he created range from aspiration to freedom to straight down collapse to the ground of reality. The combination of his works and the texts of Nizan Mintz create an interesting visual complex, and when their works are exhibited in the museum space they get a new meaning.
Including such a big name in artistic activism as Ai Wei Wei was bold. It really broadens the art to a more global spectrum, yet he discusses the locally prevalent topic of “refugees.” Are other international contributions broadening the sphere or is the exhibition’s focus on internal, local issues?
The exhibition features a number of international artists dealing with the issue of refugees in a global context, such as Vic Muniz and Tracy Moffat, whose works were exhibited at the Venice Biennale. The Israeli-French artist Elodi Abergil also refers to the refugee issue in this context. Of course, the exhibition "We the Refugees" refers to refugee issues in the local context as well, and relates to the way in which refugees undermine the national hegemony of Israeli society.
What makes Haifa the best suited home for Dangerous Art?
The city of Haifa has a long history as a workers' city that dealt with complex social and political issues. Many artists worked in Haifa, who dedicated themselves to the genre of social realism that was prevalent in Israel in the 1950s, such as Moshe Gat and Gershon Knispel. Haifa's activist and protestive history makes it particularly suitable to host such an exhibition that deals with aspects of social and artistic activism.
Do you believe that art can effect change?
I feel that art plays an important role in revealing substantive issues and exposing inequality and injustice. Art can trigger a cognitive change by exposing these situations to the general public.
If the viewer leaves with any one message from the entire exhibition cluster, what should it be?
I feel that art plays a critical role in society. We live in a capitalist and commercial world, and art is an inseparable part of it. Yet it is still kicking and subversive, and serves as a platform for discussing global and political issues.
"Dangerous Art" is on display at the Haifa Museum of Art until April 14.