Deserts have been getting a bad rep for millennia. From a distance, we picture them as arid, unattractive, unsustainable lands without a hint of vegetation in sight. While the Negev's infinite landscape can feel daunting, in reality, it holds promise for endless possibility as far as the eye can see. Curator Hadas Kedar set out to shed positive light on the 'desert zone' this spring in the Arad Contemporary Art Center's current exhibition, De Zone.
What is the significance of the title of the exhibition?
De Zone is a combination of Desert and Zone. It evolved from the idea that the Negev desert is a ‘zone’ on its own – an area distinct in so many ways from the not-so-far-away urban centers. Its climate, land, and population are particular to its geographical boundaries.
And what or who is the main subject of De Zone?
Fata Morgana (mirage), which is an optical phenomenon that occurs in the space between earth and sky. They are generated by the fraction of rays of light caused by significant daytime and nighttime temperature differences in the desert. The phenomenon produces inverted moving images on the horizon that are ‘screened’ upon mineral particles and salts dispersed in the desert air.
Do you read this type of optical illusion as a metaphor?
The exhibition reveals characteristics of the desert that are not necessarily in line with its reputation. As a metaphor, the Fata Morgana is an invitation to perceive the desert as a fertile ground of imagery production – as a vast resource for the creation of local, time-based visuality. It illuminates the possibility of the desert to become an ecological system that interminably produces moving images.
Who is participating in this exhibition?
The exhibition displays artworks by artists, architects, and cultural practitioners. The works combine a scientific point of view, that regards the optical phenomenon as a technological wonder, with a metaphysical perspective that identifies the desert with mystic visual experiences and encounters, divine revelations, and hallucinations in different epochs as reflected by the Bible, the New Testimony, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and ancient Jewish external books.
The artworks put forth a plethora of readings and understandings of the optical phenomena vis-a-vis the Negev desert and the Dead Sea and illustrate the area surrounding the city of Arad as a fertile, yet fragile terrain, generating and nurturing moving images and an alternative ‘device’ for the viewing of images.
While some of the artists are from Israel, others hail from abroad. Are any of them covering barren lands beyond the Negev?
All of the international artists that are presenting their works in the exhibition have participated at one point or another in the ‘Arad Art and Architecture’ International Residency Program (founded in 2014). Their artworks are a result of intensive research and production processes that have taken place in Arad and its surroundings.
They say that this natural phenomenon of Fata Morgana is in danger of extinction due to climate change and the effects of ongoing mineral mining in the desert. What does this notion of impermanence add to a temporary exhibition?
Themes of transience really come to light in the series of digital collages printed on gold faux leather that make up Mirages by Alexis Cousineau (Canada). The work suggests a sense of urgency due to the vulnerability of the performing body present in the images and the flickering tendency of the image that appears and disappears on top of the metallic fabric.
Which project should viewers pay extra close attention to?
IOEZ (Inhabitants Of the Exclusion Zone) – r#creat1on by Raluca Grada-Emandi & Oliviu Lugojan-Ghenciu (UK) deals with space and augmented reality to address the temporal digital forms of life. The work illustrates and criticizes the contemporary human condition while looking into both past and present. It follows the trajectory of the human being's pursuit for perfection, whether this fantasy is connoted with belief in immortality, intellectual emancipation, national pride, occupying territories, artistic achievement, or financial dominance.
This idealist mindset is manifested in the obsession of technology. It proposes an apprehended perspective on an era in which artificial intelligence attains the highest level of evolution – an era which merely enables us to realize that the human being is nothing more than a human being.
Nevertheless, this artwork is about the desire to be more than humane: to live out one's dreams and technologically imitate human behavior.
Have any artists addressed this idea of "movement" typically associated with mirages?
The idea of the mirage as a live-feed of moving images is present in the three moving image works presented in the exhibition, one of which is, in fact, IOEZ (Inhabitants Of the Exclusion Zone) – r#creat1on. Secondly, Aradlines by Yael Vishnizki-Levi & Stanislaw Welbel (Poland) includes a series of 360-degree photographs of a communal land artwork produced by the artists in collaboration with local residents; it is the product of an intense pursuit of genuine interpretations of archaeological sites and artifacts from the surrounding area. Lastly, Jackie Pearl’s 10-minute video installation Eshetlot (Israel) is a collection of documented scenarios based on the autobiographical diary entries written by woman who worked in a potash factory on the shores of the Dead Sea in the 1930s and 40s.
The Eshetlot project adds a theatrical motive in its dealing with isolation and loneliness. It is presented as a two-channel video installation. One channel projects a stream of photographs of the deserted working quarters as they are slowly destroyed by humans and nature. Alongside these shacks, Pearl documents the destruction of a cinema that was built for the workers in a cave above the sea. The second channel consists of a series of monologues that are based on texts written by woman who left their families behind in order to participate in the Dead Sea Works (potash plant). The combination of the testimonies of the woman along with the images of the abandoned buildings on the shore of the Dead Sea, allude to the increasing scarcity of the phenomena of the Fata Morgana.
What was your main goal with this exhibition?
To widen the spectrum of associations that we have with the desert by including the optical phenomena of the Fata Morgana as a precious desert ‘resource’. To arouse awareness to the fragility of this desert resource that is based on a very delicate ecosystem that is currently endangered by climate change and non-regulated land-use.
What do you wish most for viewers to come away with from De Zone?
The Arad Contemporary Art Center is a space that is dedicated to contemporary art in the Negev. Each exhibition is designed to contribute to a specific audience experience. I hope visitors will experience an aesthetic pleasure from the artworks alongside an awareness for the need to address burning questions dealing with the sustainability of our environment.
De Zone runs until June 16 at the Arad Contemporary Art Center, Elazar Ben Ya'ir St 28, Arad