by Shalom Gorewitz
Everything in my artwork is real, but none of it is true. The empty spaces, blanks, ellipses are as expressive as the visuals. The silence is louder than sound. It’s always about emptying, which requires fullness. The frantic sequencing is meant to describe something slow. The long, almost photographic takes, are about speed. What might appear as confusion or ambiguity is carefully planned but not logical. I’m the interface between machines, the analog puppet with a digital master, pre-robotic prototype artist for the post-human era. I tickle the potentiometer and colors emerge; I pull a plug and rest. Water is not only water, it’s flow, it’s signal. Waves are not simply waves, but visualization of physics. It’s not the tree moving, it’s the wind. It’s not the highway, it’s heat, gravity, death. The mind melts while trying to make sense of it. Symbols, metaphors, puns, analogies trick us into meaning. Artworks come with code cards- red means, blue signifies, black describes, green is the new blue, yellow the new orange. The audience wants a story from the artist. Oh, yes, this is Kabalistic, see how all of the energy flows through these morphs and transformations. Vaguely Jewish symbols and alpha wave music. Can you see how this might be healing? Think about having it on your wall to catch new details. Think about telling your friends the story I told you.
What a story it is! Based on personal memories of things that have, might have, or could have happened. The stops and starts where the viewer has time to fill in. This is what the world looks like to me. Landscapes become personal. If I can tell the same story in different ways, it is no longer the same story. If I don’t care about the boundaries between fact and fiction, you shouldn’t either. This is a word journey, a roller coaster of verbiage. Over time it rises and falls; there are thrills and the anticipation of thrills. There is a delight in the certainty of uncertainty, of going along for the ride, just because you never know what might happen next. If you’re beginning to drift off into thinking about sex or something else important, I might also. Should I recall the muses, the mysterious ones, strangers who inspired the narratives? The one I shouldn’t have left in Tel Aviv? The one the goat will lead me to? Ghazals, Sufi songs for the Beloved; the Song of Songs, the Shechinah, momentarily physical, Solomon’s confusion of desire and faith. This is a template to explore sensuality, romance, and fantasy that is at once earthy and mystical. Religious pornography. We literally go to the tavern after the annual reading. We must eat, drink, dance with abandon in dedication to the divine. For one Friday night it doesn’t matter if it’s Shlomo Carlbach, Shefa Gold or the Rolling Stones.
Everything in my artwork is true, but none of it is real. It is not painting or sculpture, some have called it anti-Art since it has no commercial value. In the beginning I was driven with the passion that I could have such high frequencies and sequencing that the work might explode the TV set. On my cable show, Raster (1977-78) I realized I had to put a text warning that, in fact, the rapid field-cut fragments of images would not hurt the television. Only available in midtown Manhattan, most viewers hadn’t seen anything like it. Now it’s the only thing they see. Out of the revolution, complacency. Out of the subversion, consumption. Once the old rules were gutted, there was nothing left to do. The Internet is the first new medium without rules, beyond structure. When the enemy embraces you, it’s over. Experiments become entertainment. Galleries dedicate prime space to projections that show digital films that could be pilots for the arts cable channel, the new overground cinema. Hey, Roscoe, let’s watch some video art on YouTube. Check out this guy’s website. I’m tired; it’s time to go to sleep. Just take a look. Stimulated, charged, sensual rich colors, delicate light patterns, and shifting forms. It’s common for Hollywood films to lead to sex. Is there an artwork that creates peace? Silence, only the most faint of lines, how much to erase before it is blank?
So the plot thickens, the intrigues, affairs, seductions, long gone, as the electronic-primitives age, almost ready for Bart Friedman’s retirement home for old video artists. He did this, she did that. Writing, curating, vj-ing, angling back door to epic mural television, a place that is real, but does not exist in physical space, where people meet but don’t see each other, where ideals collide with convictions. A democratic medium, a local voice, an activist tool- there is a Whitman wanabee body-electric strain to the early efforts. After monochrome painters assassinated Art, after pop blended it with culture, after poetic cinema showed a way beyond literature, the raster scan pointillism of video was free to borrow from all disciplines, especially science and the humanities, to create itself. Right place, right time, David Jones, too much beer, sleeping under David Marsh’s editing bay. I nudge, he reaches behind the board to patch cables. I’m pushing through the night, only a few more hours left with this precious equipment. I can sleep tomorrow when the session is over. This is the way it was, some time before this time, when we could sleep next to imaging systems, the matrix, breathing visuals.
The art is neither real nor true, but neither is this statement. It comes from life, recorded on tape or an SD card. Everybody has a story. Everybody deserves to tell and be heard. Shoah stories are the hardest for me. I finally mourned my grandfather through a video fractured by damaged vision recorded in Poland and Romania. It begins with Reb Nachman’s niggun, the narrow bridge, chanted by a Christian Polish musician. Visiting the places I knew somehow from dreams. Sighet seemed familiar. Shavuot there with a minyan, drinking schnapps, and davenning. It’s easy to imagine my grandmother and grandfather, who I was named after, nearby. I remember her quick bursts of unexpected davenning in her Brooklyn apartment. We gossip in broken English, Yiddish, Hebrew about my mother’s family and life in America. The Iron Curtain had just disintegrated, the Coucescos executed, and they could speak freely with foreign visitors. They took us to where they said my mother lived, close to the house Eli Weisel grew up in. Some Russian tourists gave us one of their rooms so we could stay in the best of the Sighet hotels. Warner slept on the floor; the place smelled of kerosene. A Christian teenager who spoke some English became our guide. I gave him a digital camera and he learned photographic composition during the few days we were there. When I left, I gave him my Saturn baseball hat. His parents invited us for dinner and drinks. They had three b/w television sets piled up in their living room, like a Paik installation. At midnight, we watched the trial of the Coucesco son. A school teacher, an Ivri, invited us for lunch and drinks. He asked nonstop questions in perfect English that he learned from books, about life outside Romania and told us what it’s like to live in a state of constant fear.
I was influenced by Martin Buber and John Cage simultaneously during my last years of High School and started to think of myself as a Zen-Chasid. Buber helped me understand how the mystical Zionism of the Eastern European countries became part of the practical Zionism emerging in Palestine, Russia, and Germany. A Habonimnik growing up, my understanding of Zionism was that it was a progressive part of a universal labor movement that included equality and civil rights. This is what we got from Hertzl- “Nothing prevents us from being and remaining the exponents of a united humanity, when we have a country of our own. To fulfill this mission we do not have to remain literally planted among the nations who hate and despise us.” Habonim stresses Hagshama, the actualization of values. As a Socialist-Zionist, it was not cool to dwell on the Holy Land elements; for us, Israel would be a worker’s paradise. In response to Gandhi who believed the Jews should have remained in Europe and practiced nonviolent protest against the Nazis, Buber wrote- “We considered and still consider it our duty to understand and to honor the claim which is opposed to us and to endeavor to reconcile both claims. We could not and cannot renounce the Jewish claim; something even higher than the life of our people is bound up with this land, namely its work, its divine mission. But we have been and are still convinced that it must be possible to find some compromise between this claim and the other, for we love this land and we believe in its future; since such love and such faith are surely present on the other side as well, a union in the common service of the land must be within the range of possibility. Where there is faith and love, a solution may be found even to what appears to be a tragic opposition." Working and traveling in Israel and the West Bank during 1968-69, I better understood Buber’s prescience.
Attention sways to the here and now- this story and the next one. By now you can tell that I’m not a writer. You might be wondering if there is some order to this mess. Is he trying to make a collage with words? Is there some connection between Zionism and living on the edge, being a border crosser? Is this the mind of a peripatetic Hebrew, buzzing like an annoying mosquito in my ear? Will reading this essay result in an itch?
This really happened, but I won’t tell you why. 2009 – Hundreds of revelers in Ghana running toward me, circling me, grabbing for the camera. 1983 – AIR at Bronx Museum of Art – the punk asking me, what’s to keep him from taking my camera. I nod toward Malik el Amin, my friend and watcher, holding a heavy tripod. Oh. To get students into the workshop, I went alone door-to-door in apartment houses giving out brochures explaining the museum that had just moved into the abandoned synagogue on the Grand Concourse. People must have thought I was crazy, but I never felt personally in danger as I wandered around the burned out streets. The Bronx became a metaphor for things that are hard to understand, Reagan's military adventures in small countries, and search for identity. The lesson of hip-hop was familiar from my Fluxes oriented education- everything is fluid and mixable.
The Museum sent me to Morocco to create a video portrait of Mohammed Melehi for his retrospective exhibition. In Morocco I deeply felt my Semitic roots. Time in a relatively peaceful country where there is little separation between life and religion, turned me back to a search for essential tribal identity, i.e. one where spirituality is infused into every damn thing. Melehi took me to some mosques with painted ceilings hidden in road-less High Atlas Mt. villages. He told me that the Jews were crafts people and probably were among those who painted the delicate abstract forms that actually represented things in nature. He told me that the two communities shared the mosque for prayers. Each mosque had the following written statement: “only God is perfect.” I know life was hard for the Jews of Morocco who left for Israel as soon as they could; but I was astonished to hear of the levels of cooperation and co-existence among the cousins. At a cultural festival in Morocco where I was invited to show my videos, I met Palestinian poet, Iraqi lute player, and Tunisian printmaker. Paul Bowles, the daughter of the King, and many other dignitaries and art world luminaries appeared at the festival concerts and events. William Burroughs would have come, but he was in Kansas.
Memories are fictions based on mostly forgotten facts. Are the memories recorded on video and film more real than those recalled? There is a representational banality in the recording, subjective eye, often familial linearity, and mundane literalness in the representations. Documentaries (even verite) are reinvented narratives based on editing, composition, and soundtrack. It is always self-anthropology (Sol Worth) when the most narcissistic natives are given tools to record themselves. New media advocate Gene Youngblood said the first thing people do with video is bring it to the bedroom. Rosalind Krauss immediately identified video as a reverse mirror. While that urge or ploy (for sex and seduction) is always inherent in art, there is ultimately a maturation of intention and practice. Sexuality becomes just one part of personal voice.
I heard that some people were upset that I wrote something for the voice of a Caribbean man. It’s a letter I actually wrote to Heshi, my bio-bro living in Israel. Since promised land is a common theme in art, and my intention is metaphoric anyway, I asked musician Romeo Fontenelle to perform the letter in French and English. My bio-bro sometimes reminds me that I’m not black. I know I’m not. But we’re somewhat colored with traces of Romania, North Africa, and The Pale. In Israel people asked if I was Jordanian. On Eretz Broadway or Dizengoff, I blend. In Ghana, I’m pure white. Many people in Kumasi expressed fascination with Jewish beliefs and practices. Someone naively asked if Jews still used blood to make Matzah. The same person kept saying that she wished she was Jewish. Many Akan believe they are part of the Lost Tribes, the ones who left slavery in Egypt and went south instead of meandering toward Zion. I’m not surprised to see a range of skin tones and features in synagogues I attend. Like Roma, we assume the characteristics of the surroundings, even our looks, to be part of the dominant culture. Unlike the Roma, we are uncomfortable both in diaspora and at home. Exile is part of survival, but it’s never enough.
Curious that the alliance of mystical and political Zionism, once tightly bound, are now conflicted. How has Zionism, which is essentially an ideal, been divided into political extremes that make military decisions? How can someone who observes Jewish traditions and beliefs not be a Zionist? What is a secular Jew? Are there secular Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus? I’ve heard of lapsed Catholics. Can one be a lapsed Jew? What is a Jew when the word identifies believers and those who don’t care? If Jewishness is cultural, what is being celebrated? In a twist of Tao, isn’t it the one who doesn’t care, who just tries to live a positive life, closer to the divine? There are many Chasidic stories about communities being spiritually saved by a child or a simple person with a whistle, reciting the alphabet, dancing, or shedding a tear. Maybe secular Jews are so secure in their Jewishness that they don’t have to deal with questions of the Ultimate. In Islamic countries most people naturally pray as part of their daily lives. The people love their families and care for their neighbors. In Ghana we always said grace at the beginning of every meal, strangers holding hands, one breakfast, the sonorous voice of the president of the Bible society at the Guest House, as he thanks the One who provides. This is the way of the blessings, the most important meditations of the day, continuous consciousness toward the Bountiful One. Jeffrey Lew, Jew/Gypsy by birth, loved my grandmother. When he asked her what life was all about, after all of her tragedies, near escapes, and immigrant life, and she said, “nothing” Jeffrey labeled her a Buddhist.
As an imagist, I’m safe in abstraction. I create my own world, language, and animated behaviors. With words, there is danger of meanings. I can remember the rules we learned in art school, the ones on the BFA multiple-choice final exam:
When you are asked a question about art-
A. Answer the question with a question.
B. Manipulate a nearby object.
C. Walk away, pause and turn as if to say something, continue walking.
When you are asked about your art-
A. Lie in an honest way.
B. Be sincere but indirect.
C. Be direct but insincere.
When someone pushes for narrative-
A. Provide one that has nothing to do with the plot.
B. Provide details of something that once happened to you, or someone you know.
C. Deflect seriousness with humor.
When asked a technical question-
A. Pretend that you don’t understand the question.
B. Use technical terms from engineering and physics.
C. Make a spiritual analogy.
If someone in the art world asks if you are a Zionist-
A. Watch your back.
B. Explain hagshama (actualizing values).
C. Draw a penis.
When asked by an interviewer what my obsessions were, I answered, “being a good person.” This kind of response is death for the artist. Too much color is not cool. Passion, romance, and enthusiasm are ok if they are “ironic.” What happens when the radical desire to remain outside of the system keeps you out of the system? As the Talmud says, “The place honors not the man, ‘tis the man who gives honor to the place.” Is it true that when one enters Zion, Zion no longer exists? If Zion is a dream, when do we wake up? Does Zion mean the same for Rastafarians as it does to me, a descendent of Feivish Heller ha-Levi, and back? Chronology- R' Meshullam Feivish HELLER is a grandson of the Tosefot Yomtov, grandson of the great gaon and tzaddik R' Meir HaLevi of Radschen the son-in-law of the Yedei Moshe on Midrash Rabba, who is the son of the son of the Rashal, grandson of Rashi, Hillel the Elder, R' Yochanan HaSandlar back to King David. I am a distant cousin of Yeshua! Is this genealogy a documentary or an extended Biblical farce? Fact, fiction, or faction? The doctor asked, how did your grandfather die? He was killed by the Nazis. So stay away from Nazis and you should live a long life. I asked the draft board member, was I named Shalom to be a soldier? He changed my name to Roscoe and told me where to report.
My art work presents a false reality, one in which I can read Pier Marton’s mind while connected by satellite (Telepathos) and be Doug Davis’ twin/ghost in Four Places Two Figures One Ghost, the first networked telecast from a New York City museum. My Rabbi David Ingber said that Israel, usually translated as wrestler with God, can also be translated as embracer of the Holy One. I acknowledged the sensuality of body contact through classical wrestling during High School. I tried to macho myself by being part of the team that at once represented the purest form of fighting and hugging, the Jewish boy trying to be Greek. Before that my main sport was running away from bullies. At Antioch I studied boxing, maybe trying to be Black, but soon became a long distance runner, which is also the kind of artist I want to be.
At Kibbutz Hazorea as volunteer in 1968, I worked with cows and no one wanted to share a room. I would have walked barefoot though manure to be alone at night, except for the snakes. Ezra Milo, a psychologist and leading educator in the Shomer Hatzair community, was feeding me books (Maslow, Rogers, and Adler, among others) about existential psychology and serving as a therapist through almost daily conversations. Ezra, my spiritual father, had studied and worked with Buber. Confession- one calf followed me around as though she knew me from another life and I switched her tag when I heard she’d been sold. We had great trips through the newly liberated Golan Heights, Banyas (where I shot images that I later used for my first video), Jericho, Nablus, Hebron, and many other places where we walked freely. It’s too bad that when the Jordanians pulled out, the Israelis should have followed Buber and Brit Shalom’s advice to make friendly gestures to the Palestinians, trying to coexist. Ultimately force never works. I spent too much time at the end of the Valley, contemplating the border at Megiddo, the place prophesized for the Apocalypse.
I told Mrs. Zabar I still loved the “dry place,” a code for mystical Zionism. I’d given her my syllabus for Israeli-Palestinian cinema class I teach, but she cut me out of the loop of her Other Israel Festival when I told her that I was a you know what. Israel is a safe place to be Jewish, but not to be a human. Jerusalem is infused in me like DNA. But the longing is more powerful than the physical place. What does the Electric Jew do knowing ancestry, honoring parents, being true to idea of “Israel” a wrestler/embracer? How do the stories, the solutions, the moral laws get translated into some kind of Jewish art? Maybe all Jewish art includes wrestling and embracing. This covers Woody Allen to Jonathan Borofsky. I can literally mix myself into the work of a long lineage of Jewish artists; my teacher Allan Kaprow walked on water at the Sea of Galilee in Nam June Paik’s Allan and Allen’s Complaint. I have written about Paik’s fascination with Jewish themes- the centerpiece of his tour de force Guggenheim retrospective was Jacob’s Ladder. Consider the earliest vidiots- Beryl Korot, Ira Schneider, Bart Friedman, Jaime Davidovitch, and Shirley Clarke, to name a few. It is generally agreed that Wolf Vostell was among the first to use video in an installation. He lived in Berlin and dressed like a Chasid. For me, iShiviti, Psalm Flags, and Vidrash are templates, sources for inspiration. It is the substance of the artist’s being that leaks into the art, that is, the content is not what’s seen, but behind what is being shown.
In 1972, Allon Schoerner, an avant-garde curator, recruited me to do an audio installation for “Jerusalem Calling” a multimedia exhibition at the Jewish Museum in NYC, honoring Hadassah’s contributions to Israel. Since I was drafted, opposed to the war in Vietnam, and strongly considering giving up US citizenship and making Aliyah, this was an excellent opportunity to have a third visit to Israel while participating in an important art project. David Cort, an irrepressible/irresistible video artist and Bob Quinn, a respected light show artist and photographer, and I lived in Jerusalem for a month, under the protection of Mayor Kolleck’s office while collecting materials through exploring many sides of the city. It was a harsh winter. We had lots of equipment and tapes and sometimes conflicting ideas about our objectives. David, a secular Jew, comes from community activism and wanted to look for the problems in Jerusalem. Bob wasn’t Jewish and was happy taking pictures of everything. I was collecting sound for an audio installation that involved earphones, a dial to access the ten distinct channels, and piles of newspapers and magazines I brought back with me.
Our time in Jerusalem was too exciting. We got caught up with the Moroccan Black Panthers who led us on a tour of the slums. We later found out that our translator was exaggerating the responses of the people we met. We attended a demonstration and got caught in a police action in which they surrounded the gathering with buses and garbage trucks and choked us with exhaust. Several of the leaders were arrested. I interviewed an artist whose paintings had bullet holes from the cross fire of Israeli and Jordanian soldiers. The great Israeli filmmaker Ben Haim and his brother got us into Bethlehem Christmas Eve by driving around the city until they found a check-post manned by one of their cousins from India. From Manger Square we watched the sunset over a golden Jerusalem in the distance, always bigger than life, while listening to gentle Christmas chants and hymns in many languages. During our time in Jerusalem, I audiotaped interviews with artists, people on the street, wounded soldiers recuperating at Hadassah hospital, and activists. One night we witnessed a clandestine meeting in a café with young Palestinians and Israelis who were earnestly working on a peace treaty.
We showed our work to many television journalists who were still waiting for the latest ½” video technology to arrive at the Israeli TV news studios. I learned about how hard it was for these former soldiers, working several jobs with complex relationships amid political tension, and growing hostility from Palestinians, to have an apartment and families. I couldn’t imagine having access to the media and computer tools that I was obsessed with as a student and young artist, with the realities of television and art in Israel. I was selected for the project because of my previous experiences in Israel, familiarity with Hebrew, and enthusiasm. David began suspicious and critical. I returned to NYC with a dread about the draft and conflicted feelings about Israel. David remained for several weeks at a Yeshiva, before returning to edit and install work at the museum. He had found a Rebbe with a laugh as free and infectious as his.
Dreams don’t hurt, longings don’t wound, Zionism is heartbreaking. I’ve made several videos in Israel – nr. Banyas, frontier ahead; Excavations; and Jerusalem Road. I used 8 mm film that I’d shot in Banyas and Golan Heights in '68, stretching frames by playing with an electronic film scanner. Excavations (1979), was recorded at Kibbutz Gezer, over grown ruins of a Palestinian village, and in Beer Sheva. Jerusalem Road (1990) includes images from Masada, Mitspe Rimon, and Jerusalem. These are not documentary, fiction, fantasy, journalism, or experimental. They are plotless, but tell a story. They are nonverbal but not without words. They are cathartic, semi-abstract, and hybrid. As an Ivri, it is my job to cross boundaries. Like Joshua and the scouts, I have been recruited to look at the other side. In my metaphorical world, this means beyond structure, beyond methods, beyond meaning. Heshi, my bio-bro driving a tractor pulling irrigation pipes through a field; a tram ride up to Masada; snapped shots of the road from south to north, is this the final voyage, from the wilderness to the holy city? My eyes tear while davenning, relaxing at the seder, during studies when I read the utopian version of the earth’s future while looking around me at the growing number of catastrophes and blunders. In my vision, Jerusalem cries, too. Is it too naïve to hope? Too childish to imagine? Too Jewish to (not) suffer?
In 1989, I was asked by the USIS to support the efforts of the Beer Sheva Art Institute to add technological art to their curriculum and facilities. They were in the early stages of merging with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and used university studio and mobile equipment. I consulted with the administration and faculty on ways that artists were using new technologies and suggested systems, design, and purchase options. I taught a workshop that inspired me probably more than the students. In the multi-generational group, many carried the tragic emotional wounds of lost family and friends; some the scars of Europe and the early days of Israel. I basically showed them the equipment, answered a few questions about process, then watched them make things. Some turned the camera on themselves as a mirror and confessional; others explored the landscape of the city. One day, we were suddenly surrounded by soldiers pointing rifles, demanding we erase anything we’d just recorded. One older man, a wonderful artist who lived on a nearby kibbutz, used the camera like a brush in the hands of an action painter. Through my time in Beer Sheva and touring with presentations of my videos, I began to fall in love with Israel again.
So let’s make a comedy, coming of age, a jump skip run story with a clear beginning and happy ending. Or let’s throw the camera into the bloody waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where gas/oil/chemicals kill fish and consume oxygen. Or we can combine them- how many politicians does it take to stop an oil leak? Maybe gallows humor is the only kind left. I can shout, I can play priest/prophet, I can sit for hours and meditate. I can transform images, making them more and less important than they once were. Someone asked me, does anyone even talk about Zionism anymore? Answer- only when there is an incident to condemn or a conspiracy being cooked. What does it have to do with my life? Everything and nothing. I was taught as a socialist/Zionist that religion, philosophy, political ideology, and authority, are all social constructs that give us a false sense of certainty. The church covering up sexual abuse; the synagogue rationalizing violence against others. I know about the long history of regional conflicts. Unfortunately, much of the world has been convinced that David is now a Philistine.
In my MFA program we were taught to answer questions about art, as if they could fit on a fortune in a Chinese cookie. Pick one from each column. Don’t worry about complete sentences. Art, life, time, energy, mood, light, colors, patterns, forms, textures, mass, negative space, and darkness; psychology, philosophy, religion, history, contemporary events, and familial relationships; identity, gender, sexuality, mysticism, and art collage the swirling pixels. Waves, duration, sequencing, buffering, frequency generation, and oscillations; moving, still, motioning, gesturing, and twisting; dancing, saturation, luminosity, and repetition recompose multiple channels of raging visuals. Electricity, physics, atmosphere, radiation, and percussion; fact, fiction, invention, discovery, and manipulation; questions, experiments, flexibility, and luck lead to good results.
My father taught me to live a crooked life, that is, to meander, find tangents, and accept disorder. My mother taught me to keep a low profile, under the surface, decisive in action, confident in retreat. They were socialists who remained relatively non-materialistic. Both had difficult childhoods- my mother escaped Sighet as a baby; my father’s father died just before his bar mitzvah which soured him on haShem, although he was a good hearted man who lived on balance, an honorable life. My mother was in the resistance in Antwerp and helped save many children and families. She maintains her faith in haShem and has had an active career as a Yiddish folk singer and storyteller. My father went into a coma while I was in Rio working with the Brazilian choreographer Regina Miranda, on a video backdrop for an evening length performance. I decided to remain and complete the project, believing that this is what he would want me to do since he was a great supporter and lover of modern dance. He survived and lived for a few more years. As I write, my mother (85) is preparing a trip to Jerusalem to visit her grandson and many friends and family in Israel. She is introducing her granddaughter Rosa (8), named after my grandmother, to Israel. I was there last in 2005 with Esther Murray and others working on a proposal for Ashdod’s 50th anniversary, meeting with curators, researching for my Israel-Palestine cinema class. I hope to return soon.
Zionism is a network created by Herzl and others to connect disparate, sometimes desperate people to a practical ideal adapted from spiritual longing. Zionism is an international television program with many channels and sub-channels- almost every tribe has its version of Zion, and every community in the tribe has its version as well. The inherent problem with Zionism or any other utopian dream is that a philosophy or vision cannot also be a place. Once something is inhabited, it loses its right to be called Zion. When Martin Luther King dreamed from the Mountain, was it physical or metaphoric? Zion, broadly a messianic faith and utopian point of view, loses its meaning, once it becomes physical. The problem with the settler movement, which I am not totally unsympathetic to, knowing how beautiful and serene the Palestinian landscape can be, is the need to still believe that Zion is somewhere out there, out the window of your house in a suburban oasis surrounded by hostile terrain and people. It’s not a realistic dream anymore. Maybe people can just live in Palestine and pay their taxes there if they want to maintain a Jewish presence in Hebron and near other Biblical holy sites. As Moses marched the Israelites to the gates of the promised land, he made peace whenever he could. The Biblical enemies are still in place. Can’t we give some gifts then go around them, the way Jacob did with Esau? Do we forever have to play out these bloody psychodramas that boil down to about being the favored son?
Zionism as a network loses its meaning when you are living inside Zion. It’s only when you are not “there” that it summons passionate dreams and heroic actions. If one searches for Zion on the Internet, it’s more likely to turn up gospel or reggae, than anything Jewish. Israeli’s live inside of its myth. This imagination extends from mystical Chasidism to political Zionism. The pious supplied the slogans; the politicians twisted them into words worth fighting and sacrificing for. As Israelis become more and more secular, as if they are living their Judaism by being b’eretz, but no longer moved by the Chasidic wails and pleas and hope, the magnetic power of the movement is lost. My mother might have been Shomer ha’Tzair, socialist and secular, but she grew up in an observant home. My grandmother was essentially a Budapest Buddhist, but she could daven with the best. Secularization in the diaspora is an immediate threat to the survival of the Zionist idea. Only those in the Diaspora can have a clear vision of Zion. Once a Jew lives in Israel, Zionism is no longer needed. I don’t daven or shuckle well, but I cry when I hear some of the prayers and chants.
Art naturally happens everywhere, artists can always find ways to be part of a community. Parties (it even has the word art and ties built into it!), receptions, social gatherings, fundraisers and other formal events are the main channels for sharing information. Art is international and has intentionally porous borders. The edges are encouraged, the center tolerated. Like the mystical Zion of the prayer service, it is generally peaceful, gently critical, and detached. At the Moussem (cultural festival) in Asilah, Morocco, I asked a Palestinian poet about the sources and themes of his writing and performance. My daughter played with the children of the mostly African and Middle Eastern artists. We might not agree about politics, religion, and gender roles, but we can discuss and share our work as observers. We can talk the language of music and dance in ways that fuse, rather than divide us. If I thought that Zionism was a “closed” idea, I would not have been able to have these dialogues where we meet as human beings. I could affirm my love of Israel and pain at the struggles with these colleagues without being shut out of the dialogue. Zionism was not intended as a dogma and we should not need bullet proof armor to defend ourselves, but through our actions convey a gently permeating river of kindness and empathy to others and the earth, remembering where we come from and to Whom we owe all.
About the Artist
Shalom Gorewitz has been working with video and computer technology since the late 1960's to create poetic, intellectual, and politically charged art videos relating to faith, relationships, and social issues. He works alone with prototype and low-end, accessible computer and video systems to collect, transform, and edit sounds and visuals. The results are lyrical contemplations of mundane realities in which the background becomes the landscape for imaginary scenarios. In addition to single channel videos, he has created and has collaborated on many installations, art documentaries, and telecommunication art events.
His work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, NYC, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany; Itau Cultural Center, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Kowasaki Museum, Tokyo, Japan; NY Public Library/Donnell Branch; Library of California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA; Getty Museum Video Art Archive, LA, CA. A 1989 Guggenheim Fellow, he has received support from the National Endowment from the Arts, Asian Cultural Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, and Arts America. Gorewitz is a Professor of Visual Arts at Ramapo College, a four-year comprehensive college in New Jersey.