One privatized world
While I would encourage everyone to take a stroll down Rothschild this month, be aware that this art exhibition is, after all, an elaborate and beautiful advertisement that glosses over the social and environmental costs of globalization.
The opportunity to see 100 colorful statues of anything - penguins, cows and even Mr. Potato Head - is worthy a couple hours of sauntering in the city with the kids. But viewing 100 colorful statues along historic Rothschild Boulevard, amid the urban renewal of Tel Aviv's White City, is a sure-fire recipe for parental success.
Indeed, "Global View: The TASE Globes Exhibition" is a wonderful spectacle. Scattered among Rothschild's trees and walking paths are 100 globes, each one created by a different local artist, each about two meters high. I was drawn there in particular after I saw the word "globalization" attached to the exhibit's short description.
Even while my children marveled at the shapes and colors, I realized that the globes' artistic message was a bit different from what I had expected. Several of them were lavishly decorated with coins; one model of the earth rested on a stack of gold and silver bars and another sculpture consisted of three earths in silver, gold and copper. Another sphere touted the "natural resources" we take from the earth, including the environmentally problematic PVC.
Still another had a gas pump precariously perched on the North Pole (I thought of the current, ironic situation whereby nations are competing over newly accessible oil fields located under Arctic ice that's rapidly melting due to global warming).
I had mistakenly assumed that the globes were part of a critical commentary on globalization's socio-economic and environmental impacts. The project was actually initiated and sponsored by the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE), and each globe was produced by a corporation traded on the exchange, or otherwise related to the stock exchange. Each of the spheres we saw was produced by a bank, real estate company, chemical manufacturer or other business. Bank Leumi, Scope Metals Group and Delek Automotive Systems were responsible for the globe with gold and silver bars, the one including the PVC, and the earth featuring the gas pump, respectively. Taken collectively, the globes constituted a tribute to the benefits of globalization, the wonders of the marketplace and the importance of global capital.
In an attempt to understand more about the show and the explanations provided about each individual globe, I looked for a copy of the brochure provided by the organizers, but none were left. Industriously, I found one in the trash. Instead of a short paragraph explaining the artists' intentions, I got a primer on stock-market terminology. Here, amid pictures of the beautiful globes, I learned about shares, dividends and privatization.
As an environmental educator, I felt as if my stroll down Rothschild Boulevard had become a step through the looking glass into an alternative universe, in which the planet is seen as a tool for accruing wealth rather than a resource to protect and nurture. It is a world in which art is used to advertise a product (as the project's Web site states: "The exhibition offers 100 globes, designed by Israeli artists, that express the vision and values of the companies taking part in the project"), rather than to stimulate us to examine the world critically. It is a universe in which life's primary goal is financial success rather than spiritual well-being and social justice.
Environmental educator Dr. Eilon Schwartz, of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership, succinctly identified the exhibit's irony, telling me, "The commons, in this case our Tel Aviv boulevards, has become one large advertisement for the antithesis of the commons, celebrating the privatization of global resources." The Tel Aviv branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel concurred, as it protested the exhibition last week. The municipality replied that the exhibit is a showcase for art, and that the stock exchange had abided by its conditions to pay for the exhibition's setup, maintenance and dismantling.
In fact, some artists do focus on an environmental or social message, and some engage in the conflicted relationship between tending to and exploiting the earth. The globe Tzur Barak created for UBank is entitled "Fragile - Handle With Care" and is described as symbolizing the "sparkling vitality of our world on one hand, and its fragility and temporary nature on the other." Dina Merhav's work for Leader Holdings and Investments has the earth as a tree - symbolizing the challenging coupling of environmental protection and economic growth. Still another globe, created by Arale Ben Arieh for Plasson Industries, represents the earth as a toy because, the artist writes, he cannot figure out who is destroying the planet and who is saving it. Therefore, he opted to represent it as a toy that everyone is playing with.
But these environmental overtures only serve to highlight the irony of TASE using the earth as its subject. "The fact that TASE sponsored such an event," observes Prof. Tally Katz-Gerro, a sociologist at the University of Haifa, "masks the fact that its companies are actively involved in creating, managing, controlling and benefiting from technologies that degrade the environment."
Exhibition patrons should take note of this. While I would encourage everyone to take a stroll down Rothschild this month, be prepared to be challenged, impressed and entertained. But be aware that this art exhibition is, after all, an elaborate and beautiful advertisement that glosses over the social and environmental costs of globalization. This is the educational message we should share with our children.
Daniel Orenstein is a post-doctoral fellow at the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and a lecturer at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.