Art Show Projects Gloom Over How 1967 Irrevocably Altered Israel’s History

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View of the 'Euphoria' project.
View of the 'Euphoria' project. Credit: Elad Sarig / Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod

An ambitious, large-scale project consisting of five separate, albeit intertwined, exhibitions to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War – and which draws connections between then and now – is currently on view at the Mishkan Museum of Art of Kibbutz Ein Harod, in the Jezreel Valley. “Euphoria,” the project’s title, signifies the exaltation and intoxicatiing sense of power unleashed by the victory, following the existential dread that pervaded the country in the runup to the war.

The motivation behind the exhibition is blatantly critical: not a celebration of the war and its results, but despondency over the way in which 1967 irrevocably altered Israel’s history. However, the project maintains mimetic relations with 1967, for it, too, is pathos-ridden and seemingly all-embracing, but in practice is biased and ideological, deployed, like the event itself, on an axis of repression and blindness.

The “Euphoria Project” not only returns to 1967 as a historical moment that needs to be observed from the outside, its consequences contemplated and its significances assessed. It also returns to the constellation of insights of 1967, to that period’s perceptions and style, as though they had never been breached.

The project opens with “50 Years: Same Tune,” a sound installation by Danny Lavie, which consists of the recorded testimonies of soldiers who took part in the war and were collected in the 1970 book “The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk about the Six-Day War.” (The audios have already been heard in Mor Loushy’s 2015 documentary film, “Censored Voices.”) The soldiers’ words blare across the gallery’s space and appear flickeringly on the walls. Between testimonies, the song “Mah Avarech” (“How Shall I Bless Him”), written following the war, plays. The work thus reconstructs meticulously the political boundaries of “Soldiers’ Talk” – the contrast between the coffee-table books of victory and the victors’ doubts; between the militant pathos of the shooters and the moral pathos of those who shoot and cry – and its aesthetic boundaries as well.

The work situates itself neatly in the Israeli culture of commemoration. It’s like a ceremony in Yad Labanim, a place of memorial for the fallen, in a darkened space with sad music and majestic masculine talk, at the heart of which is belief in the righteousness of our path (we, the sons and the sons’ sons of the warriors of “Soldiers’ Talk”). Soldiers’ talk here delineates the boundaries of the whole of the “Euphoria Project.”

Shuka Glotman’s contribution is “Many Good Years – Memory Room,” referencing the late 1960s. Its centerpiece is a “typical 1960s living room,” consisting of an armchair and a sofa, both grey in color, a small coffee table, a radio and a rotary dial telephone, half-full glass bottles – just like then. Around this setting the artist has hung old Rosh Hashana postcards, and below them commonly heard political statements from the past decades, year after year. But the melancholy-sweet memory is not only of the period of ecstasy and disillusionment, but also of the overall unifying gaze that existed in 1967. For the possibility of imagining a living room as a “typical Israeli living room” (typical where, for which social group?), of displaying Rosh Hashana cards that were sent (by whom?) sometime in the past.

View of the 'Euphoria' project. Credit: Elad Sarig / Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod

United Israeliness

There are genuinely critical works in Glotman’s room. But it possesses a bitter longing, simultaneously emotional and rebellious, for the feasibility of collective memory, for the era of a cohesive “we,” for “self-valuation.” As such, it’s not a memory room for 1967, but for a hegemonic perspective that’s dated to 1967. Before the Black Panthers in Jerusalem and Likud’s election victory, before the building of the settlements and the intertwining of Palestinians’ lives with Israeli lives – that is, before the conflictual multiplicity burst into the public arena. It’s a return to a moment that seems still to encapsulate representative, united Israeliness.

This concept runs like a thread through the project. In the upper spaces, photographs by Gilles Caron are on public display for the first time. Caron was a young French photographer who hooked up with the Israeli forces in 1967 and documented the war’s battlefields. The images are riveting – of frontline combat, but also of bodies strewn on the ground in their solitariness, or of prisoners of war, their faces covered. Many of the photographs look familiar. It was, after all, a visually well-documented war, and victory albums, as the project reminds us, filled the country.

But Caron photographed much more than that. In three intensive years of covering wars and struggles – until he disappeared in a Khmer Rouge-controlled area of Cambodia in 1970 – he spent time in many of the zones of anti-imperialist revolt of the late 1960s: Vietnam, Biafra, Prague, Northern Ireland, Cambodia. A broad presentation of his archive could have set the 1967 war in an international context, enabling it to be understood based on slightly different coordinates from those that are nauseatingly familiar. In its absence, the turn to the external gaze is meant solely to mirror us to ourselves.

But the peak of the project lies in the work of Guy Briller, which carries the war and its lessons into the present. Exactly 120 years after the First Zionist Congress, Briller convened a new “Zionist congress” in the museum’s large hall, in which he hosted a different “delegate” each day and talked to them about the contemporary political and artistic situation. He recorded the conversations and uploaded them to the web; set up a print workshop in the museum space and created portraits of the various congress members; and around it all built a packed and patchwork installation. It’s a work of inordinate ambition: “The New Herzls and the Foundation Stone Studio,” Briller titled his work. I leave it to readers to guess the identity of the “delegates,” their ethnic distribution, the way they demarcate from within the boundaries of the artistic and cultural industry, the number of unidentified, surprising, choices. Forget about the possibility of Palestinian participants – they certainly have nothing interesting to say about Zionism.

Briller has been engaged with Jewish themes for years. Here, too, the congress met in the seven weeks of counting the Omer, between Passover and Shavuot, and it circles around the kabbalistic sefirot, or emanations; the print workshop he built is the Foundation Stone Studio, and by its side is a wooden structure which represents the Holy of Holies.

But this semantic surplus is funneled entirely in one direction: from Judaism to Zionism. The circles of the sefirot become circles of a target for a bow and arrow, the famous photograph of Yitzhak Rabin hangs in the Holy of Holies, the days of the Omer are channeled into the Zionist Congress. And that, we know, is the direction of the land-settlement movement, of the kibbutz movement, of the course of events that was broken off, decisively, in 1967. The exhibition is fraught with powerful nostalgia for that course. What is its connection with the social and artistic events of our time? Very little.

“Euphoria Project: 6 Days + 50 Years,” at Mishkan Museum of Art, Kibbutz Ein Harod; Sun-Thur 09.00-16.30, Fri 09.00-13.30, Sat 10.00-16.30; until October 31

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