Culture Fop / Happy Anniversary to the Lands of Milk and Sushi

Israel gets a taste of Tokyo in honor of 60 years of Japanese-Israel relations, while a guerrilla street artist vows to make 2013 the year of 1,000 free works of creativity.

Happy anniversary to Israel and Japan

Perhaps you heard something last June about the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen of England, which marked her 60th year on the British throne. Last year also marked a diamond anniversary here, that of diplomatic relations between Israel and Japan (diamonds are one of Israel’s primary exports to Japan so the anniversary was particularly meaningful).

No, we didn’t splash photos of Bibi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on porcelain mugs (though I would have bought one for sure). But the Japanese embassy did embark on a year-long culture binge in honor of what is now a pretty healthy marriage. From classical concerts in Eilat to a fashion exhibition in Holon to a Kabuki show in Tel Aviv, Japanese culture was unusually present in Israel in 2012.

“Not all Israelis know the real Japan,” says Tomoaki Shimane, the Japanese cultural attache . “They have their image – sushi, Mt. Fuji, and that it’s an expensive country. But not enough knowledge.”

The centerpiece of efforts to increase that knowledge was a co-production of Euripides’ “The Trojan Women,” by the Cameri Theater and the Tokyo Metropolitan, directed by famed Japanese theater director Yukio Ninagawa and starring a mixed cast of Japanese-, Arabic-, and Hebrew-speaking actors (at a pre-show talk, Varda Fish, Director of International Relations for the Cameri, clearly distinguished actors by language, not nationality).

The Greek epic, penned in 415 B.C.E., zooms in on Hecuba, queen of recently conquered Troy, as she laments the fate of the city’s women, who are about to be taken back to Greece as spoils of the Greek-Trojan war. This production’s great gimmick was a multi-lingual staging in which each actor spoke his or her native language.

The collaboration is an indication of how far Israeli-Japanese relations have come in the last 60 years. Lest we forget, they were in bed with our mortal enemy, Germany, in World War II. But there were Japanese righteous gentiles, too, like Chiune Sugihara, a diplomat in Lithuania who defied orders and issued visas to Jews to escape – he is estimated to have saved about 6,000 lives. Today the Japanese government calls him a “courageous diplomat of humanity.”

Japan recognized Israel in 1952 – a few years late but who’s counting? – though it took another 11 years before embassies were established in each country. Nevertheless, the two nations have been friendly since, perhaps discovering some surprising commonalities between them:

Both Israel and Japan are "ancient peoples who have risen from the ashes of the Second World War to build on the platform of our ancient cultures thriving, successful and advanced societies," said former Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom in 2005.

The evening with the “Trojan Woman” was organized by Young Friends of the Arts, an impressive new non-profit celebrating one year of connecting English-speaking young professionals to the arts. In addition to the pre-show talk, YFA offered subsidized tickets and a post-show reception (read: bubbly and good cheese) with the actors.

It’s not just a night out – it’s a night with context and connection. YFA creator Jacob Bryce isn’t interested in just schmoozing, though that’s a big part of it, he’s interested in education and access – getting the back story of the performance and chatting up the artists afterwards. It’s a 3-D cultural experience, one both rare and rewarding. Check out future events at www.yfa.org.il

How to keep a New Year’s resolution

They say that one of the best ways to stick with a goal is to bring other folks aboard who rely on you. A running buddy will keep you running more than a fancy gym membership ever could. Or, if you’re an artist like Noah Zark, you launch a year-long project to distribute free art daily and gather followers scrambling around town to claim them and wait for the next piece.

“When I didn’t have this project, I found it hard to get the time in,” says the 29-year-old, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, of making art. But now, he says, “I’ve been creating non-stop.”

The project, “1000 Free Pieces of Art in 2013,” is pretty self-explanatory. Noah Zark (an artist name adopted a few years ago) distributes his work in the unlikeliest places around Tel Aviv and beyond. The works range from drawings the size of business cards, to slabs of cardboard painted with abstract faces and designs. He says he has plans later in the year to place full-sized oil paintings and sculptures as well.

Zark has been drawing since he was a kid – starting out doodling with his brother on barf bags on airplanes and returning them to the seatback in an upright position – but didn’t paint until he came to Israel six years ago.

Now he’s churning out three, four, and five pieces a day in order to keep up with the hefty targets he’s set for himself. A thousand pieces in one year (“It’s a nice, round number”) translates to about 20 a week. Creating them is only half the job. Then they have to be placed, which he says takes a lot more thought than he originally expected.

“I need to not hide them so well,” he says, noting a piece hidden in a tree that stayed that way for days without being found. Art collectors can follow his blog http://zarkbazaar.wordpress.com/ to get clues to where the art is placed. Last week, the hunt would’ve taken you to the Rehovot train station, a choice based more on necessity than creativity (“We were visiting my wife’s grandmother,” Zark says).

Zark is sticking with the free art thing all year, joining in a global movement of artists who are more interested in sharing art than selling it (or rather, not only interested in selling). The British artist My Dog Sighs has been a champion of the cause and recently had an exhibition at Beit Rokah in Neve Tzedek, which was a big inspiration for Zark.

On the way out of the show, he found two of My Dog Sighs’ pieces. “The feeling was so awesome that I wanted to go out and do it myself,” he says.

That’s where most of us falter in our resolutions. Great intentions, no plan. But on December 31, he decided to create a structure and set an actual goal to “spread that joy.” The response, after six days, has already surpassed expectations in the number of fans following the artistic adventure and heading out in search of treasure buried in plain sight.

But after the first six days, too, Zark has also encountered an unexpected challenge: “I totally forgot it was the rainy season.”

Reuters