Island Channel

At the Bat Yam Museum of Contemporary Art, artists and curators are inviting the audience to take part.

The Bat Yam Museum is offering "Island, ongoing performance project" as this summer's active installation. The traditional opening has been replaced by a closing, scheduled for Thursday, August 26.

Is the word "ongoing" significant? What happens when there's no installation and no event taking place? Is the museum like a stage awaiting the actors? A visit one evening without a special event was thus of interest, particularly after curator and museum director Milana Gitzin-Adiram publicized the exhibit as "an attempt to insert the viewer into the private world of the artist and share the process of searching and deliberating."

On a weekday evening, children and teenagers are wandering around the museum. Most of the artists in the exhibition are present, working on site. Outside, the borders between art and life are indeed blurred as some artists demonstrate steps to people participating in public folk dancing led by the art group Public Movement.

The museum became less of an island. Six artists (Anisa Ashkar, Adina Bar-On, Sharon Glazberg, Meir Tati, Shahar Marcus ) and the artists of Public Movement share two of the museum's circular floors. The installations began in mid-July; all the artists were given keys to the museum to enable work at all hours.

Activities at the Bat Yam Museum have been somewhat sleepy but considerable effort has been made to turn it into an international center of contemporary Israeli art. For the museum to become more than a giant UFO parked in the Ramat Yosef neighborhood, it will have to suit its activities to the local population. Apparently, the "Island" project is a beginning.

This approach is not common here. It's hard to think of one museum with close relations to the community. Gitzin-Adiram's experiment in neighborhood outreach recalls Barbour in Jerusalem, which turned the small gallery in Nahalot into an appealing social center.

For the artists "Island" is unusual. Museums usually exhibit finished works. Here artists create in open spaces, and viewers are invited to participate. The amount of participation varies from artist to artist. Shahar Marcus built a rowboat from materials he collected in Bat Yam with the help of a local sea scout troop. Robinson Crusoe is one of the first associations that comes to mind when hearing the name of the exhibit. The evening I visited, teenagers continued to alter the space around the boat. Today, there will be a "boat covering" event.

Meir Tati's political piece is called "Direct Aim," after the army term. Films from Palestinian community television in Hebron are screened along with a collection of very violent clips from the 1974 movie "Thriller: A Cruel Picture."

At certain hours, Tati invites people to shoot him with various items, including flowers, dolls and tennis balls. Tati's work, perhaps more than any other in the exhibit, emphasizes the mood of the 1970s wafting over the project.

The rummaging around in the memory of the history of Israeli art connects "Island" to the 1975 Open Workshop at the Israel Museum. Although it was not a workshop that connected with the audience, the museum's borders were tested. Dov Heller sold apples in bags bearing the museum's name, Gideon Gechtman exhibited "Hebrew work" and worked in construction on the museum's new wing. Gabi Klezmer and Sharon Keren invited Palestinian workers to build a fence, and Moshe Gershoni sang "Delicate Hand."

Tati's work connects to American Chris Barden, who in 1971 created an installation in which his assistant shot him in the arm. But Tati's piece is anchored in the Israeli here and now, where nearly every week sees reports of demonstrators against the separation wall being injured while the army provides particularly convoluted explanations.

The exhibit has changed and is still changing. Tati added a room in which viewers can watch others shooting. Close by, Tati, Eid Aloni and Glazberg have made a kind of kitchen in which they work, with the aid of one type of food (carrots, potatoes ), and document their activities on video.

Other prominent works are Eid Aloni's "Whistles" and the cafe created by Anisa Ahkar. The whistles are flutes made by Aloni, rather strange wind instruments jutting sculpturally out of a wall covered in glue and paper. It looks like latex or skin. When I visited, the artist was blowing on the instruments. IT reminded me of a particularly large wind instrument. Ashkar's cafe, in which she reads coffee grounds in Arabic (translated into Hebrew for visitors ), was not open. Nonetheless, the smell of a big pot of coffee and the space looked like a real cafe. It is a more disturbing than inviting work.

Outside the museum Public Movement, dressed in a kind of white army uniform, was getting people to dance. Visitors, including groups of children, touched, peeked, responded and sat in the room at the center of the museum's ground floor. One sensed this was an ongoing project and not a placement of scenery for just a few events.


Meir Tati's "Direct Aim"

"Island." Bat Yam Museum of Contemporary Art (6 Struma Street ). Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays 10:00-14:00. Tuesdays and Thursdays 16:00-20:00. Admission is free.