Israel in Peacetime

Three young Czech artists return from the Holy Land armed with pictures.

Israel 98/99/00

Libeňská synagoga, Na Palmovce 4 (at the Palmovka tram stop)

Through November 25th

Open every day 1:00 - 7:00 p.m.




As art students, photojournalist Vojtěch Vlk, photographer Filip Sodomka and
sculptor Hanu Lamr each spent six months at Israel’s Bezalel Academy of Art
in 1998, 1999 and 2000, respectively. All three took pictures that, along with
two of Lamr’s sculptures, currently transform the decayed interior of Palmovka’s
Liben Synagogue into a powerful photographic installation, evoking an Israel
rarely seen these days: one at peace.



The Pill recently visited the Syna-gogue to discuss the evolution of
Israel 1998-1999-2000 with Lamr and Vlk.





Pill: What made you decide to go to Israel?



Vlk: I was always interested in Middle Eastern religions, and in Jerusalem,
you find a melting pot of all the region’s main religions – Christianity, Judaism,
and Islam. I was really interested to see how it looks over there. For me, it
was a dream from a young age to go there. I’m from a Christian family, and in
the small town I come from, going to Jerusalem has been a goal for many generations.
Under communism, my parents couldn’t go anywhere except the Eastern European
countries. We lived near the Austrian border, and from our church tower, we
could see beautiful mountains – the Alps – but of course we couldn’t go there.
So travel abroad to the West, as well as to the Middle East, has been a dream
come true for me.



Pill: Were you afraid?



Vlk: I went there for the first time in 1998, when the peace process was going
on. This year, it’s totally different. But at that time, I felt totally safe.




Pill: How long were you there?



Vlk: I was there for six months as part of an exchange with the Bezalel Academy
of Art, and after that I traveled all around Israel, and also to Jordan and
Egypt. Now it’s almost impossible to go to the Gaza Strip, for example, where
the refugee camp is. But in 1998, it was easy. I just hitchhiked there. I felt
really safe.



Pill: Were you there in 1998 as well?



Lamr: I was there in 2000. It felt safe then, too. But I was back in Prague
by the time the violence started.



Vlk: I was actually there visiting Hanu that summer when the big demonstrations
started happening around the Dome of the Rock, and a week after I left Jerusalem,
Sharon moved in and began the second part of the intifada. The first part was
before the peace process. So we were lucky to be there during a peaceful time.
Actually, when we were planning this exhibition a year ago, we were originally
going to call it Peace in Israel, but given the recent events, we thought it’d
be a bit inappropriate. It took us a year and a half to put the exhibition together
because we had to apply for grants.



Lamr: But it’s actually very good that it took us so long to prepare it. Otherwise,
if we had done it in one month, well, it would’ve been impossible to attain
this perspective on things.



Pill: Did the three of you know each other before you all went to Israel?



Lamr: Yes, because we all studied at the same school, the Vysoká kola umeleckoprůmyslová
(University of Applied Arts) in Prague. Vojtěch and I were in the same year,
and Filip was one year ahead of us at the time.



Vlk: We all knew each other, since we all ended up studying at different times
at Bezalel. And I think Hanu came up with this idea to make a group show out
of our different perspectives.



Lamr: All that people [in Prague] know about Israel is what they see on the
newspaper and on TV. But real life there is different.



Vlk: And we wanted to bring an artistic view on the topic of Israel into the
picture. You can read every day about a suicide bombing or the Israeli army,
but daily life is a little different. Journalists don’t write too much about
the daily life of a Jewish family or an Arab family. So here, you can come and
see images of daily life in Jerusalem from the perspective of places that you
don’t typically see represented in the popular media. In reality, you don’t
see a whole lot of blood.



Pill: In what ways did your experience in Israel change your work?



Lamr: For me, it was mainly symbolic. But also color. Intensification of color.



Vlk: As you can see, my work is very symbolic. Over there, I worked on one particularly
important project for me, Family of Man. I took the name from the exhibition
from the ’50s, which was subsequently published as a book and is considered
the bible of documentary photography. The chair of the photography department
at my school gave us this topic at the start of the semester, so I was already
thinking about it before I even flew to Israel. The biggest influence of Israel
on me was the people I met there, the diverse people. So I started to do self-portraits
influenced by all the different people I met there.



Pill: I was going to ask you if that series was based on specific people.



Vlk: Exactly. People I met on the street, the people I was surrounded by.



Pill: So you have a black-and-white series that are self-portraits in different
costumes to create different “characters,” if you will. In the slide presentation,
this is followed by a series of color portraits of other people in the street.



Vlk: The color portraits are of people from different ethnic groups. It’s a
continuation of my pictures, and they serve as the end of my story, my contribution
to the exhibit. The color series illuminates my source material, the people
I based the self-portraits on. I met so many different kinds of people, they
really taught me about tolerance. That’s also been the idea behind this project,
to look beyond the differences between various religions and cultures in order
to question where hatred comes from when we all have emerged from the same family
of man.



Pill: It also seems that light plays an important role in your work, which is
most obvious in Hanu’s two sculptures here. Could you tell me a little about
them?



Lamr: The name of the sculpture in the front of the exhibition space is Semeno,
which means seed. It has symbolic meaning for me as a place where all humanity
originates. And over there, at the end of the exhibition space, is Tree of Life.
There is a photograph in the exhibition catalogue of the original piece, which
I saw in Tel Aviv. [It depicts a tree sprouting from a giant, oversized seed,
suspended in the air.] So it’s my re-creation, my memory of this piece.



Pill: The front of the catalogue and the fliers for the exhibition feature an
Israeli flag with the Muslim half-moon, the Cross and the Star of David emblazoned
across. Has this sparked any controversy?



Vlk: Yes, a few people have been upset about it. When Filip [Sodomka] designed
it, I was a bit worried that we’d lose the financial support we were hoping
to get from the Israeli Embassy, which was important. But they were okay with
it.



Lamr: We were a bit concerned since there is a strong skinhead contingent in
this neighborhood, but they haven’t bothered us. Although a few of the posters
we put up were “mysteriously” torn down or defaced.



Pill: Where will you guys be when NATO comes to town next week?



Vlk: I will be taking pictures of the demonstrations.



Lamr: I’ll be here, in the synagogue.

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