Nir Hod. The Night You Left, 2012. Oil on Gray Mirror, 76 x 54.5cm

Roy Brand on Illuminations exhibition and mini-revolutions 0

Express conversation with Roy Brand, curator of the extensive exhibition of Israeli contemporary art on view from 3 December 2018 at the Moscow Triumf Gallery

‘We’re not living in a time of great light, and very few of us still believe that we are moving forward or even moving at all. For the most part we are lost, roaming, waiting for something to happen, good or bad, anything… No great light, but there are weak illuminations that shimmer in the dark; flickering signs of hope, short and fleeting moments of joy. They appear, quiver and quickly vanish. Sometimes they form what Walter Benjamin calls constellations, like the dimmed groups of stars that we see as figures and read as signs. That’s all that we have at present, and the task left to art today is to make them linger longer as ciphers.’

These words were written in his introduction to the exhibition ‘EXTENSION. Israel: Illuminations’ by its curator, Roy Brand PhD, who was also the curator of the Israeli pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2014). It was only a year ago that Brand presented the ‘Dreams and Dramas’ exhibition brought to Riga by the Arterritory team ‒ the most extensive show of Israeli art in the Baltic countries to date. And currently Israeli art is shown in Moscow as part of the EXTENSION project series hosted by the influential Triumf Gallery (it is the ninth exhibition of the series, each one of them dedicated to art hailing from a different country).

Karam Natour. Saturn, 2018. 
Archival Inkjet Print, 1.4m diameter

The Moscow show features a number of works previously seen in Ria, first of all ‒ Daniel Kiczales’ video ‘The Messenger’ with its striking meditative power, and another video, Dor Guez’s ‘Sabir’. Artists like Yehudit Sasportas, who is inspired by the mysterious energy of North German swamps, and the New York-based Nir Hod and Keren Yeala Golan are showing different pieces than those seen in Riga last year. They are joined at the Triumf Gallery by artists whose names are as yet unknown to Baltic and Russian art enthusiasts ‒ 13 artists representing different generations. The subject of the exhibition chosen by Roy Brand is Illuminations. ‘The works of art in this show are light-producing objects whose source of energy is trapped within them, dimly but constantly glittering with hope…  Art today cannot change the whole world at once, but it can create small pockets of energy and life that can resist the mainstream,’ writes Roy Brand. Significantly, the vernissage of ‘Illuminations’ coincided with Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. ‘It is the time when Jews anywhere in the world light candles for eight nights running, celebrating the rededication of the Second Jerusalem Temple and the miracle that followed it. To purify the Temple, Maccabees decided to light the menorah for the first eight days. However, there was very little oil left in the Temple ‒ just for a single day. The menorah was nevertheless lit, and, much to the relief of everyone, the little drop of oil miraculously lasted for the whole of the eight days,’ written in a press release of the exhibition.

The vast exhibition dedicated to tiny lights and faint illuminations opened on 3 December 2018 at the Triumf Gallery in Moscow. We contacted the curator Roy Brand to ask him a few questions about the project. This is what he told us.

Avner Ben-Gal. Weather Girl, 2o18. Mixed media on canvas. 160×120 cm

In the catalogue, you write about mini-revolutions in the midst of the commonplace. What are these mini-revolutions in your opinion?

I think a great revolution is almost impossible at this moment. The structures in place are so strong that we have almost lost our ability to imagine an alternative. We also know from the past that those revolutions are violent and destructive. So we've lost the appetite for great change. On the other hand, I don't want artists, thinkers or any active and engaged person to lose all interest in creating change. So we need to foster the idea of mini-revolutions, things you can do in you environment to make a difference, things that have the potential to upset or shift the circumstances. You know Gandhi's line: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Instead of waiting for everything to change, take the agency back and create a mini-revolution.

Keren Yeala Golan. Liquid white, 2005. Video installation. 2′ 53″

Is it a coincidence that the ‘Illuminations’ exhibition is opening at the time of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights?

No such thing as a coincidence.  

Tsibi Geva. Untitled, 2012. Mixed media on canvas. 178×120 cm

You write about works of Tsibi Geva: ‘Their palette of earthy tones and vibrant whites are directly inspired by the landscapes and the quality of light in Israel’. Could you say a few words about light and illuminations in your country?

It's very bright here during most of the year. And people wear sunglasses even inside. It's the kind of light that flattens the shade, and the sun is so fundamentally powerful. You can see how they came up with the idea of monotheism in the presence of such light. But the exhibition also speaks of the smaller lights that you can easily miss if you don't tone down and adjust your eyes, like the light of candles, or of fireflies at night on the outskirts. That goes back to the issue of weak forces vs. strong glaring lights that overpower us. It's a question of how to hear the soft voices and the gentle movements that keep the alternatives alive.

Dor Guez. Sabir, 2011. Video fragment

In your opinion - in what way ‘Illuminations’ could influence people who will come to see the exhibition?

Perhaps it could give them some hope.  

If there was a time of Enlightenment, could there also be a time of “En-illumination”?

If you mean that the Enlightenment washed out all the different forms of life that were possible before modernity, then yes. Many speak about a return of the dark middle ages, and it's interesting that different periods are characterized by their form of light. But I hope we will actually evolve into a time of illuminations in the plural, many different kinds of light, not just one or none.

Avner Ben-Gal. Rabbit on a helecopter, 2o18. Mixed media on canvas. 220×180 cm