THIS IS THE LAND | 2013

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"This is the Land" is a scripted, fictitious, directed festival, which wishes to pose a response to the Zionist Creation award Initiated by the Minister of Culture in October 2011, its aim is to provide limitless artistic space to rethink and re-examine the concept of Zionism for those artists who were turned down by the ministry’s committee and for those that chose to boycott the award, claiming that the concept of Zionism is consumed with such political elements that mustn’t function as legitimate artistic criteria.

 

Plan B of the festival centers around three artists:

 

Gali Sudanski a fashion designer who presents her "Five W's" collection, inspired by the discovery that her father had been a Mossad agent.

 

Ayala Opfer an Experimental film artist that exposes her "work in process": "The Performer is Sick", a documentary film in which she follows her Holocaust survivor neighbor.

 

Regev Huberman - Musician/Sound artist from the Efrata settlement. Regev presents his work "The Acacia Tree", through which he wishes to examine his own family tree and its connection to the Israeli army.

 

ALL LIES

 

It begins with the Unseen. Had this been the ceremony of the “Zionist Creation Award”, the lobby would have been teeming with generals and rabbis, flags would have been flying, and you could have heard sentences such as “We have no other country”. But, alas, it is not this award ceremony that we are dealing with here, it is Eyal Weiser’s performance commenting on it: “This is the Land – The Zionist Creation Rejects’ Salon”. And therefore the projection plane resembling a gigantic Apple computer from the Eighties lets us read what cannot be seen. In the background the clicking sound of a keyboard.

 

The “Zionist Creation Award” actually exists. It was initiated in 2011 by Israeli Minister of Culture and Sports, Limor Livnat. The equivalent of Euro 10,500 for artistic works that tackle Zionism in a positive manner – possibly a reaction to the refusal by many artists to appear in a newly inaugurated cultural center in the West Bank. The Likud politician wished to explicitly support, award, art that presents the Israeli settlement policy in a positive light. This is not about the independence of art; it is about serving the system. The reaction: Eyal Weiser became very upset.

 

In 2013 the Israeli theater artist appeared for the first time as a guest at the “Radikal Jung” (Radikal Jung) festival of the Munich Volkstheater. In his piece “Mein Jerusalem” (My Jerusalem), Weiser positioned the German photographer Sabine Sauber on the stage, where she spoke of her youth in East Germany, of life in Berlin after the fall of the wall, of the loss of identity. Finally she goes to Israel. At last another country with a wall, but where she also finds her happiness – pure fake. Sabine Sauber was the performer Michal Weinberg, and the performance itself the metaphor for the situation in Israel.

 

In “This is the Land” Weiser, again, invents reality. Three artists show works that had been rejected by the “Zionist Creation Award”. More precisely: three actors play three artists presenting their works. For the first time, Weiser’s triptych can be seen outside of Israel, and it is clearly discernable that it has not been created for export. But much of it can be understood here as well, even if some of the references will remain sealed books for the German audience.

 

The first part is satire. Gali Sudanski describes the weirdness of Israeli everyday life, puts on clothing items parallel to, and commenting on, the stories, and poses as if in a photo shoot. She wears pumps that look like pigs’ feet, as only one way has been found to make ham kosher – gene technology had made it possible to create pigs with several stomachs. She speaks of the plan to use Jaffa oranges injected with nerve poison against Iran, and of a measure intended to combat the lack of education in the military: subcutaneous messages will be inserted into the film programs on El-Al flights. They will even be seen on the screen: Theodore Herzl, Anne Frank, and Moshe Dayan popping up between “Men in Black”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and “The Hunger Games”.

 

In part two, Natalie Fainstein becomes Ayala Opfer (German for “victim”), who observes her neighbor, Esther, and, searching for an explanation for Esther’s schizophrenic conduct, believes that she must be a Holocaust survivor – which is completely wrong, as Ayala is forced to realize. She then begins contemplating her own skeletons of the past. Finally the word artist Neta Weiner appears in the role of Regev Huberman, offspring of a pioneering Zionist family, settlers, radicals – in real life, Weiner creates music with Palestinian and Israeli youth.

 

Eyal Weiser’s work is keen and nasty. An indication, however, that in Israel, too, a search for new forms in theater is under way.

 

Sueddeutsche Zeitung | Egbert Tholl

 

 

ART VS. DISMANTLING

 

"This is the Land" at Tmuna Theater is a play you think about again and again even after it's over, and that is its forte.

 

Playwright-director Eyal Weiser's new work continues the theme of his previous work, "Mein Jerusalem", a line that smudges the borders between real and imaginary. If in the latter Weiser invented a German photographer-artist, this time it's a collection of performance art by three experimental Israeli artists, assembled under the subtitle "The Zionist Creation Rejects' Salon".

The name is derived from the controversial prize announced by the Minister of Culture last year, and the artists in our programme were those who were rejected by that prize. As expected, their works present critical and ironic voices on Zionist history, but the realization that the three performers are fictitious themselves threatens the critical and conceptual foundation of their works.

The works themselves also pivot on the point where fact and fiction merge. A prominent example lies in the second work, by a photographer who stalks her mentally disturbed neighbor, clandestinely taking pictures under the assumption she's a Holocaust survivor. Eventually it turns out that the neighbor is not a survivor, and the artist asks herself why she has intruded the old lady's life. She concludes that something about the need to invent imaginary biographies for other people brings order and security to the chaotic universe surrounding us. In the other two works, we can also find the obsessive need for an alternative order derived from some dismantled historic narrative.

Along with Weiser and his collaborator artist Rami Maymon, we should also note the contribution of musician Neta Weiner (who also delivers one of the monologues) and actresses Natalie Fainstein and Efrat Arnon to the work's success. Their work is precise and calculated, each in his/her own style.

To conclude, this work reaffirms Weiser's status as one of the more sophisticated and intriguing artists emerging in our theater in the past decade. His troubling and manipulative works force you to go back and reconsider them over time – something which happens far too rarely in our theater today.

 

Yediot Achronot Newspaper | Shay Bar Yaakov

 

 

THIS IS THE LAND - ON THE VERGE OF PRECIPICE

 

Eyal Weiser sets a three-way mirror to illuminate the process of Zionism being stripped from its courage.

 

Zionism in Danger?

The status of Israel today seems like the loss of Zionism's path, at least in the opinion of those incarcerated in the ghetto named "The Left".

It also comes to light here and there, although sparingly, in the limited tools of creators, especially in the field of theatrical fringe. It occasionally appears in poetry, and if you insist, perhaps in art. In any case, the muse is a bit startled by what's going on, and has trouble communicating.

Against this, our great gorgon has appeared, the Minister of Educational Culture and Sport, who has declared a great dramatic process as a response to the elusive vision she's seen: a new prize shall be born in Israel, a prize intended to shower praise on a work of art that glorifies the honor of Zionism, which has been trampled on by two left hands, which undermine it and threaten its existence.

If it weren't so sad, it would be funny. For Zionism has pulsed in the veins of Israeli art throughout all its generations, even those preceding Herzl and his vision, and we even have prizes granting honor and support to those artists, and to date, these have at least been born out of appreciation for their very existence as artists.

But even the fact that the "Israel Prize" exists, and is under her ministerial responsibility, is unseemly to her. She believes that Zionism is threatened by a danger arising from the artists. Therefore, they carry the torch that shall burn the country's great vision.

When people are starving, they cannot be blamed for reaching out, with downcast eyes, to the invitation to dine from a giving hand. But when they reject this and rebel against the condescension and arrogance, they are worthy of praise, or at least attention to their voice and attitudes.

 

A penetrating gaze

One of these is playwright-director Eyal Weiser, who since 2005 has been raising an ongoing series of penetrating observations of we the Israelis, at Temuna Theater. One by one, they have garnered impressive Fringe success: "And Nothing More (Vetu Lo)", "Shufra", "Ayeka?", "Hokey Pokey", and last year's "Mein Jerusalem", which is considered the climax of his work and recently been named Fringe play of the year. Weiser himself has been awarded Director of the Year at the "Golden Porcupine 2011". For this critical mass, he won this year's Rosenblum Prize for Performing Arts.

In "Mein Jerusalem", Weiser moves on to a new space from his previous works, when along with his collaborators – actress Michal Weinberg, photographer Rami Maymon and dramaturgist Itzik Giuli, has created a character entirely based on their imaginations, and observes us through her story.

Eventually it turned out that as a direct continuation of this play, Weiser, Giuli, and Maymon created a tetralogy entitled "This is the Land", in which the characters are imaginary. The current performance is defined as the second episode of the entire piece – and we can never know if there will be a sequel, or this is also artistic illusion.

In this episode, Weiser presents three fascinating dialogues by characters that are presented as realistic, without noting the names of their performers. Their names as co-collaborators and performers, along with all production credits, can be found in English on the programme which is also the play's poster.

On the other side of the poster, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, we can find texts presenting the performance, with the subtitle: "a Salon of Zionist Art's Outcasts", and its three protagonists. A few moments before the performance begins, perhaps as part of it, Weiser hands out the poster and asks the audience to read the texts before the lights designed by Omer Sheizaf come up on the stage designed by Yinon Peres, its background containing a movie screen sunk into a white frame.

In the text penned by "Buki Sriki, CEO of Negotiation Association", many artists have been rejected by the prize committee and others have chosen not to submit their works, as politics steeped in the term of Zionism cannot be legitimate artistic criteria for support. And so, the platform of "This is the Land" has been created for them. The text also relates the biographies of the three artists in the current performance.

 

Monologue 1 – The Five W's

A screened introduction explains that the event we are about to see cannot the Award Ceremony for Zionist Art, and from there the stage is handed to the three performers. The first is "Gali Sudensky", daughter of a Mossad agent, who presents part of a collection of breathtaking accessories designed by Tamar Levit (who also designed their costumes).

This collection bears the name "The Five W's" (who, what, when, where, and why) that the Mossad has implemented in classic journalism. It was her final project at Shenkar Art School, and a result of an in-depth study examining the vague political, social, and ideological boundaries of Israeli society.

Efrat Arnon, who has acted in most of Weiser's plays, plays Gali with mesmerizing skill that is astoundingly Brechtian, on the background of informative texts and very brief fashion shows, satirically choreographed by Stav Marin.

 

Monologue 2 – The Performer is Sick

Immediately after this, "Ayala Opfer" emerges from the second row of the theater: she is ill, and we eventually discover that the nature of her illness is exclusively Israeli. Opfer's work combines photographs and performance art, and she wishes to create imaginary narratives in which she exists as the creator as well as the main character. As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, she follows an elderly neighbor and interprets her silence and secrecy as a result of her being a survivor.

But her intimate task of collecting intelligence moves between the false and the objective, between the staged and the documented, and during her personal nosing around, as she phrases it, she discovers a disturbing national truth: we need the Holocaust as justification for our existence. In this way, Weiser indicates Ayala's illness as a national schizophrenia, whose gravity is discovered upon the revelation that the elderly neighbor is not even a survivor.

In many ways, this part is the most powerful. Its message is continuously profound, much due to the mechanical and chilling recitation by Natalie Fainstein, who has also participated in Weiser's previous works. Her delivery of the facts merges well in the special film installation by Rami Maymon, edited by Nadav Ahronovitch.

 

Monologue 3 – The Acacia Tree

The third monologue, as full of humor as the first, is defined as a part-musical performance by "Regev Huberman" who is a poet, composer, DJ, and researcher of audio phenomena. Since his discharge from the IDF, he has been living in the local municipality of Efrata, and in recent years has worked and performed in the circle of settlements surrounding Gush Etzion.

On Independence Day last year, as a protest against the rejection of his nomination for the Zionist Prize, Huberman crashed the holiday celebrations on stage at the Maale Lebonah settlement, and along with his friends, took over the sound system and played a musical piece criticizing the evacuation of settlements and what they saw as "political impotence" on the part of the Israeli government.

In his current work, Regev studies archive material of his family, and presents the characters of his grandfather's father, Zvi Huberman, born in Poland, as well as his grandfather, Moti Huberman, a member of the Hebrew settlement police under the Haganah, and his father, Yaacov Huberman, manager of the musical library at Kibbutz Beeri, who has developed a warm relationship with the "War Singer" Yafa Yarkoni.

Through his family tree, Regev outlines his own character through the description of the IDF along the years, and simultaneously tries to appeal its very legitimacy. This comes to a climax in a crazy segment in the style of spoken word.

The monologue and its characters are played with a contagious energy by Neta Weiner, who also wrote the aforementioned segment, based on word associations through which he examines, responds to, and mocks well-known phenomena.

 

In summary, "This is the Land" could be considered as an accurate and high artistic quality description of the loss of the Zionist Israeli vision in the mental and emotional ghetto that the nation and its society has imposed upon itself.

 

Abama Internet Culture Magazine | Zvi Goren

 

 

ART OR ZIONISM?

 

"This is the Land – The Zionist Creation Rejects' Salon"

 

In a time where Israeli fringe theater is required to express Zionist themes in order to obtain grants from the Ministry of Culture (in accordance with Ministerin of Culture Limor Livnat's recent tender), there is a type of catharsis when we discover that the equation "Art or Zionism" does not really work. The new play by Eyal Weiser, recipient of the Rosenblum Prize and the Golden Porcupine 2012 Award, continues to lash out in all directions, but this time is more focused and much wittier. In his new play "This is the Land" – the Zionist Creation Rejects' Salon", he corresponds with the Ministerin's outrageous tender, and from his position as a reject of the desirable grant, re-examines the definition of Zionism.

On his journey, he changes characters and invites us to get intimately acquainted with a line of fictitious biographies. First appears Gali Sudensky, a student of fashion design, who presents her "Five W's" collection inspired by the discovery that her father used to be a Mossad agent. She is followed by Ayala Opfer, an experimental filmmaker who exposes her process of work on the project "The Performer is Sick", in which she stalks her Holocaust survivor neighbor; and finally we see Regev Huberman, a musician and sound technician from the settlement Efrata, who presents his work: "The Acacia Tree" in which he tries to examine his family tree and his relationship with the IDF.

The three characters invite us to re-examine where our Zionist border lies: they are provocative, unusual, and do not try to curry favor with the audience. The most dominant of the three is Neta Weiner's monologue (playing Regev Huberman), as he manages to deliver a dizzying wave of information, associations and ancestry connections, which inspire fondness and the occasional incontrollable laugh one moment, and in another are menacing with their outpouring of ideology and vague commentary. Looking back, Weiser's imaginary trinity justifies itself and enjoys added value: it creates a new prism for studying the "justifications" we have accumulated in our Zionist evolution, and reminds us that in art, like in art, everything is questionable.

 

Ha'aretz Newspaper | Sharon Dobkin

 

 

GUIDED IMAGERY

 

My 11th grade teacher asked us to divide into pairs, choose a ghetto under the Nazi regime and write a paper on the subject. For some reason, I found this task offensive, as if it degraded the Holocaust. This was probably related to the general atmosphere in class. I felt (and was not the only one who did) that history underwent a process of trivialization and had become a market of ghettos in which we could saunter among the stalls. The ghetto assignment gave me the opportunity for a small act of defiance, which led to the creation of the Gildenov Ghetto.

I sat at my parents' home with a classmate, where we made up a Polish town called Gildenov and the history of its Jewish residents. The climax of our story was the uprising of Gildenov, when armed Jews took over the post office where the German command had deployed. In our paper, we quoted frequently from the imaginary book "Back to Batory Street", written by invented writer Vladek Burstein, a fictitious survivor from a non-existent ghetto. In the days before Google, our teacher could not refute the existence of Burstein or Gildenov, and was probably embarrassed not to know the story although it was so dramatic. We were graded a 90 for our work, had a good laugh, and went on with our lives.

The Gildenov ghetto does exist. Playwright and director Eyal Weiser, a prolific and intriguing artist, has re-created it in his recent works; not quite the ghetto, but the illusion of a loaded historic reality that hits a nerve, and in which we must wholeheartedly believe.

In his earlier work "Mein Jerusalem", in collaboration with actress Michal Weinberg, Weiser created the character of Sabine Sauber, a German artist who re-opened her wounds from the days of the reunification of Germany, and in subtext was poking through our own German-related wounds.

The current work, "This is the Land", is even more ambitious in its illusion of the audience. It is performed as a second of three monologue evenings presented by the "The Zionist Creation Rejects' Salon" (although the other two evenings don't exist – I've checked).

At the beginning, a fashion designer named Gali Sudansky tells the audience some fascinating tales. The first is about a freemason's assembly in Zidkiyahu cave, and I've already forgotten the last, as so many details spill out in her monologue, as she wears an impossibly flamboyant outfit and stops occasionally to strike a model's pose. The second monologue is delivered by Ayala Opfer, a cinematic artist. She tells of her neighbor Esther, who has schizophrenia, and how she tried to help Esther recreate her memories of the Holocaust. The third monologue, presented by Regev Huberman, tells the story of a family beginning in the first wave of immigration and ending with the 'Noar Gvaot' (settlers in the occupied territories).

All three performers are figments of the imagination – characters in a play, not participants. Trust me. Since the days of Gildenov, they have already invented Google, and I've searched them, only to find that their sole mention was within "This is the Land". The actors are only credited in English in the programme as contributors to the project. Until my diligent search for those details, I had no idea who the performers were, and was confused. I understood what my history teacher had felt regarding our offensive and arrogant prank, and was filled with regret.

Theater artists do not owe the audience any one simple truth; only a profound truth. The illusion in "This is the Land" is very successful, and adds intrigue to Weiser's body of work. But what about the content? In its name lies the promise of breaking rules additional to those of form. If they are outcasts from the Zionist Artists' Award, they must create content that contradicts the mainstream. Do they?

When thinking about the monologues, it appears that the content does not contradict the mainstream; it purposely misses it. This is particularly true of the second monologue: "The Performer is Sick", which describes our relationship with the memory of the Holocaust as a road to hell, paved with good intentions. Its performer (Natalie Fainstein) "assigns" memories of the Holocaust to her neighbor, who isn't even a survivor, in order to try and grant meaning to their apartment building and find her own place within. The monologue is an interesting discussion of the pain and confusion of the third generation, which is insufficiently honorable to be considered worthy. The way in which we think about things has been rigidly set out, and we shouldn't budge an inch.

The same is true of Regev Huberman's (Neta Weiner) story, presenting the saga of Zionism in an unexpected ironic atmosphere, while the first monologue by the fashion designer (Efrat Arnon) puts us in a state of consciousness where we are willing to take everything, even the deviation from the familiar narrative.

Weiser executes another intensive experiment which is eventually fruitful, but the fruit is ensconced in a peel too thick with fringe sophistication. I am certain that some of the viewers were impressed, but lacked the feeling of a real statement. Weiser deserves kudos for his intriguing work, as do his actors for their abundance of talent, but there is also room for caveats against smugness and a childish delight with a successful illusion.

 

Ha'aretz Newspaper | Yuval Ben Ami