Society Without Images

I used to think about the difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - that’s it’s essentially a topographical difference. In Jerusalem, the hills and valleys offer not only the opportunity to explore and discover but also a shelter and protection (to crawl up through some ravine, and find a cave, and hide in it for a while). And in Tel Aviv, and perhaps in Chicago too, the flat plains reveal everything to you, and you are always exposed as well. ‘Good. It’s time to stop romanticizing,’ my friend and mentor told me, as I finally moved to Tel Aviv, after 8 years in Jerusalem. I always preferred being away from my object of passion anyway.

It takes me exactly 1 minute and 45 seconds to cross a block when walking on a North-South street in Chicago. After walking those blocks for almost a year now, my feet already anticipate the rhythm, and I notice my head automatically turns left and right to watch for cars. In a short vacation back in Israel I could feel my body missing that tempo. I’m beginning to understand the geography of this place, in such subtleties.

I used to make late-night walks back in Jerusalem that would last for hours. I would set out in a random direction and make my turn-by-turn decisions according to some gut feeling. I always felt that that kind of roving is connected with my work. It’s during those times that I would find solutions to my problems, ways of moving forward. But there’s no roving in Chicago. Here, the streets’ layout could serve as a city map of itself. The house numbering system is a whole coordinate system on its own. There’s no getting lost in it.

In Israel, places were mostly my catalysts to ideas and works. I always felt as if the Land of Israel was a thin crust covering eruptive materials. Every location has a sense of a place, and there’s no place of no significance. I only had to poke that crust somewhere, and images would come pouring out. But I’ve grown more and more uneasy with those images, of how simple it is to produce them, how direct and proximal they are to their source and subject. Or how producing such images is doing nothing more than evoking what others had already done. Actually done, designed, changed, erected, destroyed. At best, you are being an accomplice. At worse, you’re doing nothing at all.

Here in Chicago, I began looking for something familiar on these abstract plains, something concrete. The Eruv is a communal space for Jewish communities, constructed by a representational wall. Its structure reference back to The Temple, the Tabernacle, an ancient courtyard, and the walls of Jerusalem. It is a workaround for the forbidding of carrying items outside of the private domain on Shabbat, by creating a perimeter which renders the entire community as a private domain. I was familiar with the concept of the Eruv, from Jerusalem, where it is usually aligned with the city perimeters, a string hung between polls, crossing hills, cliffs, and valleys. Another natural candidate for me to photograph.
And here, I found an Eruv line that is generic and transparent as any other infrastructure on the Chicago grid, imitating Jerusalem using nothing more than a few plastic guards, telephone wires, or the train line’s embankment. The Eruv is both a border and an implementation. It is gentle, obscure, and esoteric, both a symbol and an infrastructure. It is sacred but also a trickery. It stands in such a contrast to the amount of concrete, fences, and wires devoured in the process of placemaking in Israel. In contrast to the imagery of place and border over there.

Judaism, in essence, is diasporic religion. A religion lacking images, lacking concrete geographies. Most of it was developed in an exile of almost 2,000 years, and when it finally reached its moment of salvation, it went into such a contradiction that is still being negotiated. But some things are already irreversibly lost. Zionism is like a shattering of the old, non-face non-bodily gods. It is concrete, solid, materialized. It is full of images of idols, landscapes, towers, and walls.

Hebrew makes a special division of the world, that is not available in the English language. There is the moledet, the homeland, and gola - meaning, anywhere else. In the lexicon of Zionist and Israeli ideas, ‘descending’ from Israel is a shameful act. It doesn’t matter in what part of the gola you are, being in exile is a spiritually degenerated state. As the late PM Izhak Rabin once called the descenders - A fallout of cowards.

And perhaps I used to feel the same way. Why imitate Jerusalem, when you have the actual thing? So much alive, rich, poor, holy, corrupt, so very conflicted, constantly demanding from you to react and respond. But is there really a way for images to respond? Is there really a function for creating in that place?

Perhaps salvation got a thing or two to learn from its primeval state. Maybe things are the other way around. I want to consider, at least for myself, the potentiality of descending and of belonging to a diaspora. To be in a permanent exile, to be able to set my home wherever I am, to find meaning in actions, in life, in the people around me, and not in images, concepts, and other such idols of land and places. To belong in the present, not in the past. To be in exile even at the homeland.

May 2020