The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute is currently sponsoring an exhibit of Ayelet Carmi and Meirav Heiman’s video installations called “One Foot Planted.” The show runs through June 28 in the Kniznick Gallery, with special events on April 7 and April 9 as part of the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts.
Carmi is a painter and installation artist. Her biography cites her affinity for mythological female figures, as well as hybrids of machinery and the human form. Although her training is in traditional painting, her work “displays metamorphoses of the world and imaginary figments.” The women, each of whom have been lauded over the past decade by Israel’s thriving art community, came to their collaboration with a vast body of individual work. Although their art was decidedly different, their interests in national and gender identity and feminism has brought them together these past four years to create thought-provoking videos showcasing their artistic strengths.
Heiman is an interdisciplinary artist working in photography and video. Her biography explains that her “work departs from everyday life, recreating domestic scenarios in a stylized, grotesque manner to provoke a wide range of human emotions. The basic need for love and intimacy is counteracted by the rigidity of family and gender constructions.”
Anchoring the HBI exhibit is a video called “Israel Trail Procession.” At their recent artist talk, the two women explained their invention of the Israel trail is based on the Israel National Trail, a 600-plus-mile hiking route that runs from the Lebanese border in the north to Eilat in the south. The trail was opened in 1995, and as the artists pointed out, it evoked the Zionist mandate of “conquering the land with one’s feet.”
While the Israel National Trail is part of modern Israel, Carmi and Heiman write that they were determined to transform it to accommodate “an eccentric parade of walkers of different ages that seem to belong in a time outside time—a cross between post-apocalyptic descendants of present-day Israelis and a tribal troupe belonging to ancient, obscure times.”
This curious group of marchers, or as Carmi has suggested, “pilgrims”—50 women in all—is dressed in clothing that ranges from skintight outfits—invoking a futuristic dress—to long dresses, which calls to mind medieval costumes. The group begins their journey with one caveat: They are not allowed to come into contact with the ground. The result is a controlled sort of bedlam and a post-apocalyptic environment featuring circus-like feats.
To avoid touching the ground, these women traverse the long trail using various implements to move forward. Some walk on stilts; others walk with orbs attached to their feet. Carmi and Heiman point out a woman walking on her hands, which are also on stilts.
In addition to the variety of costumes and myriad props in use, the group—or as Carmi also referred to it, the “parade”—navigates three distinct natural environments that highlight the beach, a forest and the desert. While the video has many moving parts, it never feels cluttered or overly busy. Taken as a whole, it’s a striking visual metaphor of what constitutes women working the land. The artists convey that women have many obstacles and burdens they have to confront in Israeli society.
Carmi and Heiman’s work also addresses the act of counting the omer—the 49 days that fall between the second day of Passover and the harvest holiday of Shavuot—in a video called “Spheres.” Like many traditions in Judaism, women are exempt from time-bound acts, such as counting the omer, to attend to household duties and rearing children. Heiman explained that she and Carmi were suggesting “that women don’t count. And we placed them rolling inside spheres to introduce an element of confusion.”
The four women in the video roll in their discrete sphere counting in their native languages that include Amharic, Hebrew, Arabic and English. “Inhaling and counting, then exhaling, is an intentional challenge,” noted Carmi. “The women are at the center of their spheres, making them a subject, not just an object who marks her own time.”
“One Foot Planted” is an intergenerational celebration of women and their obstacles. As the artists note in their joint statement: “In some mysterious way, [these women] are clearly related to us, if only through radical estrangement from an ethos that—perhaps through workings of catastrophes, upheaval and the turns of history—reincarnates itself centuries later as a taboo.”
It’s challenging, and even disorienting, to approach “One Foot Planted.” But it’s worth the effort to share Carmi and Heiman’s unified vision of a woman’s relationship to Israel, the way the Israeli patriarchy regards the land and a woman’s outsider status in her own country.