Monday, April 5, 2010

Where Dadaism Settled in Israel

Yesterday, I spent the day in Ein Hod, a small Israeli village about an hour north of Tel Aviv. What makes Ein Hod so interesting is that supposedly all of its inhabitants are artists. Granted there are less than 600 of them, but it still makes for dense creativity. Ein Hod became an artists' colony in 1953. The driving spirit behind the project was Marcel Janco, who convinced the Israeli government to let him build the colony rather than destroy the village. Until few years before his arrival, the village had been home to 500-700 Arabs, who fled or escaped or were pushed out (depending on who you ask) after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Janco and its later residents renovated many of the pre-War buildings including the local mosque, which became of all things a bar.

Anyway, the place is rife with artist studios, many of them open and selling to the public. There is also a museum, which features the work of Janco and tells his and Ein Hod’s story. Janco was actually a fascinating character. He was a Romanian Jew, who spent much time in Zurich and Paris, and was one of the key characters in the Dadaist movement of the early 1900s. Janco’s paintings and illustrations from that period often depict the cafĂ© and city life enjoyed by him and his compatriots. In addition, Janco illustrated poetic works by the likes of Tristan Tzava and Andre Breton, two leading Dada lights.

When Janco immigrated to Palestine in 1941, Dada didn’t come with him. Janco’s work took on a more figurative and narrative feel though later work tended toward the abstract. His subjects also tended to be of the local—immigrant camps, Arab and Jewish scenes, abstract Israeli landscapes.

As a historical note, most of the 700-900 Arab villagers of Ein Hod resettled in the West Bank. A group of 35 original inhabitants took shelter in a nearby wadi forming a new village called Ein Houd. It wasn’t until 2005 that Israel recognized the village and connected it to its electric grid. As in so many places in Israel, the conflict between the possibility of what is versus the loss of what was remains a constant presence.

If you do visit Ein Hod, there is a fabulous bookstore hidden down one of its small streets. The store is assembled of what looks like sheet metal, stone and wood remnants from demolished buildings, and a few nails. The floor is nothing but dirt and rock. The proprietor, who surrounds himself with at least four dogs and makes and sells some really terrible pottery, plays old Israeli and American LPs and might, if you look longingly enough at his coffee pot, offer you a cup. I found an out of print collection of essays by Isaiah Berlin as well as an ancient (and a bit water marked) edition of Octavio Paz.

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