Nostalgia Sunday – Earth. Water. Tree. – Itzhak Danziger
Earth. Water. Tree., a new show examining environmental aspects in the work of Israel Prize laureate Itzhak Danziger opens this week at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The location is a natural fit; as well as being an artist, sculptor and landscape designer, Danziger was a professor at the Technion’s Faculty of Architecture.
Danziger’s most famous work is the statue entitled “Nimrod” which was commissioned for the Hebrew University in 1939 when the artist – freshly returned from art school in London – was only 23. The statue, made of red sandstone from Petra, depicts the biblical king as a youthful hunter, bow in hand and a hawk on his shoulder.
At the time of its unveiling, the nude modernist sculpture caused something of a scandal but was shortly thereafter, says Wikipedia, “acclaimed as a major masterpiece of Israeli art, and has noticeably influenced and inspired the work of later sculptors, painters, writers and poets up to the present.”
“The Nimrod statue was also taken up as the emblem of a cultural-political movement known as ‘The Cannanites’ which advocated the shrugging off of the Jewish religious tradition, cutting off relations with Diaspora Jews and their culture, and adopt in its place a ‘Hebrew Identity’ based on ancient Semitic heroic myths – such as Nimrod’s. Though never gaining mass support, the movement had a considerable influence on Israeli intellectuals in the 1940s and early 1950s.”
The current exhibit looks at the adult Danziger’s later career from the early 1970s until his death in 1977. Curator Sharon Yavo Ayalon writes “For many, Danziger is identified with ‘Nimrod,’ the figurative-archaic statue he created in 1939 that was repeatedly chosen as the quintessential Israeli masterpiece. Few were aware of his environmental work, to which he brought an innovative perception of the landscape as a system that combines both ecological and cultural elements.”
“His experimentation with subjects like conservation and restoration, and his field and theoretical studies of the issues of earth, water and tree, are a source of inspiration for contemporary artists, architects and scientists grappling with issues that Danziger long ago identified as urgent and acute, and that should never again be allowed to disappear from the public awareness.
True to his Canaanite roots, Danziger “offered a new model of the Israeli, one who found a different way to wander across the country, exploring its treasures and its open spaces, appreciating its natural and cultural qualities – and crafting the ideal relationship between society on the one hand, and place, environment, sites, landscape, art and history on the other.”
“For Danziger, earth, water and tree were natural elements that carried multiple meanings. Earth meant land and ground for rehabilitation and garden design; but in its solid state – the rock from which a sculpture emerges – it was also, or perhaps especially, the very earth of the Land of Israel from which one could elicit the ancient cultural milieu. It was that relationship, he felt, which would allow him to flourish and nurture his roots.”
“He was inspired as well by water. Its natural and aesthetic association with holy places, and the methods of channeling it across the landscape, found expression in many of his sculptures and drawings, and was central to his environmental work.”
“The tree, on the other hand, is an organic link between earth and water and between earth and the human being… He attached great importance to trees, especially in the context of sacred trees and groves.”
The exhibition recreates two legendary environmental installations by Danziger, both evocative of our ancient heritage: “Hanging Artificial Landscape” and “Aqueduct”. Another part of the exhibition is devoted to photographs, drawings and prints connected to the rehabilitation of the Nesher Quarry, the Wadi Sheikh bustan (grove), Hurshat Ha’arba’im (the Grove of the Forty) and his last project: a memorial tree-planting ceremony for the casualties of the Egoz army unit in the Northern Golan, near Nimrod’s Castle.
Sadly, writes Yavo Ayalon, “All those places Danziger tried to rehabilitate were soon ignored and neglected, and in their deteriorated state they cry out, now more than ever, for help. Nesher Quarry is still an abandoned gash in the landscape; the well in Hurshat Ha’arba’im is still in ruins; and there is a demolition order out against the bustan of Wadi Sheikh. The water problem has only worsened.”
Earth. Water. Tree. runs from June 13 to July 30 at the Paul Konrad Hoenich Center for Art, Science and Technology at the Technion’s Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning.