Do Not Say Water! Water!
Bat Yam Museum of Art
Moshe Gershuni, Roni Hajaj, Eti Levi, Kineret Haya Max
Curator: Hila Cohen-Schneiderman
The Talmudic legend 'Four Entered the Pardes' is among the most mysterious Jewish texts. Four learned men – Elisha Ben Abuyah, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, and Rabbi Akiva – enter an orchard (Pardes). Entering the Pardes signifies entering Paradise, a mystic experience, a closeness to God.
As with every passage through a threshold, entry involves danger. Not for nothing is the mezuzah affixed to the doorpost – an entrance demands a miracle, providence. As they are about to enter the Pardes, Rabbi Akiva sounds a warning: “When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say, ‘Water! Water!’” His warning addresses the gap between the power of vision and our ability to comprehend it. Are the marble stones indeed so pure as to seem as transparent as water? Where exactly is the gap between that which we
see and that which we comprehend? Rabbi Akiva implores his companions to refrain from trying to understand and to remain within the experience. The moment they say, if even only in their hearts, “Water! Water!” is the moment in which they have left the Pardes and separated from the unity made possible only by their complete and full presence.
Art, at its best, generates a transformation of consciousness. Our desire is to enter the museum as if entering the Pardes. Do not say “Water! Water!”
Professor Haviva Pedaya locates a change in the attitude toward the legend in the 12th century, when the four learned men enter the text. The Pardes came to be interpreted as the acronym of different levels of reading that gradually delve into the depths of the Torah: Peshat (straightforward), Remez (intimation), Derash (search), and Sod (mystery). Every sentence in the Torah must be read according to these four aspects. Just as a ripple of water spreads out after encountering a stone, so too the motion of understanding moves from the very simple – the sentient phenomenon and the examination of that which appears before our eyes, to those aspects that exceed our comprehension. Does art need to be understood? Can art be comprehended? What methods can we use to open up the obscure experience art offers us, to remain with the incomprehensible, the ambiguous, to slowly reveal and somehow grasp all that we understand we do not understand?
Four entered the Bat Yam Museum of Art: Moshe Gershuni, Roni Hajaj, Eti Levi, and Kineret Haya Max. Hila Cohen-Schneiderman was their witness. Each operates as a cog within the delicate and sophisticated wheel of the act of art. Through drawing, sound sculptures, and live action we delve into the code of active language. Two drawings by Moshe Gershuni mark the entrance and exit of the museum. Eti Levi presents a series of talismans that have completed their role. On the entrance floor is an enlargement of the contents of the talismans while on the top floor enlarged scans of the talismans themselves, their covers. Roni Hajaj shows a series of sound sculptures made from acoustic foam in its raw state that emanate a constant resonance. Kineret Haya Max introduces into the field of vision the intangible frequency- based presence pulsing in space.
The ancient Chinese mystic art of feng shui (wind- water) centers on the flow of energy (chi) in space. It aims to achieve harmony by guiding the flow of chi according to the workings of cosmic forces. This tradition holds
that buildings connected to water towers suffer from the constant escape of energy, like a hole in a bucket. Built in 1961, the Bat Yam Museum is a humble, curved building of human-scale proportions joined by two narrow bridges to a functioning water tower. In the past, its main avenue was home to four floors of studios so that creation and display fed off each other and were closely linked. Over the years the studio spaces were abandoned, and the museum struggled for its very existence in a city considered a socioeconomic periphery. There is a hole in the container that is meant to hold art; the life force is leaking, and the container must be fixed and widened. Can the artistic act rearrange the flow of energy in the museum space? Will the art enable the building to hold its water? To become once again a suitable echo chamber for the artistic experience.
In the exhibition Do Not Say Water! Water! four artistic systems work together in space as if moving a clock that testifies to the magnitude of the moment. We are now amid tempestuous times of awakening, as we move toward the deep wound at the heart of society. Waves of love and violence crash into each other. Things are getting heated. It seems that this is a time to be outside, on the streets. But also, a time to enter the cave, the formative structure of things, the source from which the actions are springing. To keep the beating heart of everything we hold dear to our heart.