The Kniznick Gallery at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute hosted an artist talk for the opening of their new exhibit “One Foot Planted” last Thursday. Artists Meirav Heiman and Ayelet Carmi displayed their artwork on a projector, discussing their separate artistic undertakings and explaining how they ultimately came together to create the exhibit.

The Institute examines the intersection of Jewish studies and gender studies. Every year, artists from around the world submit proposals for exhibits that delve into this. “One Foot Planted,” according to the exhibit’s website, creates “ambitious video works that explore the impact that politics and conflict have on Israeli women in times of crisis. In their work, Israel is redefined as a mythical and post-apocalyptic world, which feminine and differently-abled bodies must ritually traverse.” This event was neither artist’s first time addressing these issues.

Carmi, who spoke first, is a classically trained painter living in Herzliya, Israel. She describes herself on her website as a “woman, painter, and Israeli living in explosive reality.” Her work features female heroes, modeled after her personal friends, in mythological worlds, often exploring the physical connection between the feminine form and machinery or nature. 

She has explored the realm of performance painting — painting art that will ultimately be painted over directly onto the walls of galleries. This comes in the form of crafting physical manifestations of the contraptions in her paintings to be worn by real women walking around galleries, while the painted versions hang on the walls; and creating large, mobile compositions that can be moved, changed and interacted with. 

Carmi’s work makes profound social commentary. In her talk, she discussed a particular set of paintings in which a single, strong brushstroke serves to represent male confidence and decisiveness, while female figures intertwined with natural materials and mechanical parts demonstrate the female tendency not to be satisfied by ‘one stroke.’ The incorporation of a quotation from a Jewish text, roughly translated from Hebrew to mean “a person’s worry,” conveys the message that human time is wasted by a preoccupation with financial gain. 

The second of the collaborators, Heiman, studied photography but considers herself primarily a performance artist, using photography to capture that performance. According to her website, her work focuses “on the gap between the ideal and the concrete, the virtual and the real, the personal and the anonymous, and undermine the fantasy of the sacred family institution.” She uses grotesque imagery to bring forth the underlying complexities of traditional familial settings. For example, a series of her paintings involves family members positioned acrobatically in unusual ways in typical parts of the home, such as a kitchen or children’s bedroom. 

She frequently uses her own body to convey political messages. In one of her projects, “Split,” she walks around war-torn areas on the border of Israel and sits in a split with her legs splayed out to the side. This position and project, she explained, symbolizes to her the painful relationship between the body and the earth, as well as the struggle to love the land of Israel while recognizing its deep flaws. Like Carmi’s, the theme of the female struggle presents itself in her work. In the “Split” series, Heiman sits with her legs splayed to the side, an imitation of the traditional image of a woman giving birth, further tying in the idea of female pain and its relationship to conflict and the land of Israel.

The two artists described how they began working together. Four years ago, Heiman used Carmi’s daughter as a model for one of her projects, and the two realized that the dynamic between them was unique and powerful, Heiman said. They did not have an idea at the beginning, but simply the desire to build something together. Ultimately, the themes both Heiman and Carmi explore and the performance tactics they employ blend to create the exhibit in the Kniznick gallery. 

Three pieces comprise the exhibit, the biggest of which is titled “The Israel Trail Procession.” This piece documents on video 50 women, all friends of Carmi and Heiman, walking along the Israel Trail,  a 1,000 kilometer hiking trail that runs from the North to the South of Israel,  without touching the ground. The parade of walkers appears to travel in a world combining post-apocalyptic and present-day Israel. 

During the Q & A portion of the talk, an audience member asked the artists about the significance of having the parade walkers not touch the ground. Carmi responded that the two artists have different interpretations of the concept, but essentially they aimed to bring up the complications that arise in talking about Israeli land and hoped that the work would exist “in the gap between the land of Israel and the people who live there.”