Else Lasker-Schüler > Ofri Cnaani

Ofri Cnaani


"Anyone who has started these journeys in their lives also had to leave something behind" – An interview with Ofri Cnaani
The inspiration for your work at the National Library was six poems by Else Lasker-Schüler. What about them elicited a response?
 
Despite the fact that in my video pieces I directly reference six of Lasker-Schüler's poems, the choice to respond to her archive in a modern work of art is not focused on one specific text, but rather on the creative figure that she represents someone who is torn between two homelands, two languages, and who is constantly struggling to find her place between the fringes and the center, between the artistically explosive Berlin and the exotic East, between home and exile. I see in her works an almost despairing need to be read.  
 
Regarding my own work, which is over an hour in length and will become part of the Library building itself, it doesn't really have a beginning or end. It is centered around a repeated physical act, in which I chisel a number of Lasker-Schüler's poems in mirror text. The effort required in doing something opposite to the way it is usually done, the meticulousness of every letter, the disassembling and assembling of language, as well as the act of chiseling itself  become the essence of the work. The texts that are so diligently chiseled become once again readable when the audience encounters them on the facade of the building.  
 
The poems that I chose to chisel in the end were reduced from a much longer list. These are all relatively short poems suitable for the unusual act of writing as well as the act of reading which will be done in movement in the public sphere. The six poems create a sort of cycle of life that expresses life, creativity, childhood, motherhood and death.
 
In Else Lasker-Schüler's drawings there is a dream of the "Orient", a dream that is rooted in her culture and era. How do you relate to this? 
 
The push and pull relationship that Lasker-Schüler had with Palestine is well-expressed in the term "the Orient". It seems to me that she could only tolerate the place so long as it served as a utopia  as long as its symbolic value was enriched. A true fantasy. Life is another story entirely… The term "Orientalism" which is begging to be used, becomes absurd. Lasker-Schüler didn't come to Eretz Yisrael to stay, only to visit. But Berlin, which served as the cultural source for celebrating the Orient as a place of fantasy to which you journey, did not leave her with a home to return to.
 
I have lived in New York for 12 years now, and so have had the opportunity to think a lot about "modern Orientalism". In a series of works from 2007-8, called 'Oriental Landscapes', I look at a number of international cultural figures  collectors, critics and museum directors  during their visits in Israel. Many times in the course of their visits to Israel and Palestine these figures express a fact (or fantasy) about what they are about to see. The modern landscapes won't be focused on camels and date trees, but rather on a visit (sometimes no less shallow in character) to the landscapes of the occupation. In the series of sketches the visitors are always seen facing the camera and not the landscape and all of them are wearing sunglasses meant to protect them from the harsh sun. The pictures behind them are taken from news sites, but are framed in frames decorated with grape leaves, figs and dates, camels and suns   classic motifs of European Orientalism. This picture of the East is a kind of hybrid of the fantasies about the Orient from the two margins of the 20th century. These give us the opportunity to think about another type of Orientalism, much more politically correct, but in many ways, no less blinding.
 
 
In her theatrical life, Else Lasker-Schüler would make use of herself  her body and her character, in the framework of her work. In your opinion, what is similar and different in your work?
 
I generally work with actors, albeit not professional ones, and this is the first time that I find myself on the other side of the camera. This time I chose to be filmed because I felt protected enough behind the painted windows, but mostly because I felt that I needed to carry out the actions of inscription and mirror-writing by myself. I hope that it works…
 
Else Lasker-Schüler came to Israel for what she always claimed was "a visit". But in the background, it was well-known that her cultural homeland had been destroyed. Do you fear a similar exile?
 
Since Else's first home was destroyed, and since the ethos that sprung from that destruction from Holocaust to Resurrection is what we grew up on, and because all the statements of "the last one to turn out the lights" are no longer relevant to anyone and yet are still being made, Israel is a place that you can't really leave.
 
Someone like me who chooses to live outside of Israel, will always live with a certain feeling of foreignness. But you need to remember that everyone who has started these journeys in their lives, also had to leave something behind. Exile can turn into a state of mind and there are a lot of times when I feel like I'm neither here nor there.  At other times, I just have two homes. Is it possible?
The Event Celebrating the Launch of "Sefar" by Ofri Cnaani, Inspired by the Else Lasker-Schuler Archive
The Event Celebrating the Launch of "Sefar" by Ofri Cnaani, Inspired by the Else Lasker-Schuler Archive
The event took place on Tues, the 29th of October, 2013 at 20:00 at The National Library in Jerusalem.
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