Yaacov Chefetz: There They Will Change My Name

January 10-February 24, 2002

Yaacov Chefetz: There They Will Change My Name will be on view at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum from January 10-February 24, 2002. Yaacov Chefetz, a preeminent contemporary Israeli artist, will create a site-specific installation for the museum, which will explore the evolution and psychology of Israeli identity, from the optimistic Zionism of the pioneer-builders of the fledgling state to the current angst of a country struggling to secure peace and stability in a volatile region.

Bearing the title of an 1820 poem by Heinrich Heine, "There They Will Change My Name," the exhibition expresses the complex construction of an Israeli national identity, bridging the cultural and historical legacies of diverse immigrant origins, constantly in flux. To explain the exhibition, Chefetz states: "Heine's motto refers to running away from one's identity, to the partition created by blurring your identity. This installation is a continuation of a group of works that I started in the 1970s. All of my installations explore my position vis-a-vis my physical condition, which is difficult to evade. It is hard to introduce a standpoint detached from reality. It is even harder to set yourself as an objective observer of reality. Thus the investigation of identity is not a one-time scrutiny, but rather the continuation of a process."

Hana Kofler, in her essay for the exhibition catalog, states that the title of Chefetz's work refers to "the transformations that occurred in Jewish family names throughout the years. A forced designation or voluntary adoption of names and nicknames throughout the turbulent Jewish history clearly resulted from processes of uprooting, wandering, immigration and re-integration." She notes that in addition to the transformation of Jewish names, the subject can be viewed through the lens of contemporary Israeli art, "which for the most part, does not seek out a 'Jewish' identity, but rather prefers a modern, international, progressive, up-to-date identity. The connection to the 'Jew' is not straightforward in secular Israeli culture. The present attempt to re-build the bridge between the Israeli and Jew could be symptomatic of the identity crisis in Israeli culture that has become disillusioned of the hopes inherent in the unitary vision of the melting pot."

A large wooden wall will divide the gallery, the area that is first experienced by the viewer will contain fragments of objects and emit sounds from a wall whose identity and purpose are unclear. One passes to the inner gallery space through a doorway inscribed with the letters "shin" and "mem," which signify multiple meanings: "sham" (there) or "shem" (name). On the other side of the wall, video monitors and footage, and the larger part of the embedded objects and drawings will be displayed. The images will illuminate what was hidden before and involve the viewer in a process of exploration and discovery that reflects one's own journey toward identity. Related drawings will also be presented in an adjacent gallery in conjunction with the installation.

Chefetz works in mixed media encompassing drawing, sculpture, video, photography, and earthwork. His exhibitions and site-specific installations reflect a vast array of influences: his personal perspectives on his upbringing among the European immigrant pioneers of the Jewish State, the legacy of the once thriving egalitarian kibbutz environment, the impact of European culture on Israeli life, the relationship between Jews and Israeli Arabs in the northern part of Israel (many of his students at the Technion Institute are Israeli Arabs and Palestinians), the ecology of the desert and Middle East, and the flux in identity amongst differing generations of Israelis today.

Chefetz has been associated for most of his career with Kibbutz Eilon and is a distinguished member of the faculty at the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel. The recipient of many prizes including the Incentive Prize for Creation from the Israeli Ministry for Education and Sculpture, his solo exhibitions include the Museum of Israeli Art (Ramat Gan), Haifa Museum of Modern Art, and the Lobelsky Gallery (New York), among many others. His work has been displayed as part of numerous group exhibitions, including the Artists Museum (Berlin), the Israel Museum (Jerusalem), Tel Aviv University Art Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum (NY), as well as in exhibitions in Stockholm, Cleveland, Portugal, Tokyo, Seoul, and Warsaw, among many other places; his public projects and sculptures include works for the cities of Carmiel, Arad, Haifa, Hertzelia, and Tel Aviv, Israel, and many other projects.
This exhibition, and related catalog and public program, are presented with the support of the New York-Israel Cultural Cooperation Commission and the Office of Cultural Affairs, Consul General of Israel in New York.

Opening Reception with Artist: Thursday, January 10, 6-8 pm

Panel Discussion: Wednesday, February 20, 7:30 pm
"Artistic Expressions of Contemporary Israeli Identity"
Yaacov Chefetz, artist
Meir Wieseltier, poet
Moderator: Dr. Stanley Nash, Professor of Hebrew Literature, HUC-JIR

Admission to Museum and Program: Free
Museum Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 am - 5 pm; Friday, 9 am - 3 pm; Selected Sundays, 10 am - 2 pm: January 13, January 27, and February 24.
Tours/Information: (212) 824-2205