Dani Karavan

50 years for the Negev Monument

Exhibition opening: Thursday, June 4th, 2015 at 19:30

The Exhibition closes Saturday, July 4th

Gallery talk with the artist: Friday, June 5th, 2015 at 12:00

Exhibition opening: Thursday, June 4th, 2015 at 19:30

The Exhibition closes Saturday, July 4th

Gallery talk with the artist: Friday, June 5th, 2015 at 12:00

In 1962, Micha Perry, one of the commanders of the Palmach Negev Brigade asked me to design a monument commemorating those who fought in the Brigade. My aim was to create a site that people would enjoy visiting, spending time there in order to discover the place and through it, to discover the landscape and themselves–undergoing an environmental experience (the concept of environmental art had yet to be invented, like the term 'site-specific art'). I wanted to create a site where children would play, where memory could blend with life, an environment for peace, not just commemoration.

I was well-acquainted with the Negev Brigade's deeds – from blocking the Egyptians' attack on the Negev, to the drive southwards to Umm Rashrash, today's Eilat, where the "Ink Flag" was raised. Many friends of mine had fought with the brigade. Nahum Sarig, the Negev Brigade's commander, told me that the Brigade was formed before the War of Independence erupted, to protect areas of settlement in the Negev and safeguard the water pipeline that was a real lifeline for their residents. Uzi Narkiss, a commander of the Negev Brigade's Seventh Battalion, suggested I build a lookout to which visitors could climb up and physically conquer the landscape.

I observed the surrounding hills leading down to the wadis, examined the views of the rolling landscape, studied all the folds of the ground, the rocks, the bushes, and then built dozens of models with Plasticine and rigid materials, drawing inspiration from Alberto Giacometti's sculptures. The monument was initially planned to be positioned on flat ground. When its position was changed, I had to explain to the Monument Construction Committee that I would now be changing my original design and adapting it to a hilly setting.

And so the forms took shape = the buildings, the north-to-south pipeline = the lifeline, leading to the divided dome of memory towards the fire, into memory. A convex shape, a vertical shape, a cylinder = a perforated tower like the muezzin's minaret, water-towers, look-out towers marking sites within the landscape. A structure evoking a pyramid, a tent, or a sand-dune, trenches, firing slits, dugouts, and batteries.

None of this entailed the realization of some concept or design idea. My objective was to trap the light and sun, like primeval cultures did with the pyramids. I wanted to hear flowing water, to write on water. When the wind rose and offered its breath into the pipes = flutes, I agreed, so its music could resonate like the melancholy sounds of a Bedouin flute. Into the fresh, raw concrete = the sand I imprinted footprints, scraps, scribbles, and text. And nearby I planted acacia trees, indigenous to the Negev desert. All those elements became materials for art.

A sculpture that is a place and belongs to that specific place, since it also belongs to the desert and the city which it frames, and to the folds of the ground which characterize it. It is not a sculptural object that is appropriate for anywhere and sometimes for nowhere at all.

When visitors clambered onto the monument, the Committee members were shocked, feeling it damaged the sanctity of the work. I explained that this was my intention. Others asked: is it a sculpture? Is this architecture? Can a single sculpture consist of so many forms? It was still too soon for this sort of work to be evaluated. First the artist creates, and it is only later that theories are written and names chosen for artistic styles or categories.

In the early Seventies, the art critic Amnon Barzel called the Negev Brigade Monument a 'village sculpture' composed of natural materials and memories, while artist Arie Aroch considered the work as the transformation of a historical event into a plastic form.

At the time, I did not know what I was doing, I had no theories. I did what I felt. A sculpture that people could climb and walk on, touch, hear, smell, and see. A sculpture using all the senses that constitute an experience, that directs the flow of visitors to it, a grounded sculpture, an environment composed of natural materials and memories.

It was there on a hill overlooking Be'er Sheva, in the early Sixties, that my sculptural language, my alphabet, came into being. It is a language which I developed and with it I created, and I continue to create, environmental sculptures today.

Dani Karavan

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