Curator Shlomit Breuer
In the fall of 1969, the poet Paul Celan (1920-1970) visited Israel, an event that deeply affected deeply and influenced his late poetry. Yet Celan also left a lasting impression on the place that he visited and on the Hebrew language itself: the places he toured during his visit, the people he encountered, conversations and speeches. In some sense Celan’s visit is still taking place as it reverberates in translations of his poetry and prose, scholarship of his work, and in Israeli art. Celan’s visit remains a topic of conversation (Gespräch): it denotes gathering, thought and speech. His visit is also the subject of art.
This exhibition is the result of a three-year workshop that brought together scholars, translators and Israeli artists. The workshop took place between 2018-2021, fifty years after Celan’s visit, and it centered on this event, examining, and formulating the “open questions” in Celan’s world, first and foremost the question of conversation— how can we properly converse in light (and in the shadow) of the events of history?
The group examined Celan’s poetic language and discussed translation, witnessing, the language of mourning, the maternal figure, the names of the father in his poetry, as well as blindness— the despondent vision arising from his writing. The workshop also traced Celan’s visit to Jerusalem, the boundaries of Israel/Palestine, inquiring about the walls, borders and connections between Hebrew and Arabic.
Art, that thing Celan refers to as “a five-footed marionette” (following Georg Büchner), has a life of its own, limbs, materials, forms, experience and biography, languages, genres, space and time, as well as duties and various degrees of freedom. The artists in this exhibition— as a group— have used their own languages to formulate the questions that Celan’s visit imparted to us.
The works by Maya Zack, Zvi Lachman and Shay Abadi collected in this exhibition are in one sense the product of a conversation with key figures in Celan’s world. In another sense, they are testimony: the works heed the call of Celan’s poetry to find it an addressee. These works do not interpret or represent Celan’s poetry, but rather express in material form, that which is embedded in his writing. “Alas, art” (Ach die Kunst)