The Days of the Family of the BellOn May 4, in an event co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, the Figge Art Museum will host the screenings of a feature-length documentary and seven shorter works, all of them by award-winning Israeli filmmakers. Yet if the you enter the Video Art from Israel: A One-Day Sensory Experience presentation with preconceived notions about the films' collective subject matter - anticipating explorations of Israel's foreign policy, say, or the country's ongoing struggle with Palestine - you're likely to be in for a surprise or two. Or eight.

You won't, for example, be expecting Ben Hagari's Invert, a visually ravishing short involving a man and his parrot in which all of the film's colors are replaced with their complementary equivalents - black for white, red for green, et cetera - and all of the dialogue is spoken backwards. Or Yael Efrati's and Ayelet Ben Dor's Double Conspiracies Outside My Doorstep, an entertaining black-and-white piece - employing animation and stop-motion photography - on the proliferation of stray cats in Tel Aviv. Or program curator Keren Shavit's Oryctolagus Cuniculus, which provides a detailed look at the pressures and prodding experienced by contestants in a beauty pageant - a beauty pageant for rabbits.

"I knew from the start," said Shavit via e-mail earlier this week, "that I wanted to present works that deal with reality in Israel in its various aspects, even if it is an imagined reality. However, my intent was to select works that don't necessarily carry a political statement or deal with the ongoing conflicts we see and read about in the news, as these are mostly the types of works that receive international exposure. I wanted people to get a new and fresh experience in regards to Israeli art."

A 2002 graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design Jerusalem, and a current faculty member at New York's School of Visual Arts, mixed-media artist and Brooklyn resident Shavit has had her own video art screened at film festivals in countries including Iceland, Norway, Germany, Canada, and China, and one of her experimental works was a 2013 prize winner at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

Consequently, she said, "after several visits abroad, I decided I would like to curate programs of Israeli artists, as well as organize international art programs of collaboration and exchange between different countries and cultures. The responses [to my work] in other countries always intrigued me, especially where there seemed to be little knowledge, or no knowledge at all, about Israeli art."

If Shavit's name and field of interest seem familiar to local video-art aficionados, it might be because one of those programs, titled Pizza Face Eating Falafel, was screened at Rock Island's Rozz-Tox venue last April.

InvertSaid Shavit of the presentation: "It was a traveling program created collaboratively with the production manager of Haifa Museum of Art in Israel, Michal Ribinstein. The two of us curated an eclectic selection of video works by several contemporary Israeli artists, and the works we selected dealt with ideas and forms of familiar domestic environments, the alienation of daily routine, conflicts of urbanism, and the deconstruction of personal and collective ideals." (Adding a smiley-face emoticon to the sentence's end, Shavit added, "The works were also full of dark humor.")

During Shavit's area visit as curator of Pizza Face Eating Falafel, she said, "I became curious about the Jewish community in the Quad Cities, and together with my host, Benjamin Fawks, we went to the Jewish Federation, where I met [executive director] Allan G. Ross. It really moved me to learn of the Jewish community there, and I was hoping to design a program of Israeli art and bring it to the Quad Cities."

With Ross' and the Jewish Federation's support, Shavit was consequently asked to curate another film presentation for the area, and she said, "I was very happy and honored when the Figge Museum agreed to host the program." She was also somewhat intimidated, adding, "Curating is always a complex job. The process of putting together a collection of Israeli video art and experimental films required a lot of collecting and filtering."

The centerpiece for Shavit's Video Art from Israel program wound up being director Ran Tal's 70-minute documentary Children of the Sun, which Variety magazine called a "crowd-pleaser" and "a fascinating collage of archival materials." An exploration of the first generation of kibbutz children separated from their parents and raised under the Israeli "communal child-rearing" education program that prevailed through the 1980s, Tal's film was the winner of Best Israeli Documentary and Best Editing citations at the 2007 Jerusalem Film Festival, and received Best Documentary laurels at the 2008 Ophir Awards (generally referred to as "the Israeli Oscars").

Yet the incredible diversity of Video Art from Israel is best exemplified within the program's selection of short films. Two of them - 2007's Mother Economy and 2011's Black & White Rule - are by Israeli filmmaker Maya Zack and boast the sort of crystalline visual panache one might associate with David Fincher, or even Stanley Kubrick. The Holocaust remembrance Mother Economy finds a housekeeper carefully documenting and tracing discarded objects from presumed loved ones now gone, creating a miniature parable on the need for ritual in the wake of chaos. Black & White Rule, meanwhile, takes place mostly on an oversize chessboard, and features a pair of poodles performing tricks for a mysterious experiment that examines humans' continued attempts at imposing order in the universe - and one that results, frighteningly, in a literal dogfight.

Mother EconomyIn the mind-blowing and rather hilarious short The Days of the Family of the Bell, director and video artist Gilad Ratman explores the limits, and limitlessness, of the human body through a series of extraordinary (and physically impossible) feats of strength and contortion. Employing wizardly computer techniques, Gilad treats us to such sights as one man balancing another, heavier man using only his right hand, and eight people balancing precariously on the back of a petite woman; the resulting positions and pyramids are remarkable on their own, but watching Gilad's participants getting into those positions and pyramids must be seen to be believed.

And in addition to Invert, Double Conspiracies Outside My Doorstep, and directors Rona Perry's and Mor Aarcadir's Haifa Odessa: Ship Schwestern - a time-travel piece that begins on a luxury cruiser and ends on Ukraine's famed Potemkin stairs - the Figge's Video Art from Israel shorts will include Shavit's Oryctolagus Cuniculus, about that aforementioned, rather unusual beauty contest.

"Over a two-year period," said Shavit of her film's inception, "I spent several months in Poland for research and filming. One possible story that I found interesting there involved an Englishman who decided to leave all he had in England, and almost arbitrarily chose to buy a run-down farm in the middle of rural Poland, living in solitude. I was filming him for a couple of weeks, and as I was filming, I happened to meet a man who turned out to be involved in rabbit beauty competitions. The subject sounded so bizarre, and it was definitely nothing I had ever heard of. So I just made a spontaneous decision to temporarily postpone the filming of the Englishman, and instead I went and documented this rabbit competition."

If you react to the film as I did, however, you may spent most of Oryctolagus Cuniculus not realizing it's about a rabbit competition, as Shavit's clinically arresting images - propelled by an evocative and insistent score by Adi Omry - led me to think something horrible was in store for all those bunnies being stared at and handled by men in white lab coats ... one of whom wears a baseball cap on which the Golden Arches are displayed. (By the film's end, I was delighted to see that a McHare sandwich was not in the works.)

"The film is perceived very differently by different people," said Shavit of her Video Art from Israel contribution, and my initial fears for the rabbits' fates. "Though it was not my intention, you are not alone in anticipating that something bad is going to happen to the rabbits in the end. For me, it was more about this doctor-looking group of men, like scientists, examining these rabbits so meticulously and seriously."

And Omry's music, she added, "was meant to create a loop-like atmosphere and accentuate the dramatics and seriousness that surrounded this event, which, for me, just made it all the more surreal. But if it also created a sense of anticipation or suspense, I guess that's a good thing."


Video Art from Israel: A One-Day Sensory Experience will be presented at the Figge Art Museum (225 West Second Street, Davenport) on Sunday, May 4, from 3 to 6 p.m. For more information on the event, call (309)793-1300 or visit

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