Homage to Itzhak Danzinger, 1970-1977
The Rehabilitation of the Nesher Quarry
Danziger’s most famous environmental work is The Rehabilitation of the Nesher Quarry (1971). This work is most clearly expressive of the theme of “tikkun,” or restorative healing, in his work. It bespeaks an attempt to redeem nature from the destruction wrought by modernity, to purify and liberate it from the damage inflicted by man and by the passage of time. This work began with the experimental restoration of three abandoned quarries at Nesher, on the western slopes of the Carmel Mountains. Danziger, the ecologist Ze’ev Naveh, the geologist Yosef Morin and the other members of the work crew initially decided to try and integrate the quarry into the surrounding topography and vegetation. They discussed what plants should be planted, the preparation of the ground, growing methods and more. Later, while visiting the site with the geographer Yehoshua Itzhaki, Danziger realized that the cliff created by the process of quarrying into the mountain was in fact an ecological section related to the formation of the mountain, and thus decided to use this element as well.
Restoration of the Nesher Quarry, like many of Danziger’s later works, constituted an attempt to create a vital work that is constantly renewed with the passage of time and changes in nature; a work that is beyond history, beyond the self-centered sphere of human activity. Danziger believed that the central task of the modern artist is to call attention to the constant fusion of order and chance, to “the continuum of being” that is life. To this end, he believed, the artist must create self-sustaining systems, which follow the logic of natural cycles. This, in his opinion, was the true meaning of the term “creativity”: the ability to foster renewal and restart the cycle of life. Many photographers (such as Judy and Kenny) documented the restoration of the quarry close up, and followed Danziger’s body language. By contrast, Drora Spitz situated herself at a distance, and photographed the mountainside from a panoramic perspective. The bird’s-eye view seems to have “swallowed” the wound in the mountainside and created the illusion of a continuous mountainside, as it existed before the creation of the quarry. Spitz also documented the Kedumim quarry on the way to Beit Oren, a site Danziger visited frequently and whose restoration he often contemplated.
Rugm El Hiri
In the early 1970s, Danziger became interested in a newly rediscovered site in the Golan: an ancient temple composed of a circular stone structure, whose founders remain unknown. Various apertures and structures that lead sunlight into the building at predetermined angles enabled those who worshipped at the temple to determine the longest and shortest days of the year, the equinox, and the dates of various holidays. Danziger examined the “place” and “time” from two aspects that are difficult to separate from one another: the mythological aspect and the ecological aspect.
Many of Danziger’s later works (most prominent among which are: Rehabilitation of the Nesher Quarry and the 1977 tree-planting ceremony in memory of the fallen soldiers of the Egoz unit) are vital works that are constantly renewed following natural cycles of growth and decay. It is in accordance with these cycles that man has created systems for measuring time, dividing them into units that mark “birth” and “death.” Mythological, cyclical time effaces the distinction between past and future and shapes an “open” temporal system that may be renewed at any time. The future is perceived as a resurrection of the past, whose purpose is to live fully in the present. This temporal paradigm stands out in contrast to modern, historical time – a “closed” system that does not allow for a resurrection of the past. In the realm of mythological time, by contrast, the present occupies the place of both present and past, and memory replaces concrete reality.
Most of the photographs of Rugm El Hiri used by Danziger in the course of his research were taken by satellite or from an airplane. By contrast, Drora Spitz managed to create closeups of the rocks and field. An attentive examination of these photographed fragments reveals an
awareness of the powerful life force that suffuses the natural world, and whose presence transcends the particularities of time and place.
The Orchard at the Foot of Kababir in Wadi Ein Sheikh, Haifa
Danziger was enamored of the fruit orchards scattered throughout the country, and especially of one Mediterranean jewel – the orchard at the foot of Kababir in Wadi Ein Sheikh, Haifa. He frequently visited this orchard – sometimes to enjoy it with friends, and in other instances to study it with his students at the Technion Institute or at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Wadi Sheikh, which is characterized by tangled natural brush and naturally formed caves, contains rich cultural and natural treasures. Vestiges of human culture estimated to be 15,000 years old were discovered in one of the caves, while others have been found to contain Byzantine monastic cells, a 12th-century Carmelite monastery; the wadi is also known for two springs that are the subject of various legends and stories, and for the lush orchard created in the early 19th century by the Ki’at family. This combination of typical indigenous flora and the vestiges of various cultures constitutes a unique site within the city of Haifa. Its rich cultural heritage has attracted many visitors, while years of neglect led to the deterioration of the site.
Drora Spitz’s camera closely followed the complex redesigning of the orchard, disassembling it into its various parts and revealing to the viewer its reserved, minimalist beauty. Her photographs pay special attention to the irrigation systems that provide a constant supply of water: The wells and pools, the watering troughs and water canals captured in the photographs portray a wide range of design solutions, which Danziger saw as exemplars of a clear, existential design language – the most important asset for working in a landscape.
Sacred Places, Ritual Sites and Tombs
More than anything, Dora Spitz’s camera was drawn to sacred sites such as the trees, forests and tombs of saints and sheikhs that are scattered throughout the country, and which serve as sites of worship for pilgrims and believers. Spitz wandered from Bik’at Kadesh to Mt. Hermon, from Sha’ar Haguy to Bar Giora, from Samaria to the Galilee, attempting to capture the connection between life and death, the eternity of nature and the ephemerality of man. She followed in the footsteps of Danziger, who spent much time studying these “holy sites” on his many journeys throughout the country.
Danziger paid close attention to the strong connection between the landscape and the imprint of both human and natural forces in various “places” and sites of ritual and memory. He saw how a tree or a spring could deepen the connection between man and his natural environment, functioning as a way to forge a connection between the self and the “center of being”; a passageway from death to life, from all that is ephemeral and illusory to what is real and eternal; and an emblem of a religious reality understood in mythological terms.
A religious approach to life underscores the existence of a supernatural “beyond,” which relates – directly or indirectly – to the “natural” world. Anything man does in “this” world is related to “that” world and influences it, and vice versa. This connection shapes the character of the kinds of sites, structures, trees and ritual objects that inspired Danziger. He aspired to connect to their quintessential qualities, and to infuse them with sanctity. This is how he arrived at various ritual sites and sacred trees, where local residents have worshipped for thousands of years.
The Tree-Planting Ceremony in Memory of the Fallen Soldiers
Of the Egoz Commando Unit in the Golan
In 1977, on the holiday of Tu Bishevat, Drora Spitz documented one of Itzhak Danziger's most important conceptual works: the tree-planting ceremony in memory of the fallen soldiers the Egoz commando unit in the Golan. The idea of planting a forest
of oak trees came to the artist in the immediate aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, when he was invited (together with Professor Daniel Havkin and the architect Ram Carmi) to serve as a judge in a memorial design competition for the fallen soldiers the Egoz Unit. Writing in the memorial booklet published for the fallen soldiers about his emotions while visiting the unit with the other members of the jury, Danziger said: "[…] the environment transmitted the essence of the site separately to each of the judges. We felt that any vertical structure resembling a sculpture, and even a very impressive one, would be unable to compete with the mountain range. When we began moving through the terrain and ascending upwards, we discovered that the rocks, which from a distance resembled a single texture, each had a strikingly unique character."
The search for an appropriate solution for the Egoz unit's memorial site led Danziger to define a new approach to the concept of commemoration: instead of erecting a memorial in the landscape, he decided to put the emphasis on the landscape itself; to create a "place" that related to the surrounding flora and fauna, a "place" where the families of the fallen soldiers and friends would feel at peace and be able to commune with themselves and with the surrounding landscape. The planting ceremony on the holiday of Tu Bishevat in 1977 was the first concrete expression of Danziger's new approach. In the presence of the bereaved families, commanders, artist friends and students, the first plants were planted (on hill 883 in the Golan). For the families, the participation in the tree-planting process was the first step towards a personal involvement in the creation of a "place." The enduring connection with each growing tree, which would come to influence the landscape, was an additional step towards the creation of a site of memory for future generations.
Alongside panoramic photographs documenting the encounter between the bereaved parents and the landscape of Kal'at Namrud, Drora Spitz photographed several closeups that capture Israel's most prominent artists participating in the ceremony, including Yosef Zaritsky and Avigdor Stematsky. The photograph of a bereaved father's hands pressing the fragile oak sapling into the ground is one of the most moving photographs in this series.
I would like to thank Drora Spitz for more than 30 years of collaborative work. In the mid-1970s, we met for the first time in the course of preparing the book: Itzhak Danziger: Place (Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 1982). Over time, I included many of her photographs in various exhibitions: two retrospective exhibitions of Itzhak Danziger's works –at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1981) and at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (in collaboration with the Open Museum, Tefen, 1996); the exhibition "Tikkun: Aspects of Israeli Art During the 1970s" at the Genia Schreiber University Art Gallery, Tel Aviv University (1988); and the exhibition: “My Own Body, the 1970s in Israeli Art," at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2008). Drora Spitz's photographs are an inseparable part of the achievements of Israeli art, and for this we are grateful to her.
By: Muki Tsur From the book "Light | Space | Time"
From the early 1970s until July 11, 1977 – the day on which Itzhak Danziger was killed in a car accident on his way to Jerusalem – Drora Spitz documented this artist’s journeys throughout the country, as he visited various landscapes and sites. Her photographs capture both the “places” and the materials that formed part of Danziger’s interdisciplinary work. They document his attempts to bring together ecological and cultural elements, and to fuse them into a synthetic system using methods borrowed from the field of semiotics. These images are not only moving testimonies of Danziger’s artmaking process; they are artworks in their own right, which are crucial to an understanding of the unique artistic vision that shaped Danziger's later works.
Spitz's photographs attest to Danziger’s belief that the only option left for artists is to cling to the landscape and to traditions imbued with a sense of mystery, which were – and still are – an integral part of every cultural environment in every “place.” Spitz’s lens captures these fragile points of intersection between man and his surroundings, between landscapes and the populations that inhabit them. Her photographs reveal something of Danziger’s much-admired positive approach, and of his belief that it is possible to recreate a way of life in which matter and spirit can be fused.
Portraits of the Artist in the Landscape
Although most of Drora Spitz’s photographs center upon the exploration of a given place and the way of life that developed there, she also created some of the most important portraits of Itzhak Danziger. These images were photographed in places with which Danziger identified on a deep emotional level, and which thus form an inseparable part of his portraits. The two portraits from Rugm El Hiri are exemplary portrayals of the relationship between the artist and his work process, shaped by a gaze that attempts to decipher the enigma of a place and its raison-d’être. The portrait taken in the Tal Forest is similarly revealing; rather than focusing on the artist's physical action, it presents him as a man immersed in thought. Especially moving is the photograph in which Drora Spitz’s camera captured Danziger lying down in the landscape, attempting to drink water from the branch of a stream in the Galilee. The figure is almost gone, and the wide-open expanse of landscape resembles a gigantic stage that invites the viewer's gaze to wander upon it. In these four portraits, Drora Spitz charted the most important transformation undergone by the father of conceptual art in Israel.