Kobi Ben-Meir

Journeys are as old as humankind. Together with the profound need for stability and a settled home, human beings also feel the urge to leave their own place and set out for another. Such journeys are unknown quantities: they provide excitement, adventure, and hardship; they draw a physical, chronological, and conceptual line between the home that is left behind and the longed-for destination, whether clearly defined or abstractly imagined. Until it terminates at a new location, this line is temporary, tortuous, fluid, and elusive. The journey itself may serve many different purposes – exploration, extending our knowledge of the world; expressing religious devotion through pilgrimage; tourism, which is motivated by cultural curiosity and the desire to escape our daily routine; and emigration, leaving one's original home in order to search for a new one. Although each journey has a different motive and objective, all oblige travelers to follow an unfamiliar road as it unfolds at their feet.

This exhibition follows the processes the traveler undergoes in the course of a journey. Because of their static nature, the plastic arts cannot always successfully convey a sense of progression, and the works in this exhibition are in a large measure the visual expression of ideas that arise from two more processive genres: cinema and literature. One such work in the literary canon is Homer's Odyssey, which describes two parallel journeys: Odysseus' voyage from Troy to his home in Ithaca after his heroic exploits in the Trojan War, and his son Telemachus' expedition in search of his father. Homer makes it clear that a successful journey is a necessary condition for a successful homecoming, and that this success is measured not only by physical yardsticks, but also by mental and moral criteria. Not until he has successfully overcome the obstacles, dangers, and trials that nature and the gods have placed in his way is Odysseus capable – and worthy – of returning and rebuilding his home; and only as Telemachus copes with his own grueling private journey does he undergo a rite of passage that transforms him from boy to man and renders him a fit successor to his father. The route taken prepares travelers for their destination and for the fulfillment of the journey's purpose, and thus it serves as a common metaphor for life itself. The conventional wisdom that "life is a journey, not a destination" tells us that if we focus solely on our objective, we become blind to the path we travel and sacrifice the here-and-now in favor of a conjectural future. Thus, paying attention to our route does not just mean noticing physical changes that occur in the body, but also recognizing the conceptual and emotional transformations that take place.

The spatial changes involved in travel prompt changes in patterns of social behavior: when we leave our home and the society in which we live, we also cut ourselves off from the dictates imposed by this society, including prohibitions as firm as the ground in the place to which the laws apply. Setting forth into the wide world releases us from a constricting system of behavioral norms and economic and class boundaries, and so allows us to create new societies with more fluid rules and structures. Thus, almost paradoxically, cutting ties with home brings one closer to oneself, and, in the absence of external laws, the geographical journey becomes an internal voyage. This notion is expressed in the textual work by artist Shilpa Gupta that opens the exhibition: Sometimes I need to walk far away from where I am to see myself.

The First Journey
The story of the dispersal of humankind over the face of the globe as we know it today begins with the first human journey. According to the current theory known as "the exodus from Africa," Homo erectus (literally "the upright man"), the prehistoric progenitors of modern humanity, left his home and began to migrate 1.8 million years ago. Until then, this species had been confined to East Africa, but now its members spread out over the expanses of Europe and Asia and some wandered as far as China. Stone tools found at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site below the Golan Heights provide evidence of this first great journey: these tools were fashioned some 780,000 years ago in the image of earlier implements made by Homo erectus in Africa. Instead of using limestone, the type of rock most commonly found in that part of the southern Golan and Upper Galilee, the creators of these tools used basalt, as Homo erectus had done in Africa. It would seem that they deliberately took the trouble to carry this specific type of rock from the Golan Heights, far from their place of settlement – perhaps partly out of a desire to preserve tradition and use the same raw material as their ancestors did. The idea of "home" endures in the mind of the migrant: its values, images, and memories persist in a new setting long after the old one has been left behind.

Yiftach Belsky metaphorically continues the journey of Homo erectus from Gesher Benot Ya'aqov northwards, to the northern Golan Heights. In a five-minute video work entitled The Rock Project, he documents a journey of his own. Leaving his home in Ma'aleh Gamla, he walked for nineteen hours without respite from the southern Golan to Mount Hermon, a distance of eighty kilometers, carrying a twenty-kilo basalt rock on his back. The video work ignores the static points of his journey and so shows neither the house from which he departs nor the destination at which he arrives on Mount Hermon. It focuses solely on the journey itself – on the magnificent landscapes in this sparsely populated area and on the physical challenge, a sort of test of the artist's manliness.

The Portable House
Adrian Paci emigrated from Albania to Italy in 1997 in the wake of the violent riots that had broken out in his homeland. In his work he reflects on the significance of moving from one place to another, on the causes of this upheaval, and on its effect upon body, mind, and spirit. In his series of photographs entitled Home to Go the artist portrays himself in a variety of poses as he carries a red-tiled roof strapped to his back. This man-roof hybrid, resembling a human tortoise, is depicted as an unfortunate who has neither clothes nor possessions apart from the roof. The ironic title chosen by the artist – which implies that a house is as easy to carry as a cup of coffee "to go" – cannot conceal the physical difficulties we see him experience as he tries to cope with his burden. The roof conveys a broad range of states of mind: it can function as a knapsack, as a heavy cross that must be borne, as a comforting spot to rest upon, or as wings that can carry the artist aloft. This is a portable roof for the establishment of a new home elsewhere, but at the same time it is that same roof from back home. Embarking upon a fresh path does not allow total disengagement from the past, as baggage – also in the sense of the burden of memory and residues from home – continues to accompany the traveler. For Paci, however, the physical journey he has undertaken is merely a personal instance of the journey experienced by each one of us: the great journey of life in search of social acceptance and emotional identification with another place and another person, born out of a longing for peace of mind.

For the exhibition, artist Ayala Landow created a site-specific structure that is part temporary, part permanent. Although shaped like a tent, it is cast in concrete and thus firmly rooted in modern architecture in general and in the architecture of the Israel Museum in particular. An additional contrast can be observed in the dissimilarity between external aspect and interior. From the outside, it appears gray and forbidding, as befits a modernist structure, but inside it is cozily padded with soft, colorful rugs. Entering the tent, which is supposed to protect the traveler from the forces of nature, offers a transition to a pleasant and comforting space that possesses the attributes of a home.

Objects and Memories
The bag the traveler carries on his or her back constitutes a movable home, and its contents are designed to meet all of the journey's material and spiritual requirements. This small bag must be packed with extreme care, giving due attention to every choice of item. The Jewish ritual objects on display in the exhibition were deliberately designed on a small scale in order to make them easier for travelers to carry, and the miniature Torah ark from Poland contains a complete Torah scroll handwritten in minute script. Made of silk, diamonds, silver, and emeralds, this opulent Torah ark would have belonged to an extremely wealthy man. Over the opening is a Hebrew inscription from the biblical account of the people's travels in the desert with the Ark of the Covenant: "And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, Arise, O Lord, and let thy enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee" (Numbers 10:35). This quotation is part of the liturgy for taking the Torah scroll from the ark, but in this context it may also liken the Polish Jew to an Israelite wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Thus the portable Torah and ark are transformed into a sort of amulet designed to protect the traveler from the perils of the road.

Most works by the Canadian artist Gareth Moore, including that shown in the exhibition, are based upon objects relating to travel. In 2008 Moore was invited to take part in an exhibition at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco. At his request, he was taken blindfolded to a site far outside the city, where he was abandoned and left to find his own way back to San Francisco within two weeks. The artist wandered unfamiliar routes with no form of identification, credit card, or map, and he refrained from asking directions or accepting any help. His installation The Road Through the Forest by Lyman A. William (a pseudonym chosen by Moore for this work) is composed of the objects he took with him on his journey and others he picked up along the way, including a woolen blanket, a hat, a walking stick, a camera and twenty-four photographs of the route, a human figure constructed from the butts of the cigarettes he smoked, a picture he found, and the skull and tail of a raccoon.

In dialogue with the travelers' diaries also on display in the exhibition, Moore's installation is, in effect, a tangible log in which words have been replaced by objects. Although the viewer only sees the journey's outcome as embodied in these items, the process itself – the movement of the artist through unfamiliar surroundings, the challenges he grappled with, and the act of collecting the items – plays a major role in the work. These objects, relics of the journey, encapsulate memories of the route and evoke the difficulties, adventures, and surprising discoveries encountered by the artist along the way.

Unknown Land
On many old maps, extensive areas of the globe are marked with the Latin phrase terra incognita, unknown land. Posing a challenge to the curious explorer, these were areas as yet uninvestigated by Europeans. The travelers' diaries on display in the exhibition recount the travails, discoveries, and excitement of those who set out on unfamiliar trails). The verbs most commonly found in their accounts – "I walked," "I climbed," "I descended" – testify that the physical experience of the journey was regarded as more important than eventual arrival at its destination.

Nir Evron's video work In Virgin Land combines photographs he took in different parts of Israel with passages read aloud by storyteller Yossi Alfi. Evron culled these excerpts from the diaries of travelers who explored the Land of Israel between the twelfth and twentieth centuries, and their accounts form a textual collage of descriptions of routes, expeditions, and sights, to the point where the listener can barely distinguish one text from another. In the writings of these travelers, the Land of Israel is portrayed as abandoned and lifeless, composed largely of untouched hills and valleys. It is clear, however, that the travelers' views are biased and possibly influenced by the manipulations of their guides. Evron's photographs, which depict the Israel of the early twenty-first century, likewise reveal a wasteland, as the artist has deliberately chosen to document only desolate areas of landscape and to keep all indications of human habitation, such as electricity pylons, shepherds, and vehicle access roads, out of the frame. Human presence is hinted at nonetheless, by the silhouettes of camels wandering through the landscape or the shadows cast by a fire on the walls of a cave. These shadows, appearing at the end of the video work, also evoke the inhabitants of Plato's Cave, whose view of the world was limited to shadows cast by fire upon the wall; locked in their ignorance, they refused to go outside and discover the real world.

Many travelers to the Land of Israel, past and present, seek to find within it the virgin landscapes of the Bible and view present-day reality as a reflection of the ancient text. Evron's work demonstrates that travelers may notice what they want to see during a journey and fail to observe those details that do not accord with the fantasy. The mere fact of setting out on a journey does not guarantee that an inner voyage will also ensue. In order to accept the new experiences offered by travel, it is necessary to leave one's comfort zone and confront even those elements that undermine everything that is safe and familiar.

Big World, Single Route
Jean-Gabriel Périot's work Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) focuses not on one specific route, but on the experience of movement through space. This film is a compendium of images the artist found by searching Google with keywords such as "journey," "route," or "car on the road." He organized the thousands of results into a sequence that presents not a narrative, but a study of the typology of travel images. Even though the pictures were taken at different times in places far removed from one another, they nonetheless form a sequence because of the imagery they share.

This geographic compilation is accompanied by a musical mélange that adds another universal dimension to the film. In order to emphasize the shared humanity conveyed by the work, Périot has extracted traditional instrumental pieces originating in different parts of the world from the UNESCO database and combined them until they almost blend into one another: a traditional Japanese drum beats together with a Brazilian flute, and a Thai harp accompanies a violin from central France. Périot uses this rich archive of images and sounds to obscure their original contexts, creating a new place and a new melody that embrace the entire world and reflect a universal human experience of journeying.

The Way to the Sublime
Ezra Orion refers to his work as "tectonic sculpture" because it makes use of natural materials taken from the earth's crust. Although Orion intervenes in the natural landscape, he does so in awed awareness of nature's eternal and infinite vastness, and its contrast to ephemeral human existence and enterprise. It is precisely this consciousness of the transience of life on earth that moves Orion to produce works that are larger than life.

His sculpture Towards Annapurna was erected in 1981 at a height of 4,100 meters above sea level on one of the peaks of the Annapurna Mountain Range in the Himalayas. Visitors to the exhibition are able to experience only a minute fraction of the power of the original, even when viewed in a photograph of monumental dimensions, as the work itself consists of both the sculpture in situ in Nepal and – no less important – the grueling physical process by which it was created. In order to construct it, Orion, his assistants, and Nepalese porters struggled to haul slabs of local slate up 250 kilometers of hillside. At the summit the slabs were arranged on top of a slate boulder in an activity that, although intervening in the local landscape, constitutes no more than a footnote to the immensity of nature surrounding it.

Orion's secular altar is directed towards what Romain Rolland and Sigmund Freud referred to as "the oceanic feeling," a quasi-religious emotion in which transient human beings feel themselves swallowed up by the vastness of eternity and experience a sense of merging with it. Orion's work, which is the culmination of such an exhausting journey, obliges us to raise our sights far beyond the sculpture. Orion used the stone slabs to construct a path thirty-two meters long that ascends like a runway or launching pad for the consciousness and leads the walker to an observation point overlooking the next peak, higher and farther away. At the conclusion of this exhausting journey, the observer can only stand in silence and contemplate the beauty of Creation.

While Ezra Orion focuses on nature, the destination of Gil Bar's journey is the city of Tel Aviv, but Bar's expedition, unlike that of Orion, is unsuccessful. With a nod of irony towards the image of insignificant Man confronted with sublime Nature, Bar depicts himself standing disconsolately on the bank of the feeble Ayalon River looking towards the metropolis, with a pitifully punctured rubber dinghy at his feet.

The Final Journey
In his three-screen video work In the Between Darren Almond portrays a journey he made from Qinghai in northwest China to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, traveling by the Qinghai-Lhasa train that speeds atop the Tibetan heights at an elevation of thousands of meters above sea level. Measuring 2,000 kilometers, this is the longest railway line in the world. It was inaugurated in 2006 in order to strengthen Chinese control of Tibet, under Communist occupation since 1949. Like a razor, the train slices through this primordial landscape, an alien implant amid the arid natural expanses, and, according to Almond, overcomes them with an aggression that mirrors the political and cultural occupation of Tibet. This train journey is a physical state of being between two places – like the situation of Tibet itself, which has been "in the between" for over half a century, hovering between survival and extinction.

The railway, a symbol of secular technological progress, rushes through the cultural and religious landscape of Tibet amidst temples and monasteries bedecked with colored prayer flags. In contrast to the rhythmical movement of the train and the rows of flags fluttering in the wind, the scene on the main screen throughout most of this work is fairly static. It shows monks at Samye Monastery, which dates back to the seventh century CE and was the first Buddhist monastery established in Tibet. The monks are reading from the Bardo Thodol, a text whose name translates literally as "Liberation through Hearing during the Intermediate State" (often erroneously referred to in English as The Tibetan Book of the Dead), which is a series of hymns that guide the spirit of the deceased through the interim state between death and rebirth. The journey to the world of the dead is fraught with trials and dangers, and this ancient text blesses the departed as their souls are released, and guides them on their new path. Thus the physical journey by train is a metaphor for a spiritual and religious journey, the ultimate voyage towards enlightenment.

Alongside the video work, as if borrowed from the main screen, hangs a thangka – a Tibetan Buddhist ritual painting that depicts the multiple aspects of the Divine and serves as an object of contemplation when meditating; hence, it can also function as a gateway to a spiritual journey.

The Start of a New Journey
The Tav Group, an artists and architects cooperative, delineated The Pilgrims' Way to Jerusalem, which begins at the Port of Jaffa and culminates in the Old City of Jerusalem. This group sought to revive and promote the path trodden by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim pilgrims over hundreds of years, and its initiative gave rise to the Pathway Circle, which has been organizing trips along the Pilgrims' Way several times a year for the past fourteen years. An alternative community springs up along the route, as dozens of walkers together face the challenges of living in natural surroundings while impinging on the environment as little as possible. These modern pilgrims replace swift motorized progress along the highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with a walk that allows them to enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of nature.

The work the Tav Group created for Journeys consists of a series of boulders with directional signs to guide visitors through the exhibition and its surrounding area. Planted in the cultured environment of the museum, these natural rocks underscore the limitations of representing journeys through artistic mediums in the closed, artificial surroundings of a gallery. They call upon visitors who have viewed the exhibition to go out and head for unfamiliar open spaces, to experience a journey that will engage the body, the mind, and the soul.