Gabi Kricheli In Disbelief

In his early twenties, shortly after Gabi Kricheli finished his military service, he found himself in the United States. The 9/11 attacks pushed him out of New York, and he headed south. He ended up on a long dark drive through a tobacco field. On the nocturnal drive through the endless field, he realized the impossibility of true escape. Surrounded by the painfully beautiful giant flowers, he decided to go back to Israel and pursue art. Now in his early forties, Gabi Kricheli revisits this formative experience from his early twenties.
Gabi Kricheli In Disbelief lingers on the moments of passage towards manhood – from boyhood to adulthood and from growth to stability. The moment when a boy excitedly faces the unknown and also, the crisis which meets the man on his path from adulthood towards the all too familiar and predictable end.
Kricheli learns from his memories. He puts together the puzzle that has made him into the man he is today. He draws out the involuntary memories handed to him by teachers, officers, newspaper headlines, the news reports broadcasted every thirty minutes, and the stories of the Second Intifada, the terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, the attacks on the Twin Towers. He shakes them up with the unwilling memories; the agony of the military kitchen, the texture of the uniform on the skin, the taste of canned corn, the smell of hotdogs, the pinching of a finger caught in the plastic box of a new CD. To these he attaches his most personal moments; a painting by his father, an engraving from his wife’s book.
In 2012, Gabi Kricheli rented a studio in the old Bezeq phone company complex on Ben Zvi Road in Tel Aviv. Soon after, Artport Art Center opened across the street from him. For four years, Gabi was unofficially part of the program, sharing a bathroom, kitchen, conversation and work tools. In 2016, he joined the last year of the residency program in the complex on Ben Zvi Road.
Armed with his memories and with the haunting images of the nocturnal tobacco field, Kricheli decided to create a tobacco field of his own, inviting the people who shaped his life throughout his twenties to join him in its construction and destruction. His spacious studio was converted into an agricultural site for the year as he moved across to an Artport studio. The artworks were taken out, soil was brought in, seedlings were cultivated, lighting was set up. Behind a heavy metal door, and relying on home-growing methods most commonly used to grow cannabis, Gabi created an alternative artistic infrastructure of heating lamps wrapped in aluminum foil to encourage sprouting, and lighting that simulated daytime and nighttime in shorter cycles to expedite the plants’ growth cycle.
Three aging shirtless men, with varying degrees of baldness, tended to the tobacco field at the heart of the exhibition. Gabi planted the field and cared for it. The musician Kinoro Shel Rothschild composed music for the plants, which he then played for them to boost their growth and flowering. They were good students in straight furrows, listening to his music with an educational map of the Middle East behind him. Artist Yuval Rimon (Zik Group) came to keep the plants company. He slept by their side, filming them for a documentary of sorts. A film during which the field withered and died.
Quickly, the field became a social media sensation, yet then it was attacked by a fatal mealybug infestation. It is not the first whose downfall was the gaze. Lot’s wife turned to look at her ruined city and became a pillar of salt. Orpheus defied the gods and looked behind to see if his beloved Eurydice was following him out of the underworld – and lost her forever. In Fellini’s Rome, ancient frescos fade away the moment they are touched by sunlight, the human eye and the camera. Can the artwork survive the observing and exploring gaze? Can we?
Only some of our memories survive long contemplation and the distance of the years. Personal memories mix with national memories; private trauma mixes with the American and the Israeli trauma. After 9/11, experts in post-traumatic stress disorder came to the United States to teach locals how to deal with the war that landed on their doorstep. But nobody tends to the Israeli men who carry their damages like notches on a hunter’s belt.
In his exhibition, Gabi Kricheli continues to play tricks on viewers and push the fine line between reality and fiction, between art and real life. His work lies in the uncomfortable area between the military kitchen and the sick field, between the crisis after military service and midlife crisis, between the boy who stopped believing in the power of the system and the man who lost his belief altogether.

Performances by musician Kinoro Shel Rothschild, who took part in the video installation will be held during the exhibition:
Sat. Sep. 21st, 9pm
Sat. Oct. 12th, 9pm
Sat. Nov. 2nd, 9pm – closing performance

Artist Talk and Exhibition Tour:
Fri. Sep. 13th, 12pm
Fri. Oct. 25th, 12pm

Closing: November 2nd 2019

Opening hours during the exhibition:
Wed-Thurs: 12pm-7pm
Fri-Sat: 10am-2pm

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  • Artist

    Gabi Kricheli

  • Curator

    Vardit Gross

  • Address

    Ha’Amal 8 St. Tel-Aviv

  • Dates

    5.9.2019 – 9.11.2019

  • Opening date

    5.9.2019

  • Opening hours

    Wed-Thurs: 12pm-7pm
    Fri-Sat: 10am-2pm

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Gabi Kricheli in conversation with Vardit Gross

The starting point for the exhibition is the tobacco field you planted in your studio, in the old Artport complex. But the real starting point is a different tobacco field, in the United States, many years ago.
I was discharged from the Israeli Army in 2000, after an intensive service experience. I was drafted in 1997, just after the Oslo Accords fell apart, and at that point, Jerusalem, where I grew up, was saturated with terrorist attacks. After three years in the army feeling paralyzed, fraught with questions and baggage, and trying to figure out who you are and what you are, my friends and I took off to New York. Our plan was to travel – like many other people do after their army service. The idea was to be in New York and at some point, to travel through the United States and then finally make it to Jamaica. But we ended up staying in New York for a few months.
What did you do there?
I drew sketches for tattoos and sold them to tattoo parlors. I made notebooks with paintings for people to choose from. I thought being in New York was right for me. But then 9/11 happened.
I was also living in New York at the time. It was a bit like having an Israeli experience in a foreign land.
The types of terror had a similar resonance between the Intifada and 9/11, but they were also very different – this was not our terrorist attack. The following days felt like after Rabin’s assassination, everyone sat in the square and played music with candles. And there was a terrible burning smell in the air. The city started to die financially because no one was eating out or spending money and Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor at the time, created a lot of free cultural events – there were three weeks when I mainly went out to the movies in the morning and to see shows in the evening. But after two or three weeks we couldn’t stand the city anymore.
It was a very difficult time. A lot of police on the streets and worrying about everything.
There was a lot of stress, there was nationalist frenzy and flags everywhere. I found myself doing sketches for “I Love NYPD” tattoos. My two friends and I from Jerusalem realized that we needed to get out of the city. We bought a car and thought we’d find our way south, sell the car on the Mexican border and move on.
This is like an actual scene from a movie – a coming of age journey of the boys from Jerusalem, going on a road trip across the United States.
Pretty soon I realized that all this hiking in the woods and meeting new people was not for me. I decided to go back to New York despite all the chaos. I dropped them off near Miami and started driving back across the United States. It was about a week and a half drive, wherever I stopped there was a motel to sleep in and a burger to eat. I drove and drove, until one night I drove into a huge tobacco field. I found myself driving for hundreds of miles with nowhere to stop, no motel, nothing. I was surrounded for hours by these tobacco plants that are both beautiful and toxic, and this drive was very meaningful to me. Throughout it, I realized that I wanted to go back to Israel. I arrived in New York and sold the car. I went to El Al’s Manhattan branch and bought a ticket.
In fact, when you returned to Israel, you also realized that you wanted to make art, and you started working with the two men who star in the film.
I found myself close to two people. First was Benny Oren, who I started a music label with, there was a shared musical explosion going on. And Yuval Rimon, who I met while working at Hazira Performance Art Arena and he brought me to Zik, a Jerusalem performance group. My identity as an adult started between the two of them. The project is also a tribute to them and to their place in my life. In the film, each does what he does in life – Benny plays, Yuval builds things and films, things that I learned from them.
You just turned 40. Benny is 8 years older than you, and Yuval is 23 years older. In the film you walk around shirtless, a little older, a little graying. You could say that the coming of age movie became a film about midlife crisis.
More than I see this as a film about a crisis, I see in the film three middle-aged Israeli men who are each damaged in some way by their time here. Broken and hiding in their masculinity.
It’s a place we all know very well. That’s where we come from. I feel that even in the Jerusalem music scene, as well as in the Zik group, which is almost an art commune, there is something reminiscent of the military reserve experience – men who spend a lot of time together, who do things to forget.
Did you know from the start that the three of you were going to be part of the story of the field?
I played with the image of the field in my head for a long time. At first, I thought I would go to a remote field and shoot a video there with Benny and Yuval, and then I tried to figure out how to produce and control this image, and it remained part of my practice.
Another motivation I had for the film involved the studio itself and the animals that also lived there – cats, mice, spiders, birds, insects, frogs, bats. I thought about taking photos of them, and then I figured that if they walked around the studio anyway, perhaps I could create a place where they could flourish and live. I thought about how I could create my own weather for them, light and sun, a system that simulates the outdoors inside.
I was also interested in creating a piece where I grow the raw materials from scratch. Where I control the DNA of the materials that comprise the work.
You also built the rest of the exhibition from the scratch – mixing and molding materials to produce the army food that welcomes the visitors who enter the space. In fact, the kitchen is located where the kitchen of the startup that used to be here before we moved in used to be. You even use parts of the kitchen they dismantled and left behind.
The kitchen was born the day we saw the kitchen on the tour of the building. There is an internal loop here – with the previous location and the new location. Without Artport, the field would not have happened, but the site of the field as well as Artport was destroyed. This is starting over but based on what was there before.
The food in the kitchen in the show is nauseating. Food that turns you off.
This food is what we ate. The generation before us grew up on unprocessed food, the generation after us was already aware of what went into their food. We are the generation whose food was in the worst shape. Remember Miss Lucy? You would buy a frozen hotdog in a bun with ketchup and heat everything together. Food is a metaphor for our local and existential state, for the gap between how we think of ourselves and where we really are. You don’t feel like you are living in the middle of nowhere when you live on Levontin, eating pizza with mushrooms from a can.
The food in the kitchen ranges from the military corn salad to the pretentious shrimp. We currently live on the leftovers, even the art world. The feeling is that the party is over. The shrimp is back in the kitchen with all the dirty dishes.
The kitchen looks unwell, like the field that became very sick. You leave both of them deserted.
The tobacco field was infected by mealybugs and I had to decide what to do with it. The demolition of the complex was imminent and it was clear it was dying. So when my field needed the most care, I turned off the light and water and let it die. I had to decide which avenue to take – death or nature.
In fact, the whole film, and the exhibition, are a preparation for death.
Life is a preparation for death.

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Kinoro Shel Rothschild