I thought this exhibition on Sunday might distract me from war and climate change. I was wrong.

German version

Versione italiana


In the first room, the French artist Laurent Mareschal (born 1975) presents the video “The Castle” from 2010. The children in the fifth grade of the Arab-Jewish Galil school play with their bare hands in the sand of a beach, with molds, buckets and shovels. As the video progresses, it becomes clear how they playfully reproduce patterns characteristic of Israeli society, despite the school’s intercultural and bilingual orientation. They speak mostly Hebrew and fight for their sandcastles and walls. Girls and boys play separately. In “Beiti” (My House in Hebrew, a work not on display in “Sand”), Mareschal reproduces the demolition of a 45 sq. meter apartment with tiles that are colored with ground spices (sumac, zaatar, white pepper, turmeric and ginger). The idea is that two different peoples share the same house. The smell of the spices transports the viewer to the geographical location of this house. Mareschal playfully questions the conditions of identity and territory. Floor tiles painted with geometric patterns were popular in the 19th century and have become popular again in today’s Israel.

Climate change is presented with videos by Stefanie Zoche (born 1965) about scandalous construction projects in Spain and illegal sand mining in Africa. Each person uses 18 kilograms of sand every day. This is a political question. The world is running out of sand.

The highlight of the exhibition is a small installation by Micha Ullman, one of the most important Israeli sculptors of our time. His family fled from a village in Thuringia to Palestine in 1933 (his father wanted to be a farmer there), where he was born in Tel Aviv in 1939. Ullman has presented his works in German public spaces since the 1970s. The most famous is the monument commemorating the book burning on Berlin’s Bebelplatz. Since 1997 he has been a member of the Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts) in Berlin, Figurative Arts section.

For his work “To the Last Grain of Sand”, Ullman collected a few grains of sand from which he then chose just one. The magnification with the lens brings the grain up from its real size to make the tiny and inconspicuous grain the protagonist. The world, a grain of sand. The amber luminosity of the grains amazes spectators who bend over the magnifying glass. You straighten up and smile. I dare say I wasn’t the only one who was enlightened and delighted by this beauty. It is worth going to Bad Homburg to see a grain of sand from Israel under a magnifying glass. Each grain is unique. Nature offers infinite variety and in it lies hope for the future. The strength of beauty will triumph.

Micah Ullman and his grain of sand (photo from Juedische Allgemeine)

In one room you can admire 1,680 sand samples from all over the world. Sand is not just beige, gray or white. The color palette extends from red to black. I could stand for hours in front of the glass tubes and marvel.

I can’t do it without biblical associations. I quote from Genesis:

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said: ‘By Myself I swear, the LORD declares: because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command’.

This text raises many questions which I do not intend to address now. I don’t know if Micha Ullman thought about the Lord’s promise when he chose the grain of sand. I wonder if art is needed in wartime. Is it a luxury or a necessity of life?

The idea that Israel’s children will multiply like the sand of the sea reminds me of a conversation I had with an Israeli gynecologist, the son of Holocaust survivors, who specialized in artificial insemination. When I asked him if it wasn’t excessive to subject women up to the age of 45 to these treatments, he looked at me askance and said: “We lost six million people in the Shoah.”

In the war underway in Gaza, semen has been taken from fallen soldiers and frozen at the request of their parents. Everything possible is done so that these men, most of whom were unmarried and had not yet expressed the desire to have children, can still father children. Which women will be willing to give birth to these children? Will these children grow up with their grandparents? How will the psyche of such a child develop? So many unanswered questions. The primordial fear of one’s own disappearance is justified for a people who throughout history have repeatedly been victims of pogroms and extermination. However, in this case, asking ethical questions is necessary.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg from the Italian translation of the original German by Sandra Paoli

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Sand ultima modifica: 2023-11-27T20:00:00+01:00 da ELDAD STOBEZKI
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