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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 12 May 2018
16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 12 MAY 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ‘Heterotopia: The Promised Land’ at Head On Greek freelance photographer Demetris Koilalous looks at what has been accomplished in contemporary Israel in his new series NELLY SKOUFATOGLOU H Ein Gedi Kibbutz: Manufactured ‘Hieronymus Bosch’ Landscape. ead On is Australia's biggest, and one of the world's most prestigious, photography festivals and it has returned to Sydney with over 100 exhibitions at several venues showcasing the works of established visual artists. Since it began in 2010, the festival has evolved to include a wide range of stunning exhibitions from worldrenowned photographers, innovative workshops run by international professionals and critically acclaimed mentors, not to mention community events aimed at everyone from enthusiasts to devout collectors. Head On kicked off last weekend exhibiting works from over 700 photographers from 22 countries. One of the main exhibitions is dedicated to Greek photographer Demetris Koilalous and his latest body of work 'Heterotopia: The Promised Land' which attempts to raise questions about relationships of culture, power and authority. ‘Heterotopia’ looks at what has been Zikhr accomplished in contemporary Israel in the name of the Promised Land. The transformation and the domestication of the hostile Palestinian desert has not only been a major physical achievement, it has also been a philosophical and political accomplishment, where memory, history and religion, as well as the institutions which sustain them (like museums, synagogues, cemeteries, schools, army camps, public feasts, etc) have been playing a major role in the creation, the reproduction and the consolidation of national and political identity, in a system where Israel stands opposite the Land of Promise as its mirror image – or vice versa, towards an understanding of the evolution of contemporary Israel. Neos Kosmos spoke to the Greek creative about what led him to Israel and how what's happening in that part of the world becomes a mirror of globalism. What led you to Israel? Why did you choose to portray that part of the world? A year and a half before I started photographing in Israel I was commissioned by the Museum of Photography of Thessaloniki – Greece's only state photography museum – to photograph contemporary Lebanon as part of a project about the Middle East and also a sphere of cultural influence for Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece, once a tri-ethnic region, with prominent Turkish and Jewish communities. Lebanon itself is a very interesting Burning Down An Aged Orange Grove Near Sderot. region with very distinct ideological, social and ethnic conflicts, which is an issue that has always fascinated me. The context of a conflict [in] my opinion is always a very interesting condition for photography. You see, when I look at the world I find it very interesting to unfold the various layers of reality hiding behind a seemingly simple situation. For instance, a derelict church, apart from its actual status as a ruin, has at the same time been in the past a place of worship, prayer, faith etc. However, it was also a place which was used as a rampart during the civil war – only a few years earlier – and at the same time it was an enclosed environment with wild and parasitic vegetation – like a decadent paradise. So as a photographer I cannot neglect all these different identities and different realities. [In] my opinion contemporary photography is not about images; it is all about ideas. So it is a question how these ideas can be articulated with images. Immediately after the completion of that commission, there was this idea – also encouraged by a friend from the Jewish community of Greece – to photograph in Israel. This was a very tempting proposal. Israel is a country which in a way was analogous to Lebanon. In a similar way, the notions of national, ethnic and, of course, religious identity are crucial in order to understand contemporary Israel. One other element that I found very interesting is that everything in Israel seemed to have an ancient root. It felt that almost about everything there is a cellular memory, which travels intact in time. So these were the first ideas that stimulated my attention and my imagination. After going to Israel, a whole new world of ideas and images came into the equation, and made things even more complex – something that of course I found extremely interesting! For instance I discovered how important memory is, not only at a personal level but also towards the formulation of a national identity. Here, I need to mention that from the very beginning – before I first visited Israel – I had decided unquestioningly to leave the IsraeliPalestinian conflict out of my project. I have been criticised a lot about this, since most people do not want to disconnect it from contemporary Israeli history. In historic terms I do not disconnect it either, but for my photography this was a very evident and simplistic way that would charge very decisively the course my project aesthetically, emotionally and in terms of the narrative. I don't like my photography to give answers; I prefer to speak about the cause of things. For instance to my understanding, a clash or a war is the outcome of something deeper, hidden largely in the idiosyncrasy of those involved; I prefer to talk about that instead. It is a little like in psychoanalysis. I am not always interested in an action per se, but more into what is causing this action. What words would you use to describe contemporary Israel? I think that this is a very tricky question. Especially in places which have such a great complexity and cultural diversity. I think that the first word that comes to mind is complexity. If you have not been [to] Israel you cannot understand what Israel is really about. At the same time it can be arid and fertile, democratic, tolerant and authoritative, offensive and defensive, philosophical and pragmatistic, understanding and ruthless, very hospitable and suspicious! In this sense the words that also come to mind are antithetical, contradictory, and multifaceted. This means that contemporary Israel potentially combines all these very diverse layers, which – in this sense – also may denote tolerance, but then again one may wonder 'tolerance for what?’ Which in its turn denotes a contradictory condition. Another word that I think describes Israel very well is seductive. The desert can seduce you, even if it is dangerous. One can be seduced by the long history, the amazing accomplishments in the desert; its domestication and inhabitance, the incredible technical and scientific achievements, the feeling of safety. Maybe one of the biggest paradoxes is the feeling of safety no matter how turbulent the period might be. I am not saying that safety is true or not true (whether I was actually safe or not) I am just expressing how I felt. An artificial garden in the desert or an oasis can also be seductive … it is something that takes your mind away. It is like a siren in Greek mythology! It is something between reality and fiction. When you are seduced, you do not think anything else BUT the beauty that is exhaled. At the same time it is so impressive that only a few years ago this was an arid and hostile land. One last thing that impressed me was the feeling of communality. It is the feeling that everyone is working in a harmonious way – without interior conflicts and frictions – for a common cause. This is very evident in the kibbutz – the iconic desert villages/settlements which were very well known for their democratic structure and 'socialist'
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