Ayelet Carmi, Meirav Heiman‘The Israel Trail: Procession’, 2018

Outset Israel supported artists Meirav Heiman and Ayelet Carmi’s new video work “The Israel Trail: Procession”, first presented in the exhibition “Last Chance to See”. The exhibition was curated by Drorit Gur Arie and Isabelle Bourgeois, and presented both in The Petach Tikva Museum of Art and at Villa Tamaris centre d’art, France.

“The Israel Trail :Procession”, is a multi-participant video. It is a highly ambitious project in terms of its scope, production value, aesthetic, artistry and the many disciplines it involves. It involves specially constructed machinery, costumes, acrobatics, theatricality and more.

The female body is present in the work of both artists: Meirav Heiman and Ayelet Carmi. For both artists it is a site of action, sensuality, beauty and drama. The Israel Trail Procession, although not explicitly dealing with gender identities, features a mostly feminine cast in a way that suggests a mythical or post-apocalyptical society whose most prominent members are women. This spectacle makes the most of the two artists’ combined skills and ideas: cinematography, the staging of live action, group dynamics, mechanical inventions, mythological themes and theatricality.

The Israel Trail Procession takes its cue from The National Israel Trail, a 1,000-kilometer cross-country hiking route that runs from the Lebanese border all the way to Eilat. Relatively new, the trail (‘Shvil Israel’) was inaugurated in 1995, but clearly connects to a much older Zionist ethos of “conquering the land with one’s feet.” Meirav Heiman and Ayelet Carmi have turned this feature of the modern state of Israel into an eccentric parade of walkers of different ages that seem to belong in a time outside time – a cross between post-apocalyptic descendants of present-day Israelis and a tribal troupe belonging to ancient, obscure times.

In transporting the trail to the dreamy world of the Procession, Meirav Heiman and Ayelet Carmi have operated one radical change: In contrast with the exalted value of coming in contact with the land, here the marchers – a mixed group of mostly women,  children and a few elderly men – seem to follow a logic of avoiding contact with the ground altogether. To this end, the heterogeneous group – attired in futuristic, skin-tight garments – employs an array of contraptions designed to shift them forward, however slowly and inefficiently, along the trail.

Something about this group brings to mind dark medieval times. In their strange clothing, wheels, carts and marching contraptions, they resemble a group of pilgrims, itinerant acrobats, nomads or outcasts that are forced to stick together, banished as they are from normal society. Other attributes in the form of flags and painted emblems link the group to modern Israel, channeling it as a hazy memory form a distant past – perhaps a mythology. In some mysterious way they are clearly related to us, if only through the radical estrangement from an ethos that – perhaps through the workings of catastrophes, upheaval and the turns of history – reincarnates itself, centuries later, as a taboo.

Each of the characters participating in the parade – recruited from amateurs and professional performers alike – are constructed individually, from the costume and specific mode of movement to the interaction with other characters. The artists depart from the mode of movement and its attendant contraption, building each character (or small groups of characters) around it. Designed and built especially for the project, each such ‘machine’ occurs uniquely along the parade. Together with the individualized costumes, the props and artistic design place this odd procession of marchers in a confused temporality – perhaps as if they are re-encoding the present traumas of a real/mythical land.

Meirav Heiman and Ayelet Carmi’s joint project manifests both their artistic careers and practices. Each of them has developed her own distinctive style through more than twenty years of mostly independent work. They are based in different medias, and their bodies of work over the years tend to differ in tone, attitude and cultural references. However, as two women artists who have been active in the Israeli scene, they were always aware of and inspired by each other’s work and four years ago, finally made the decision to collaborate.