CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Ofaquim | Art & CultureAugust 5, 2009

Desert Talks

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Because of my gypsy nature I have always been fascinated by the desert. Believe it or not, I meet in Beer Sheva , the artist and filmmaker Joseph Dadoune who over several cups of warm mint tea presented to me in a beautiful velvet book a stunning project taking place in the Ofaquim desert .

The unique project involves the local community in Ofaquim and will include works of mediums-cinema, photography and video-and will evolve over the course of five years. Hearing about my world wanderings, passions and beliefs he finally says with a large smile " Joelle, you must work by my side in this project! "

I take a few seconds to catch my breath... "I am honored Josep", I reply- "Actually, it would be great if we started now if that is ok with you of course ; I happen to carry my Belkin voice recorder in my backpack."

Joseph smiles satisfied and agrees to reveal in person more information about his dream project . The first part will consist of a feature film produced in Ofaquim with the participation of local adolescents . It will be part of wide-ranging initiative carefully planned over the past several years. This same initiative will involve the foundation of a local studio, which will serve as the center for his artistic and cinematic activities.

Ofaquim, the town in which Dadoune grew up, constitutes a central axis in his cinematic works, 'Universes', 'Chanti' and 'Sion', were featured in the solo exhibition the Petach Tikva Museum of Art.

'Sion'  starring Ronit Elkabetz, was filmed in Ofaquim, Teqoa,  Jerusalem and the Louvre Museum in Paris.  The costumes were created by Christian Lacroix. What an eccletic mix I am thinking while I listen to him talking over his tea.  The film was created in collaboaration with the Louvre Museum, at the Palais of Tokio in Paris ,at the Kunst Palast in Dusseldoff, at the Light & Sie Gallery in Dallas, Texas.

Joseph Dadoune's films he explains, are a continuous odyssey between various mental and geographic realms in Israel and Europe, between the landscape of his childhood in Ofaquim and the different Mediterranean landscapes, between Southern views from the Negev Desert and realms of sanctity and mysticism, and between East and West. The first of two films is centered upon a group of adolescents boys involved in building a giant missile in an abandoned Ofaquim factory.

The missile which will take shape in front of the viewer's eyes, will later be carried by the boys throughout the fields surrounding the town, against the background of nearby landscapes and sites where the negative energy and radiation is at it's highest ; The Negev Desert, the Ze'elim military base, the Duda'im garage disposal site, Sderot and Gaza. In the course of the this Sisyphean journey that appears to have no purpose and no end, the boys engage in a complex and charged relationship with one another.

The presence of one of them an individualist visionary concerned with esoteric subjects, produces conflict-ridden situations and dilemmas that lead to an examination of individual values in the context of collective values.  At the same time the boys attempt to come to terms with the questions of human existence, resulting in an intense and violent argument between those who define themselves as believers and those who define themselves as atheists.

The boys-an allegory for everyman-represent various aspects of human life: a child soul, a worker who carries a missile as a symbol of life's difficulties and an act of despair , person fleeing a concrete threat         (terror, Kassam rockets, Iran) or abstract evil , and modern man-who is motivated by a destructive urge that leads him to create a weapon of mass destruction. Dadoune raises questions concerning the future of humanity in a nuclear age and produces a social statement about the working class in the contemporary world. This state in emblematized by the residents of unemployment-stricken, peripheral Ofaquim,who bear the burden of defending the country's center in a threatened area.

The film will examine key issues and ideas related to human existence and human consciousness: faith, fear, atheism, power and democracy as well as universal values such as liberty,choice, honor and allegiance, The film makes use of biblical materials ( the Book of Numbers, whose Hebrew name literally means " In the desert") autobiographical elements, and concepts related to contemporary Israeli culture and reality.

The social context has been the center of Joseph Dadoune's work. The virginal desert sands, the open expanse, the Bedouin tents, the poverty and the acrid odor of the garbage being burnt at the Duda'im disposal site are all embedded in his world of images, and serve as recurrent motifs of his work.

His deep commitment to the city and to its residents engenders discussions and raises awareness shaping the desire to create a true dialogue between the local community and the Israeli cultural field to participate through lectures, forums, contemporary art mediums and concerts,  in a process of artistic creation and to contribute to shaping society.

The project will raise public and International awareness ( and this is why I am here ) to the concerns of contributing to the recognition of the importance of the cultural landscape of the South and of related social and environmental issues as well as making local idenity and culture present within the Israeli cultural sphere.

Joseph chose a factory that has been abandoned for over 30 years as one of the sites featured in the film also offering a form of hope: The factory will serve as a platform for the youth community of the periphery and center of Ofaquim to express themselves with a " voice'.

This will be attained through artistic and cultural creations such as art, cinema open studio for the community cultural events, acting and interaction with professional actors, literary evenings, poetry readings, performances by Internationally  acknowledged artists, art collectors, curators, museum directors ,filmakers, scholars and journalists, Yoga and Dance therapy Workshops sponsored by well known Israeli teachers who are specialized in adolescents, Judaism classes centered on the Book of numbers.These  visits will  undoubtedly contribute to promote the city, it's landscape and residents engaging the participants into " positive energies " .

The innauguaration of the project will be accompaigned by a new Hebrew and English website that will update curators, filmakers, scholars and other cultural figures and institutions in Israel and abroad about the develpoment of the project. The production of the two films, video works and esperimantal satellite photography will be screened in a large scale exhibition in Israel and at International museums, as well as at film festivals, art forums and biennals worldwide .

This will provide to all participants as well as  a great sense of shared pride,  a national and International exposure and the commercial distribution of the films allowing exposure to a greater public. The project " In the Desert " will make an important contribution to revealing the complex and multifaceted character of Israeli society, as well as to bringing the periphery to the center and involving it in the process of cultural production pointing the city's young residents towards a new path, filled with hope for a better future.

Joseph pauses....my tape recorder too. Nearby a small baby goat makes a timid noise in the valley illuminated by a strong sunset, I assume she got scared with so much talking.  Joseph picks her up and lifts her gently to her shoulders with a smile, then looks at me and says" Ok Joelle, I count on you to get the  start-up information going, but when is it that you are you coming back?"

Joelle's Tips:

The Artist: Yosef Joseph Dadoune , born in 1957 in Nice, France, and immigrated in Israel in 1980 with his mother. The two settled in Ofaquim where he grew up and studied at a local Yeshiva. Photographer,video artist and director.

The Project: In the Desert Project /  P.O.B Ofaquim 80300, Israel, 292 ( o) 545 221949 / infos@inthedesert.org

Photo credits: Joseph Dadoune

The other Movies: Sion

The Partners : The Ministry of Israeli Foreign Affairs / Rabinowitz foundation Cinema Project Tel Aviv / Le Louvre Museum / Center Photographique, l'Ile de France

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