Ronen Edelman, Israel

“Magav in Weimar” Israeli border police parked in front of the German national theatre and the statue of Goethe and Schiller.  January 2008

Art and Activism in Israel: An Interview with Ronen Eidelman

Medinat Weimar secretary R. Eidelman and Deutsche relationship officer S. Schmidt adressing the crowd

P.M.: Your blog’s name is Medinat Weimar, which is also a project you’ve been working on for a long time and that this year has been finally launched: a (movement for) new Jewish state in Germany. It sounds to me like a big caricature of the situation.

R. E.: In Medinat Weimar I’m both completely serious and at the same time don’t really mean what I’m saying. This is the great freedom of creating a political movement as an art project. The questions and issues that the project rises (Antisemitism, Zionism, the nation state today, etc.) are very serious and need to be discussed, but we need to find new ways to approach these topics.

P.M.: I like very much one cite from your article “Israeli Art and the state of exception” where you say: “Art is the most radical of spaces, a place where the rule of law is suspended”. Maybe that’s the reason why it can be used to show these problems from a new perspective? Do you really think the rule of law is suspended in contemporary art?

R.M.: Something I wrote for the Medinat Weimar site:

Political acts are tolerated more if they are executed under the autonomy of art. Art is very confusing for the authorities and therefore it is left alone. If you are out on the street and would decide for example to burn a trash can, and would stand around and then the police would come and say: “What are you doing?” and you would say: “Oh we are artists, we are doing art, and this is a metaphor for blah blah…” Then the police would probably say: “Oh, you should ask for permission”. And you would you start some negotiation and it probably would be okay, maybe you might have to pay a fine, but, there would be no violent interaction or conflict taking place. Yet, if you were to be doing exactly the same act and the police would ask you: “What are you doing?” and you would just say: “Oh we are demonstrating against blah blah…” You would probably be arrested on the spot and there would maybe even be violence involved. It just shows that art has this autonomy and its place in the structure of these liberal democracies we live in. It’s an understood agreement that we need artists, that we need these crazy people, but then they should stay in their autonomies together, in their galleries and their museums and within their own discussions, and with their own journals.

The artists can do whatever they want and they can be as radical as they like, talking about post-Marxist revolution, or whatever they wish to talk about. We even give them funds, because it’s really good, because then we know where they all are. But as soon as the artists start walking out of the ghetto and say: “Oh no we are not happy in our ghetto, we want to go out and we want to touch society”, then the authorities would say: “You could do it on our terms and we will give you a nice allowance and then you could go to the migrant’s neighborhoods, where you can do a nice project and we might even give you a nice feature on TV” that says: “Look, there is some nice public art, look at these cute students from all over the world”, and then you have to do it on their terms. But what happens if one says: “No, we want to do it on our terms, we really want to touch society, we want art to touch life, and we don’t want it to be a separated autonomic thing”, then it turns into a political act and you’ll be repressed.