By Andy Teirstein
If you could peel back the deep historical and political layers burying the core Abrahamic scriptures, the generative roots of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, then you might see the land where it all began. Certainly Jerusalem is a place that defies time in that way; It may seem prohibitive, with its many strata of cultural encasement, until you arrive there and see it face to face. How did this spiritual wellspring, a stony desert place, affect the world so deeply? Even the iconoclastic British poet William Blake, writing in 1808, was drawn to use it as an icon. “Where hast thou hidden thy Emanation lovely Jerusalem?” I have been to the area many times over the years. I’ve sung American folk songs in Hebron, Jenin, Nablus and Jericho, prayed at the Western Wall, performed theater in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, brought five hundred harmonicas to schoolchildren in Ramallah, improvised with a Bedouin Sheik in the Negev desert, hiked in Mitzpeh Ramon, and driven through tear gas in Bethlehem, and I always leave with a sense of having gained just one small measure of new perspective on a richly multifaceted, culturally expansive place that can never be pinned down to the kind of bytes and arch comments that increasingly represent it for the rest of the world.
Translucent Borders arrived in Tel Aviv in early March, 2016. While the project is ambitious in scope, we move in simple steps. This trip was an introduction, a chance to speak with artists individually at first, and then gather to meet one another and share some music and dance. Being New Yorkers and members of a private university gives us a unique point of orientation for on-site participants. As outsiders, we can approach both sides of a cultural border. We tried to come to each artist in his or her own milieu, posing questions about artistic process and identity. For us, it is about listening and learning. As in all of our work, the lead-up was important—over the course of a year, we gathered a working list of artists that would be pertinent. The large number of suggestions I received from a wide range of sources was, in itself, a comment on the role of the arts in this area. One of the region’s great untold stories is the magnitude of projects involved in cultural encounter. In some cases, artists must navigate both creative and political waters; most prominently the ongoing dialogue around “normalization” and a cultural boycott of Israel. we will be returning to this area over the next year to continue this work, expanding our palette and range of artists, and focusing to some extent on the North.