Dani Karavan – The Beauty of Simplicity and Symbolic Beauty

Abstract from a lecture given at the ICC (International Cultural Center), Krakow, on 29 June, 2012.

Passages, Homage to Walter Benjamin" - Port-Bou, Spain

Dani Karavan has unfolded for us the stages of his work’s development. I will try and shortly lay out the ways to view Karavan’s site specific works in a broad cultural and artistic context, while directing your attention to a number of points on which his work touches the works of other artists, and referencing Jewish, universal, philosophical sources of inspiration.

The beauty I find in Caravan’s work is embodied in its simplicity. Saying this may be a cliché, but we all know what a difficult task it is to maintain simplicity, so that one is able to express much more than what meets the eye, in only a few words. This is the essence of the philosophy and the power behind Karavan’s work.

"Way of the hidden Garden" – Sapporo, Japan - 1992 – 1999

Another aspect of beauty found in simplicity is that anyone can uncover something to connect to in those simple lines and colors, the basic ones. The human bond to the act of art is not always easy to achieve, but when it does, it speeds the way to the sublime.
Judaism is a culture of words rather than that of concrete forms. Hebrew words describe concepts, objects and experiences, the Hebrew vocabulary is relatively limited, but there is richness in the layers hidden within its short, simple words. Important terms in this context are “Hashem” (lit. The Name or GOD), “Hamakom” (lit. The Place or the presence of GOD), “Ha-aretz” (lit. The Land), and other similar terms. They refer to simple and direct concepts, but at the same time, they represent the essence of a philosophical idea, one that is very difficult to define, and any attempt at such a definition offers no more than a shell, avoidance, perhaps even a misinterpretation.

"Axe Majeur" – Cergy- Pontois, France – Since 1980

The shapes Karavan creates are based on those same principles of simple morphological geometry, which, in any other case, might have been too simplistic. But in this case, it is not. Karavan’s simplicity becomes universal. The foundation of this success is the special connection between the shapes, the seemingly simple arrays that create complex compositions. These compositions look slightly different from each angle and each point of view. They change as one stands closer to them or farther back. They look meaningful when one stands next to the tall column or the white dome, while from afar they appear as settlements growing from the mountain itself or form the urban space. Often, they remind us of archetypical structures, while at other times, of concrete usable ones.
One finds all the design components used by Karavan while touring Israel. But in order to find them and analyze them to coherently transport them to other sites around the world, one must make adjustments. Karavan’s descent to the very essence of the shapes allows him to transfer the Israeli shapes to other sites, adapting and adjusting them to the new environment.

The simplification of shape he achieves is universal, and has been used by other artists, each in his own field, and each with his own unique input into the world: American artist Barnett Newman created enormous canvases in the 1950s, on which he drew just a line or two. He gave them names with mystical Jewish contexts. Newman’s paintings appear to be purely abstract, and many of them were originally untitled, the names he later gave them made the connection to the specific subjects he addressed, many of them with a Jewish theme manifested in its simplicity.

Another interesting connection to the Israeli origins is the affect of the International Style architecture, or Bauhaus Architecture, on Karavan’s simple shapes. The whiteness of the concrete doubtless stems from a reference to the whiteness of the houses in Tel Aviv. The simple and direct geometric shapes are a response to the clearly defined functionality of the architecture of Tel Aviv’s urban space, mostly from the 1930s and 1940s, the years when Karavan was growing up in the city.

These are just a few basic ideas and philosophical elements which comprise the art of Karaven – but the beauty is in the elements which cannot be named explicitly but are still more then evident to the onlooker.


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