Yaakov Chefetz: Only Good Intentions

Yaakov Chefetz: Only Good Intentions

Yaakov Chefetz, an active artist for more than forty years on the Israeli and world-wide art scene, believes (following Marcuse and Adorno) that art is rejectionist in essence. The artist should represent the “grand refusal” toward a flawed world that obeys an unjust social status quo, without any aspiration to repair. Chefetz’s installation at the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery (a local version of the installation “Vox Populi,” presented in 2009 in Belzig, eastern Germany) concludes a series of critical artistic moves that relate specifically to the Marxist ideology and to the general ideological sphere. In this late move, Chefetz tackles the empty dimension of political rhetoric and negates the ruling mechanisms: The daily press (Hebrew and Arabic), a tower that distributes sound, collective cooking pots, and a logo of a fictive political-party—all signify the public sphere. The artist, trying to deliver the “revolutionary speech,” spins in the void and fails to carry out his mission. Textbooks of Marx and Engels, carrying electric bulbs, allude to the ideology’s pretension of offering the all-best world. “The artist should give a picturesque description of the enterprise, showing its growth and prosperity, and instilling faith in its progress and its success,” Lenin wrote. Indeed, Chefetz calls his installation “Only Good Intentions” However, as Machiavelli wrote in the early sixteenth century while teaching the Prince how to rule, “To be effective, we should mask our intentions.” Thus he created a disparity between the ruler's proclamations and their realization in daily life.

Chefetz’s tower, 2.10 meters high, corresponds with “Lenin Tribune,” a joint work of the Russian-Jewish artist El Lissitzky and his students at the Moscow School of Architecture (1920–1924). Seeking to serve the needs of the Revolution and glorify its leaders, Lissitzky and company designed a mobile metal construction that tilts diagonally toward the audience, in order to elevate the ruler (Lenin) over the people and allow his voice to diffuse and descend upon his subjects from above. A mechanical elevator hoists the ruler to the orator’s tribune and a screen over his head projects catchy platitudes or replicates his image as his onlookers stare in amazement. Although itself echoing Vladimir Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International” (1919), “Lenin Tribune” became an icon of modernity by foreseeing today’s mating of technology and politics. At the location where Lissitzky stationed the screen that replicates the leader’s features, Chefetz places a computer that projects the artist as he gulps soup from an "ideological pot” and spews vacuous and ineffective rhetoric.

Chefetz connects four graphic elements to produce the “symbol”: a Star of David triangle, the edge of the sickle (taken from the Soviet hammer-and-sickle sign), the half-crescent of Islam, and the bar of the swastika. The new “Logo,” an ideological cross-breed painted in uniform red, links these identities and yields an anti-ideological stance that preaches open discourse and raises questions about the artist’s relations with authority and society.

Tali Tamir