Oded Hirsch featured in Tablet Magazine

Prodigal Son
By Toby Perl Freilich | Jun 3, 2011 7:00 AM

Oded Hirsch broke away from the kibbutz on which he grew up to become an artist in New York. In his latest work—a project staged with the help of 120 kibbutzniks—he reckons with the world he left behind.

As a child of Kibbutz Afikim, in Israel’s Jordan Valley, artist Oded Hirsch is familiar with the region and its residents, but at a March meeting with members of neighboring kibbutzim, he had his hands full managing a suspicious and, at times, hostile crowd. “Just what are you trying to do,” they asked, “exploit us? Make fun of us? What do you really think of us?”

The simple answer was that Hirsch, 34, was there to recruit volunteers for a two-day event he was planning to stage and film on a rocky, bramble-strewn hilltop midway between the ancient cities of Beit Shean and Tiberias.

The kibbutzniks were needed to construct sets and props, hand-dye costumes, and act out a loosely adapted version of “The Way of the Wind,” an early Amos Oz story re-envisioned by the artist as a thoughtfully crafted “art spectacle.”

Scripted, story-boarded, and shot out of sequence, Hirsch’s work is not exactly a “happening” in the purest tradition of performance art. Nor, because of its coherent narrative structure, does it quite qualify as video art, which tends to be fragmentary. Rather, Hirsch sees his work as a genre-bending hybrid of cinema and performance art. Whatever you call it, it’s clear from all of Hirsch’s work that his roots are in the kibbutz and that it is the terrain he mines for creative inspiration. He may be unsparingly critical of its sclerotic ideology and stifling atmosphere, but he celebrates its spirit.

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