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Return to: Shai Zakai

Artist Statement


Concrete Creek 1999-2002 - Shai Zakai

In my quests for visual expressions which would bring man and the environment closer together I have conceived of a reclamation plan which operates concurrently on the physical level - cleansing the stream, and on the social and spiritual level - healing people from their environmental indifference.

The quarry workers - welders, concrete bridge builders, cement-mixer drivers, foreign workers, Bedouins, moshav members, Palestinians, as well as the quarry and factory owners - all took part in the artistic creation, whether knowingly or unknowingly. I believe that transforming them into "fleeting artists" makes it possible to put issues they have never addressed before on the agenda, thus inspiring a changed state of mind, and consequently, a higher level of awareness.

The process of reclamation incorporated a local reference to a global problem - unawareness of environmental issues and ongoing pollution of streams in Israel and the world. The reclamation plan did not strive a-priori to reconvert nature to its original state; rather, it was aimed at observing the eyesore, resolving the ecological problem by means of art, and leaving traces of the eyesore for the wide public to see, so they would continue to explore the field and take responsibility.

The mode of work involved documented hikes along the stream, focusing on the sources of pollution; forming an interdisciplinary team of professionals who would follow through on the reclamation from different angles (an ecologist, botanist, hydrologist, representatives of the Ministry of the Environment, Green activists); conversations with cement-mixer drivers, those responsible for loading the pollutants on to the trucks, the dispatchers, and other factory employees. All this while, at the same time, generating an ongoing work of art spawned from the environmental eyesore and introduced as a part of the reclamation process, as a time-out for observing the daily routine of the factory and quarry and exploring the causes for the disease (pouring concrete leftovers on the roadside, contaminating the stream).

Rather than threats of being fined or standing trial (the current situation), I opted for the identification and collaboration approach. This is an eco-centric, eco-feminist approach which regards the "rehabilitation" of both man and nature - the stream, organic and inorganic elements found in it and its flora and fauna - with equal importance. Physical work - collecting the waste, hewing, filing, surveying, photographing - is an essential part of this course of action.

For me, an eco-artist is comparable to a doctor practicing alternative medicine, who would never offer you a painkiller, but would examine the body as a whole; or to a judge, who would send a transgressor to a rehabilitation program rather than to jail; to a philosopher who would always explore multiple versions and variations before he finds that singular insight; to "sublime nature" that often invokes in its beholder magical sensations that are never quite deciphered; wishing to utter our admiration, we feel close to the place and it becomes so precious to us that we want to preserve it.

The reclaimed stream and the works of art around it invite the hiker to experience nature and disfigured nature that has been rehabilitated. It is fundamentally different than yet another weekend spent strolling in nature. The experience would heighten hikers' awareness, perhaps even bequeath a profound sense of responsibility for the stream, which they would be able to project onto another eyesore in their own area. In a wider perspective, the Concrete Creek project may serve as a model for the reclamation and rehabilitation of other streams and rivers through interdisciplinary collaboration between artists, scientist, industrial factories, and may even, once again, raise questions concerning the artist's role in Israeli society.

The project carried out in this particular stream is targeted toward artists - in the hope that they will incorporate environmental conceptions into their future works, toward scientists - to include artists in environmental ecological projects, toward industrialists - to include a "house artist" on their team, thus allowing for a different perspective and shedding new light on routine factory procedures, toward local inhabitants - to take responsibility for the preservation of nature in their environs, toward decision makers - to encourage, initiate and finance interdisciplinary teams from the social sciences, natural and ecological sciences, law, etc. to work on environmental projects.

Shai Zakai, eco-artist
Director and Founder of the Israeli Forum for Ecological Art

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