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Art Grows On Governors Island
Artist Filipe Cortez at work. C/o Art Kibbutz

Art Kibbutz offers lush oasis to New York's remaining few, true bohemians

Governors Island was originally supposed to be a vacation destination, boasting luxury resorts, fancy hotels and the bourgeois tourists such trimmings would attract. Thankfully, for whatever reason, that never happened.

Instead, the island became a locale brimming with contemporary art studios and the home for Art Kibbutz, an international Jewish artist residency that is continually nurturing the relationship between art and Judaism.

Founded in 2010 by Patricia Eszter Margit, Art Kibbutz is a self-described nurturing incubator that offers Jewish artists a multi-disciplinary retreat-style community. This year’s Summer Residency on Governors Island from May 26 – September 10, 2015 is the only Jewish art residency, among numerous other studios and galleries, on the island.

Art Kibbutz’s central theme this year is Shmita. Shmita, which literally translates in Hebrew as “release”, refers to the biblical tradition to release the land from harvest every seventh year of the agricultural cycle in Israel. Additionally, every debt is supposed to be relieved every seventh year. Embedded in social, religious and environmental concerns, the artists engage with the environment – most of the artists actually use dirt, branches and rocks as their primary medium.

The selected 60 artists and activists range from Chassidic Jews, non-observant Jews and not Jewish artists. The studio residency enables the participants to work both independently on their own craft as well as collaborate on projects together for four months throughout the summer. A quick ferry ride away from mainland New York City, Art Kibbutz is located in a former army officer’s mansion in Nolan Park, a great lawn along the island’s southeast edge.

On August 9, Art Kibbutz will feature an exhibition and festival titled, Shmita Art Fest. The day will be filled with art, family activities and Jewish learning, and it will be in no better location than tucked away on a lush summer island. Nature will take center stage featuring numerous artists from around the globe: Kobi Arad, Joan Beard, Ezra Bookman, Leah Caroline, Asherah Cinnamon and many other talents.

A private viewing of the residency provides a quiet space for observation. In the first room, there is a table with a mailbox and a stack of paper and envelopes. Elizabeth Savage’s project displays instructions on the wall prompting visitors to contemplate the theme of the residency this year, which is Shmita.

The visitor is invited to write a letter to herself about something – anything – that they are trying to release. A contemplative introduction contrasts the viewing experience in packed museums and buzzing galleries in Manhattan. Instead, Art Kibbutz focuses on slowing the public’s pace to notice the minute details of nature in each exhibited piece.

Even with the knowledge that the exhibit is addressing the relationship between Shmita and art, there is still an initial sense of surprise when viewing the branches trapped in a cage-like canvas hanging on the wall. Renata Stein’s The Quality of Mercy (2015) utilizes the many materials of nature to create a planter-like wall sculpture. A wooden box hangs on the wall filled with dirt, from which branches emerge like outstretched arms, and are filled scattered pieces of paper inscribed with Hebrew letters.

When a small moth unexpectedly flies through the room’s open window and flutters by the work and to nestle into the nest-like sculpture, it becomes readily apparent that the location for this year's themed residency could not be more fitting.

In the basement, Portuguese artist Filipe Cortez also uses his surroundings as his materials in Fossils. His site-specific installation transforms a dark and abandoned space into a full-fledged study of a building’s muscle memory. The artist collects piles of waste, mold and lead paint in the building, and then casts them in latex, which when removed, creates a skin. These skins are then draped and displayed from the ceiling in one room creating an altogether hauntingly beautiful tableau.

Instead of disposing the countless flakes of paint in another room in the basement, Cortez piles them up, displays them in front of a brick wall and spotlights them. Elevating what was once considered waste in an abandoned space, the artist cleverly shifts the perception and function of recycling.

Art Kibbutz relates Fossils to this year’s residency theme of Shmita by explaining that “The ‘fossils’ are distinct from that which they are records of; yet concurrently retain many of the original properties. They exist as residues of past lives, recalling the passage of time and process of decay.” A successful installation is one that transforms an old space into a new one but also acknowledge its past - Cortez does both. 

The combination of artworks that harness the elements of the earth, but also utilize the urban environment, is an indication of the importance of the preservation of Governors Island itself. When rent is high and space is sparse in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Art Kibbutz promises its artists (and its visitors) a much-needed oasis. 

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Art Kibbutz

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