In Hebrew Makom means “place”. This word is also a key to understanding the art of Dani Karavan. For the artist, place works as a starting point, an inspiration, a context, and a material for his work, regardless of whether it is located in natural environment, urban space, gallery or museum.
The artist employs materials such as concrete, stone, steel, wood, as well as water, sand, vegetation, wind, sun, birds’ singing, landscape, a view from a window, and emptiness. The Israeli artist makes use of these elements to construct site-specific works, that is, pieces designed for a particular, selected place and forming all kinds of relations with its space. For the artist, people always constitute an integral and complementing element of his work. Karavan’s structures encourage the audience to enter the work, to be physically active, to interact, and to perceive the work aesthetically. This way, people become actors rather than passive viewers.
Dani Karavan is an Israeli artist born in Tel Aviv in a family of Galician emigrants, who came to Palestine in the 1920 to join the movement for the creation of the future state of Israel. He received his artistic education, among others, at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, founded in 1906 by Boris Schatz. In the first years of its existence, the school focused predominantly on defining, or rather inventing, national Israeli art, attempting to combine the influences of all cultures represented by the settlers arriving to Palestine. Karavan’s projects often reveal inspiration with local cultures.
The most celebrated of Karavan’s works include:
Negev Monument or Monument to the Negev Brigade in Beersheba (1963–1968) – Karavan’s first large-scale work, defined by himself as the idiom of his work. The concrete structure corresponds with the surrounding desert, while wind organs provide additional acoustic effect.
Kikar Levana (White Square) in Tel Aviv (1977–1988) was made to honour the constructors of the city, especially the part erected by the Bauhaus architects. Tel Aviv (Hebrew for Spring Hill) is a city created from scratch by the Jewish settlers, which in the course of a hundred years has become a metropolis. The monument, located in a city park according to the author’s wishes, has soon become one of the favourite leisure locations for Tel Aviv citizens.
An important position among Karavan’s works is occupied by projects that commemorate the victims of the Second World War and the Holocaust. This group includes, among others, Gurs National Memorial (1993-1994) and the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered under the National Socialist Regime in Berlin (1992–2012).
Passages, in Honour of Walter Benjamin in Portbou (1990–1994) is perhaps Karavan’s most well-known work, erected at the site of the tragic death of Walter Benjamin, a German-Jewish philosopher, who died there in unclear circumstances in 1940. The corridor, leading straight to the abyss of the swirling waves, is, in a sense, a way to nowhere, which evokes the writer’s tragic death.
The message of Karavan’s monuments is often related to themes of tolerance, peace, and respect for human rights. His The Way of Human Rights in Nuremberg (1988–1993) and The Way of Peace (Niccana, 1996–2000) on the Israeli–Egyptian border are two works that employ similar concept and express the fundamental values embraced by Karavan. Both projects have as their main axis the line established by an imposing colonnade.
Karavan has taken part in a number of individual and group exhibitions, out of which particularly notable are: Makom (Hebrew for Place, presented in 1982 in Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Kunsthalle in Baden-Baden), Environment for Peace (Forte di Belvedere, Florence 1978), as well as the installation Kaddish – Requiem for Sabra. The latter is a particular reference to the artist’s “roots”, for this is the term used to define Jews who were born and raised in Palestine. Special attention should also be paid to another exceptional work – The Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem – a monumental mural decoration placed in the main hall of the Knesset Plenum in Israel.
An exceptional element at the Krakow exhibition is Hommage à Tadeusz Kantor – an installation made by Dani Karavan especially for the ICC Gallery as a reference to the long-term acquaintance of the two artists.