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Israeli artist Ohad Meromi builds communities with his craft

Ohad Meromi, in collaboration with Mason Gross School of the Arts, hosted a gathering for the general public, featuring a brief talk between exhibitions of two ongoing projects, last Tuesday on 33 Livingston Avenue. 

Meromi was born in 1967 in Kibbutz Mizra, Israel, graduating from Bezalel Academy of Art. He went on to receive his MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts. He spoke to an audience filled with visual art patrons, ranging from sculpture graduate students to professors. His deep voice drew in a meditative pace in the brief introductions to his pieces. 

Meromi presented his film "Worker! Smoker! Actor!" The film follows a quiet cigarette factory worker as she goes about the rhythmic cycle of her usual day. The small landscape created is automated, with each sound mechanical and true to the form of a cigarette factory as combinations of paper and cotton fold into each other to make a new pack of Natural American Spirit. Meromi's titular focus is the dynamic between labor and rest as a concentrated motif toward atmospheres of motion and cessation. 

As each day finishes, Meromi has wooden cards being presented to the audience during intermissions, reflecting on the nature of labor within our everyday lives. One card focuses on "the cardinal problem is that of fatigue," as the film progresses quickly through the tempo and routine of everyday life. The repetition creates a loop, played out with the beeping and flashing lights of black-and-white squares to denote sleep and the progression of time. As the film ended, I could hardly recognize the difference between the physical sense of a heartbeat and the work's own internal clockwork. 

Meromi presented this film as a manifestation of his own fascination with programming and architecture, deciphering patterns within specifically-designated spaces. His main exhibition was titled “Resort.” 

“Resort” structures itself as a five-scene play, centered around the running motif of travel through countries and home, dealing with the visceral sensations found in diaspora, cultural shock and human movement. It was originally featured within a "black-box workspace," a gallery space where people were invited to bring their own story-telling methods to the play as they act it out. Meromi spoke about the objectives within this task, where the "aim is to have a useful object," a tangible entity interacting with the “Resort” play.

Everyone at the event participated in acting out the second scene, called "Terminal," which featured a group of child students led by a single teacher being met with a line of guards within a  new country. Among laughter within the room, the exhibition guests took turns reading as different characters as we all huddled within the space, reading the lines of either the guards or the cluster of students in unison. The dialogue reads poetically, as the character of the teacher negotiates with her own comfort before the line of security guards, a set of characters that talk as a wall in one giant uniform voice. 

"So Ohad comes from an architecture and sculpture background, and it's really interesting how he's engaged with performance, play and theatricality. So it was nice to experiment with the text he used almost as an architecture sculpture, which he arranged almost like a performance," said Erik Thurmond, a Mason Gross School of the Arts graduate student. 

Meromi's "Terminal" segment was inspired by an incident in recent news, when a school teacher was strip-searched in the vicinity of her students in airport security. Thematically, the violence within the play speaks to global urgencies, nodding heavily to the many migrant crisis around the world today. 

"This type of action, in a way, it's not something I can do everywhere. It answers to very specific places, but it's very accommodating. Just by moving some chairs. Hopefully, maybe there is a desire for political language or method for creating a community or ritual," Meromi said. 

Meromi spoke out, with the intention for the play to be picked up by anyone and be passed down to more public spaces for others to participate in. 

"This is a kind of communal, ritualistic gathering," Meromi said. 

He hopes that with more engagement in works like these, participants can find deeper understandings of themselves as citizens, or as a community.  

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