Channeling and Challenging Eccentricity at Israel's National Library

Ofri Cnaani's 'Sfar' Installation Makes Its Debut

Windows to the World: Ofri Cnaani’s installation stretches across six large windows.
Courtesy of National Library of Israel
Windows to the World: Ofri Cnaani’s installation stretches across six large windows.

By Graham Lawson

Published December 28, 2013, issue of December 20, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

New York-based Israeli artist, Ofri Cnaani, has been having quite a year. One of her live video installations was screened as part of “The Met Reframed” artist residency series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in March. A site-specific video installation titled “Moon Guardians” was displayed in Chelsea.

Recently, Cnaani arrived in Tel Aviv, to create a video installation at the National Library of Israel, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary. Cnaani is the second of 12 artists who have been invited to participate in a project, titled simply “12 Artists.” The project’s overseer is Yigal Zalmona, a former curator at the Israel Museum and the author of the recently published book “A Century of Israeli Art.”

Each of the 12 artists or performers has been asked to select an item from the library’s extensive collections and to use it to create or perform a work within the library walls. Cnaani has chosen to work with texts by the German writer, Else Lasker-Schüler.

Born in 1869, Lasker-Schüler was a fascinating and by all accounts eccentric character, who wrote poetry, prose and drama and was considered the leading female exponent of German expressionismat that time. She also drew and painted, occasionally illustrating her books and designing the covers.

In Berlin, Lasker-Schüler dressed extravagantly and exhibited a general disregard for social norms. She adopted a persona she referred to as Prince Jussuf of Thebes, who she represented as an exotic figure in her drawings. In 1933 she was awarded the Kleist Prize, then considered the most important literary prize of the Weimar Republic. But, by this point, Lasker-Schüler was considered something of an oddity in the cultural sphere and salons of the day. Mourning the death of her son and facing mistreatment by the Nazis, Lasker-Schüler left for Switzerland, and then made her way to Palestine in 1937.

Lasker-Schüler fared poorly in Jerusalem. Her liberal thinking and outlandish garb brought her unwelcome attention. Many of those who knew her during this time remarked on how they would see her in cafes, always alone, an impoverished, haunted figure.

Cnaani’s installation is titled “Sfar,” a Hebrew word that translates roughly as “a space of transition.” The video lasts approximately an hour; it is a low-key work with no specific beginning or end, and it stretches across six large windows of the library building. Cnaani has whitewashed the windows, using the finished surface as a kind of canvas, which can be viewed within the building, but also outside by passersby. “Sfar” was constructed as an installation meant for nighttime viewing. The video projects the silhouetted figure of Cnaani as she moves from one window to the next writing, scratching, erasing and occasionally drawing. Six of Lasker-Schüler’s short poems are written in a Hebrew translation on the windows.

“I had in mind to create a kind of life cycle. All the poems are dealing with creation and motherhood or life and death,” Cnaani told the Forward.

Graham Lawson is a writer based in Tel Aviv.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.