Parentheses of Asia

Mel Alexenberg

From Mel Alexenberg, The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciounsness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press, 2011).


Uri Levy, a systems artist from MIT, and Doron Gazit, and Israeli balloon artist, helped me build my environment artwork for "Sky Art '83" in Munich. As we started to build the sukkah, a Japanese artist passed by and offered to help.  Tsutomo Hiroi, Japan’s greatest kitemaker who would fly his giant dragons in the Bavarian sky, was the most skilled carpenter of the four of us.  He helped us build an elegant and strong structure.  As we worked, Hiroi stood inside the sukkah, looked around at it, and chanted, “Ohhh, beautiful Japanese building. Ohhh, beautiful Japanese building.”  He saw its resemblance to the delicate geometries of rice-paper covered wooden frameworks found in traditional Japanese dwellings.   I unsuccessfully tried to convince him that we were building a Jewish building to look like a giant striped prayer shawl.  When the sukkah was completed and we hung the mega-tzitzit from the four corners of the structure, he was willing to accept that we had built an Asian building.  Israel is on the west coast of Asia while Japan is on its east coast. The next year, I marked the parentheses of Asia by exchanging sand from the beach in Tel Aviv with sand from the beach at the fishing village of Chikura that I visited with Hiroi. 

I marked parentheses of Asia by exchanging sand from Tel Aviv, Israel, the west coast of Asia, with Chikura, Japan, the east coast of Asia. With a bag of yellow sand from the beach in Tel Aviv that I had scooped up, I flew to Japan and took a local train through rice paddies to the fishing village Chikura.  I was greeted by prints of fish inked and pressed onto rice paper tacked to the train station wall to announce the biggest fish of different species caught that week.  When a taxi dropped me off at the Pacific coast, I was delighted to find a beach of black volcanic sand.

I drew a parenthesis mark with a stick that I had found washed up on the black beach and filled it with the yellow sand from Tel Aviv. I flew back to Israel with sand from Chikura and with a stick drew the matching parenthesis mark on the yellow sand of the Mediterranean beach which I filled with the black sand from Japan. I photographed the parentheses, arcs etched in the damp sand on the beaches of Chikura and Tel Aviv below bands of surf and sky.  At the Burston Printmaking Centre in Jerusalem, I created a serigraph from my two photographs placed side-by-side vertically so that we see three Tel Aviv stripes of sky/surf/sand facing three Chikura stripes of sand/surf/sky.  Below the left image, I wrote in English from right to left “Parentheses of Asia (Japan-Israel): I placed sand from Chikura at Tel Aviv”.  Above the image, I wrote the same thing in Hebrew from left to right.  My friend’s wife, who is from Japan, wrote it in Japanese from top to bottom to complete a parenthesis of words around the image.  Around the right image, we wrote “Parenthesis of Asia (Israel-Japan): I placed sand from Tel Aviv at Chikura” in Hebrew, Japanese, and English.

The Parenthesis of Asia serigraph is in the collections of the Emperor of Japan, an oceanographer, and the President of Israel.   This print is also in the collections of The Baltimore Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum in Oregon, Long Beach Museum of Art in California, Hunterian Art Gallery of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.