joshua neustein texts
Powdered Light and the Sound of Water
by Dr. Kristine Stiles

Contrasting natural and cultural systems. Joshua Neustein created several action-installations that addressed points of conflict between geo-political formations and State-supervised institutionalization of space and human exigencies. Prompted by the fact that ancient maps, biblical stories, and Israeli folklore mentioned a river near Jerusalem, a memory on which Israeli and Palestinian writers and painters had long meditated, the following year Neustein created a "fantasy river" that, in his words, "should-be-and-is-not." Jerusalem River Project: Sound of Flowing River in the Dry Wadi of Abu Tor (1970), responded to the real and unconscious need for "a wet element in the landscape of Jerusalem." The activity began when Neustein, working with Gerry Marx and Georgette Battle, traveled throughout Israel to tape-record the sounds of water flowing from all of the

country's natural water sources. Then Neustein searched for a source for an electrical outlet in the dry mountain valley outside of Jerusalem so that the sounds they had recorded could be played over the land. Neustein found the convent of St. Claire Monastery and approached the nuns, explaining that he needed electricity for an art work. The women refused to let him use their convent as a source for art, but when he further explained that the piece was about water flowing over the dry valley, they responded enthusiastically and immediately cooperated.

The artists then laid electrical cord over the hillside to which, at various points, they attached sty-rofoam cups to function as loud-speakers. The electrical wires followed the bed of the valley and ended at the Valley of Kidron. The piece was two kilo-meters in length, and its width extended as far as the sound emitted from the Styrofoam cups could be heard. After installing the piece, Neustein and his col-laborators returned home planning the next day to return to begin playing the piece. That night he was violently awakened by the Israeli police who had been called to investigate the wire strewn all over the val-ley outside of Jerusalem. Only three years after the Six Day War, inexplicable objects - especially elec-trical wire in the hills outside of Jerusalem - seemed intentionally provocative. The authorities had been alerted to the potential threat of explosives. In their frantic search for bombs, the police had crushed the installation, which had to be reconstructed. While the poetry of a river of sound was ostensibly the theme of Jerusalem River Project the artists unintentionally evoked political tensions between Israel and its neighbors over vital resources. These latter meanings accrued to the work from the lived context of the installation.

The theme of war and its relation to somatic circumstance appears in many guises in Neustein's work. In The Sound of Pine Cones Opening in the Sun (1973), Neustein commemorated the Yom Kippur War in Israel that broke out on the holy Day of Atonement. This piece evolved from his actions and thoughts immediately prior to departing for military duty. During those hours. Neustein gathered up from his backyard what he referred to as the "fall" - a term that conflated the season of the year with the fallen soldiers of war. The collection of materials - pine needles, cones, and branches - was done with the proviso that after the war he would separate the materials and exhibit them. The war as an interven-ing element was crucial to the conception and exhibition of the piece. When he returned to civilian life in December 1973, he installed the work, includ-ing the tape-recorded sound of pine cones ejecting their seeds as they opened. This poetic natural sound, like the sound of the "fantasy river" in Jerusalem River Project, provoked a memory of nature in transition as much as it signified the destructive sound of culture, the distant sound of gun-fire and the fall of bodies over territories mapped by authority.

Deemphasizing his intentionality in order to highlight viewers' perceptions, Neustein systemati-cally avoided drawing parallels between his works and his life. Without denying the inevitability of self-expression, he stressed place, reception, and context. Neustein's facility for hiding the body - even while simultaneously presenting and using his

body - is clarified when one learns that until he was six-years-old, the artist and his family were displaced Jews, wandering Europe during the aftermath of World War II:

Living in basements as a child with my parents. ... it was dark, safe and confined. The light was laden with danger and still one looked to it as essential to survival, like a breath of air.

I remember ... subterranean light was another light, a powdered haze that blurred more than defined.204

A Polish, Jewish, American who spends part of his life living and working in Israel, Neustein's eth-nic identity and his art bespeaks, and has mapped, a diasporic consciousness made visual in art and expressive of a state of mind and body in which most of the world now lives. "Neustein's art is deterritor-ial, political, and collective (it has an 'active solidarity in spite of skepticism' with [art history])."zos

In 1976, Neustein began a series of actions - Territorial Imperative - that demarcated points of violent international boundary dispute. He first visited the Golan Heights, Israeli/Syrian border (1976), then Belfast, Northern Ireland (1977), Kassel, East/West border (1977), and Krusa, German/Danish border (1978) with a male dog that urinated on the land at each site. Neustein photographed the animal in its act and created a series of posters with its image and the words "Territorial Imperative" stamped on the poster. Neustein then created a map of the area which showed the territory marked by the dog next to the political territory marked by nations. Neustein juxtaposed the instinctual habit of male animals to make territories with the distinctive odor of their bod-ily excretions, with the extension of these primal acts into command and control over territory through pow-erful technological means

204. Joshua Neustem, in conversation with D. Schultz (1992), as as quoted in 1995
Neustein, Tzaig and Grossman in the National Library Archives (Vienna: Venice Biennale and The Israeli Pavilion.
205. Jeannette Ingberman, 'The Road Not Taken. . . ", Joshua Neustein (New York: Exit
Art. 1987). 5.

excerpt from Out of Actions Between Performance and the Object 1949 –79
MOCA Thames and Hudson cat. p.317 – 319