Yoav Ben Dov – Olive

Past Exhibition

21.11.2002 - 12.01.2003

The Olive – a Contemporary Allegory
by Gavriel Engel

The olive figures among the seven species with which the Land of Israel was blessed and it is one of the three crops that constituted the basis of the land’s economy. The olive is a symbol of peace, might and resistance, as many trees were uprooted during the Flood, but not the olive tree. The dove carried one of its branches in its beak and became along with the olive tree an emblem of power and peace.
In agriculture the olive tree has marked and demarcated lands and plots for generations. It signifies ownership and establishes deed – this is my land! The trunk of the tree causes sprouts to grow “your wife like a fruitful vine in the heart of your house; your children like shoots of the olive, around your table” (Psalms 128). The olive tree, therefore, is not only a unit that demarcated physical territories in the past, but also one that points toward the future. This is a strength that expresses the cohesion and power of the trunk, because if the trunk dies, the†sprouts will unite and will replace the old trunk with a new one, whereby the power will constantly be renewed. These emblems may also be found on the lapel of IDF officer uniforms and on their ranks, where the olive symbolizes the link between might and the yearning for peace.

Yoav Ben Dov draws us into the sphere of the olive grove, in which the concepts – press, crushing stone, olive waste, and bull are clarified. These concepts that are commonly used by every olive picker and grove owner, form a language, and inhabitants of the lands of Galilee, Judea and Samaria, speak this “olive idiom”. This is rich language seeped in pure olive oil. Ben Dov unfolds this story and focuses our perspective with regard to various questions as to the color of the foliage, one side of which is green and the other is silver; or as to the trunk and foliage which sometimes look like an environmental statue and sometimes like still life – rocks and stones inserted in ancient trunks resemble sculptures that are the creations of Mother Nature. This is real sculpture created before our very eyes, born of the local agricultural activity, which has been conducted since ancient times until today. The olive grove agriculture beats to precise rhythm and is structured so as to provide trees with light and air. During the olive-picking season, there are sheets tautly spread around the trees that collect the falling olives. These are transported later on from the earth to the oil-press, where different processing activities take place, which culminate in our eating, drinking, kindling and even bathing in “green gold”.

The experience of these works is one that arouses the five senses, and alternately transports the onlooker to the past and to the future. Sometimes these processes occur simultaneously. Yoav Ben Dov envelops us in images of an olive grove in morning fog or midday heat. He takes us into the olive waste and stimulates the most abstract sense – the sense of smell – the smell of the olive which has been forgotten by many, the smell of earth during the misty morning hours amid the olive trees or the smell of the olive waste wafting from the oil-press. The works reenact the experience of olive oil in all its brilliant colors, its rich unparalleled taste, the rustling of the wind in the foliage of its leaves, and the feeling of the twisted and rough trunk that is poles apart from the smoothness of the leaf, the fruit and the oil that is produced from it.
The environment that Ben Dov creates is naturally reminiscent of ancient folk tales illustrating the tree’s place in local culture. Ben Dov takes these materials and transports them to modern times, while leaving a flavor of the past.

In the times of the destruction of the Temple, when the Temple was set aflame, and all the institutions of the land collapsed, the sun set in the dark, and the land was enveloped by heavy mourning and interminable gloom. And all the crops, trees and plantings withered, dried out and fell to the earth, and did not wish to continue bearing fruit. At that time, mainly the seven species, which the Land of Israel boasted, were ruined. And when the Temple fell the splendor of Israel and all its glory were removed, and the land remained barren and destroyed. All the trees withered, save one, the olive tree, which stood firm and continued bearing fruit. The olive tree was criticized and raised astonishment as to how it, of all trees, the paragon of the land, had been unfaithful. How did it manage to survive and continue to blossom?
The tree was excommunicated, and others disassociated themselves from it. When the olive sensed this, it came to them and invited them to come over, and when they came and looked at it, they realized that it was entirely hollow. It said, “I am eaten from within, eaten by my tears, even though on the outside I look as though I were growing and bearing fruit. I am sorrowful with you and mourn along with you”. They bowed their heads in respect, however they continued to ask the tree: we see your sorrow and your tears, but why did you become different from the others and why did you not fall as we did? The olive tree answered them with a sigh, I cannot wither and fall. I am the symbol of Israel and Israel lives for eternity and is never destroyed, it does not wither and does not fall, and I am akin to Israel. I am hollow inside, crushed inside, symbolizing Israel which is a “beaten oil for light” and all its suffering and agony are for no other end but to intensify its light in the world, a beaten oil for light.
(popular legend from a book by Rabbi Dr. S.Z. Kahana)