Artistic Ecology: “Will Progress Eventually Ruin Us, or Not?”


Artist Dafna Margolin lives on an imaginary axis with environment protection on one end and technological development on the other. Her father was an agronomist and her mother was one of the first IBM programmers in Israel. The environment has centrally featured in her works for the past 30 years during which she has been trying to find an answer to - Where do we go from here? An exhibition of her works opens tomorrow.
Interview by Anat Lefler (13 May 2009; 11:21)

In every corner of the Herzliyan villa of eco-artist Dafna Margolin stands a work of art that was added to her collection over time, looking like there is no better place for it in the world. One day before her retrospective exhibition named Eco-Clipse: the Seam line between Ecology and Technology opens at the Council for a Beautiful Israel House, most of the paintings have already been taken off the walls and are waiting to be packed for their temporary relocation.
The 3D works, however, remain standing uncompromisingly in her living room, including a futuristic machine that amplifies human traits and can be easily activated just as you prepare to leave; a plastic man filled with various knickknacks; a clock on a chair that seems to be waiting for the phone to ring; and even a modern Tower of Babel that appears to be boldly asking: "Will progress eventually ruin us, or not?"
Coming from a family with artistic orientations and being a fifth-generation vegetarian, Margolin believes in setting an example, not in fanaticism. "Everything I wear is second-hand. I believe in exchanging and minimizing the volume of things we consume," she said, adding: "Over the years, I have learned that being a zealot in any field is wrong. It is important to believe in a path and strongly follow it so that a small slip does not break the line. We can reduce environmental harm to a minimum."
Margolin has been trying to walk the path she has chosen not only in her private life, but also in the artworks she has been making for the past 30 years or so. Many of her works are collages, mixing paint with materials she collected. They deal with mankind and the environment, and mainly wonder: Where do we go from here? The exhibition will comprise some 30 works that Margolin chose to represent her chronological and thematic development over the years.
Margolin became associated with this field long before "green" became trendy, learning from her father "who was an agronomist, nature explorer, and an ecologist before it was even defined," she related.
"He was a vegetarian who worked his own land, using compost he made himself. When someone wanted to feed his mule, he would say: 'Not here. This place is sprayed with pesticides. There is fine.' He was a man who cared about the environment and tried to set a personal example of living properly, including recycling and preservation. He used to walk vast distances, not because he wanted to save on bus fares or gasoline consumption, but simply to activate his body and be as little dependent on external elements as possible."
Her mother was the exact opposite. "My mother was one of the first IBM computer programmers in Israel. I was raised with computers and technologies. Whenever some new development appeared, she used to say: 'It saves me the effort.' So on the one hand, I used to help my father in the field, and on the other hand I had a mother who always referred of technology as practical and economic."
- So you practically lived along the seam line you address in your art.

Not Replacing a Camera
Margolin started creating art in her early twenties. Her first painting depicted modern-day Adam and Eve who live in a self-consuming world. Eve is seen sitting on artificial grass, smoking a cigarette. A baby in her womb smokes too. The apple from the Tree of Knowledge lies on the ground beside them, tossed away, blue and poisonous.
She chose the Council for a Beautiful Israel as a venue of her exhibition for mainly ideological reasons. "I bring my artistic angle, hoping it is educational and thought-provoking," she said. "I hope the exhibition would not be only preaching to the choir."
- Have you always created works about the environment?
"Look, the environment is everything. When you say 'environment' it is just like saying 'ecology' or 'let's talk about life'."
- Still, your works carry a very clear motif. They do not include still-life paintings, for example.
"I will not invest my time in doing things that cameras can do. I want to spend my time on things that my inner camera, my inner vision perceives. I use external means to express what I see from within."
- Do you not think that the fact that you are an idealist somewhat diminishes the value of your art?
"I have never considered myself a protesting person. For me, things evolved from within, from an inner truth that I live. I did not come up with definitions, but simply expressed things the way I know how."
- Did your ecological ideas develop through work, or did you have them before and used art to express them?
"It all happened at the same time. I cannot tell what came first. I cannot put my finger on it."

Chariot on the Moon
The way Margolin sees it, the fundamental question her works pose is: "Can we even go back to our primordial state?" One of the main problems, she argued, is that humans would not settle for what they have. "We always want more. If we want the wilderness to blossom, we need technology. The same is true when we want to produce more food from the same limited piece of land that we have. The industrial revolution is trying to make more and more with less and less, but I must ask - Where are all of the advanced equipment and technologies going?"
- How do you understand the word 'technology'?
"To me, technology is an extension of our limited physiology. It represents the attempt to stretch our limbs and senses over the limit."
- This is the positive side of technology. What is the problem with it?
"Look, in her lifetime, my grandmother had the opportunity to ride a chariot and to watch the first man land on the moon. The last century was the most compact, concentrated, and revolutionary of all. Of course, I too drive a car. I want my car to be hybridist, but it too is eventually manufactured. We do not have resources to spare or waste because the 'green clock' is ticking."
In addition, she added, "consider computerization. Computers bring everything right to our doorstep, cutting distances short. This is why parts of us atrophy. When everything just happens with a keystroke, Man becomes practically detached from the primal nature he was given. Instead of living in nature, you become a nature watcher."
Many of Margolin's works deal with organ transplants and combinations of humans and technology. It is therefore no accident that she seems to be comparing the lifespans of humans and technological products. "A given amount of energy is invested in the production of every technological product. Everything in it is compact. Then, it lives its life and is eventually buried. Before a product can be called 'green,' the extent of its pollution must be measured at every step and stage of its complete life cycle."
Margolin believes that ecology has no political boundaries because it affects everyone, which is why a global policy is needed. Eventually, this all boils down to a simple and true equation, she said. "All of the scientific and biotechnological experiments are conducted by humans who use our basic resources: water, air, and land. If we lose them, scientists would not be able to exist too."
- So what is your solution?
"I do not know if there is a single solution. Perhaps it could all be embraced by a single agenda in an attempt to preserve all that exists and use the resources more wisely."

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