Profile: She Wants to Save Planet Earth

Painter Daphna Margolin believes that with proper motivation, we can improve the environment we live in. In the meantime, she has an exhibition.

By Ariella Shay

Waiting for Daphna Margolin to fix "something nice to drink," I took a short tour of her house in Herzliya Pituach and surveyed her works, which will be on exhibition at Asia House in Tel Aviv starting next week. The works deal with the connection between human bodies and advanced technologies. We will discuss them later. Right now, I just had a sneak preview.

Soon, "Daphna tea" was served. It was a concoction of geranium leaves and rosebuds (or something) that smelled wonderfully and tasted even better.

Daphna suggested that I take a tour of her "agonizing artist's" studio, but there is nothing agonizing there. Its glass walls are surrounded by a gorgeously blooming garden. There is nothing here to remind me of a starting artist who works and creates feverishly. In fact, Margolin looks like she had had a good life. She is pretty, with just the right amount of expression wrinkles on her face. She is 40, tall, and dressed nicely in a beige blazer, blue shirt, and corduroy pants - without overdoing it, looking threatening, or appearing too sweet. She wears glasses over her blue eyes, and her ponytail hangs on her shoulder with casual precision, tied at the end. She is a blond who lets her hair grow with some strands of silver. In short - she is a pretty woman with a fine character.

Margolin might not appreciate this discussion of her good looks but if you want to promote anything these days, no matter how important it is, you have to be rich, young, and handsome. Daphna Margolin has a lot to promote and, though it may be hard to admit, her good looks help her and are relevant.

We sat down to talk and she tried to clarify her worldview. "We currently live in a rapidly-changing world. When my grandma was young, she rode carriages, and when she was quite old, she saw the first man land on the moon. If you do not follow these changes, even passively, you are left behind. Mankind enjoys technological advancements, but is filled with anxieties at the same time. Some people try to fight progress and stop buying electrical appliances. They try to isolate themselves, but it does not work, they give up in the end, and then are left behind. Technology is both a blessing and a curse; just like nuclear power that can serve for peace or perhaps for destruction."

Her works constantly deal with urbanism and its impact on humans. One of her works, for example, is a depiction of the chimneys of the Redding Power Station combined with an X-ray of human lungs that symbolize our collective lungs and are supposed to remind us of what we breathe in. Another work is a painting of the Statue of Liberty wearing an anti-pollution mask. Daphna uses computer parts, cables, telephone wires, and dialers. She feels many people currently engage in anonymous communications, with cables and wires connecting everyone with everyone else, but true communication is diminishing. Dialers replace human hearts while streets fill with fear and anxiety.

Do you not think your paintings are threatening? I wondered.

"It is in the eye of the beholder," she replied, "and there are all kinds. The colors I use are not gloomy, but kind of sweet: shades of technology, neon, and traffic lights. What is missing is the real green of grass and plants."

Her motif is Man and her concern for balance. She is ambivalent about technology. She is not against progress, but fears the moment when computers start making us and dummies overpower their makers. She would like science to regenerate our senses. We can already hear better with hearing devices and improve our sight with eyeglasses, but science has not yet found a way to renew our sense of smell or the sense of touch. She has been dreaming about ways of eternalizing touches such as a mother's hug, the first kiss, and so on. Smells can be documented with perfumes and sounds and visions are documented with audiotapes and photographs.

Margolin is very interested in developing the senses. She has a private school in Herzliya where she deals with that and the environmental approach, gives a class on environmental protection, and holds experiments in the field. She discovered that remembering sights can be improved by training that helps people keep collages of visual segments in their minds. She conducted an experiment, she said, in which her students were asked to react to various scents. For example, the smell of roses reminded them of the bathrooms, while chlorine reminded them of swimming pools. Associative reactions are formed.

Her educational work earned her the "Yad layaad" in 1979 that she received in Jerusalem for her achievements in research and practical work in environmental education.

"Today, our sensors are built differently and our sense of time is different. For example, I was once in Egypt as the guest of President Sadat. We drove through the desert when suddenly one of our escorts placed his ear on the sand and said, 'there is a fox 300 meters from here.' This can no longer happen to us. We've lost it."

Her visit with Sadat to paint his portrait does not seem pertinent to our conversation today. "This was a different matter. It was business. I did it and it worked, but that is not the important thing."

She worries about our wasteful treatment of the sources of existence and would want us to understand that our role in nature is not miniscule. "They don’t understand that it all depends on humans. It all came quickly. Suddenly we can see that the water, the air, and the land are flawed. Awareness starts by introducing the students to an approach of 'me and the universe' even in terms of their future initiatives."

Margolin had an exhibition at the Chemerinsky Gallery "when I still carried the banner of environmental protest, after which I dropped the whole thing and started researching. I started with an experiment in 17 schools in the City of Herzliya where we tried to assign values of auditory culture, for example, or introducing a tolerant approach toward the environment. I sometimes feel that our history in exile was transported here. While in exile, Jews cared about what happened inside their homes, stopping at their doorsteps or the staircases at best. We no longer care about what happens with our neighbors. People have grown used to live for themselves. Perhaps it is also difficult because of the ingathering of the exiles. A great deal can change with 10 minutes of motivation, and we have proven that. We built adventure gardens in schools with nothing but recycled materials. Several mothers we worked with were architects…."

Do you not feel that what you are describing here can only happen in locations where the population is economically sound, I asked, not where people spend eight or ten hours a day working in assembly lines? How can such parents have any energy left after a hard day's work?

"It is all a matter of motivation," Margolin said while we were sitting in her lovely and nicely-trimmed garden that two Arab gardeners from Tira were cultivating. Looking at the settings, I was not really convinced that a textile factory worker can have the time or the energy to build an adventure garden at the end of a working day.

Margolin wants to "motivate people; to teach them how to stop before they are buried under their own trash. Children should think: 'I am saving Planet Earth.' Our resources are being consumed without any thought of future generations," Daphna said with conviction.

"We tried to fight against noise, reduce it. For example, we replaced the school's electric bell with a musical bell that plays classical and pop tunes. This is a small example of educationally improving a single element."

Do you believe in the possibility of change?

"Naturally, we may apply dictatorial methods of enforcement and punishment, but we prefer trickle-down methods that are more practical and more educational. I am against campaigns and projects. We have to minimize the damage and educate to awareness. Things are taken with too much complacency. I keep asking myself, why the Germans can and we cannot."

Perhaps it is because they have no other problems?

"That is true and of course it is relevant, but knowing why does not solve the problem. We need the public opinion. We need legislation and enforcement, but no public official would take a step without the public's backing and motivation." Thus said Daphna, speaking in her lovely house, and the rest can be seen in her exhibition.

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