On Avital Geva's Experiment with Books and Space


In 1972 Geva conducted a behaviorist social experiment on the strip of land separating the Arab village of Messer from the Jewish kibbutz Metzer. The Books in Landscape Experiment, which lasted over a period of several months, involved pouring out sacks of second-hand books – which were donated by members of Ein Shemer, the kibbutz to which Geva himself belongs – on the strip of land between the Arab and Jewish villages, creating piles in different spots that people from both villages passed by on a daily basis. As the piles of books materialized in the open space, they attracted many people who began digging through them. Shortly afterward, and as a direct result, the books started to irregularly propagate in space and become scattered all over, as if the people that used to have them were already gone. The space between the two villages started to fill up and become marked with second-hand books that reappeared as neglected signs of a lost and abandoned civilization. The method Geva devised led to the formulation of an apocalyptic imagery of abandoned culture.

The terminality of this action and the images it created was complemented by an act that claimed primacy. At the time Geva was also experimenting with pipes. He took pipes that were made to deliver water (life) as well as sewage (waste). He used them to mark the landscape surrounding his kibbutz, thereby creating images of a primary social definition of space, i.e., he imitated the preparatory instalment of infrastructure for a village. The experiment began with Geva removing the pipes from his house out into the open landscape. That manifested his desire, as someone from the periphery, to be connected with entities outside his kibbutz, and maybe from some future time. Soon Geva began using the pipes he'd laid down on the ground as primitive conductors of sound and music. He delivered music through the pipes from his house into the open air, articulating the idea that for him communicative acts are not just verbal or lingual, but rather involve the concrete landscape as part of the interaction.

Geva's intentions were not just behaviorist and social. In addition to that aspect of his work, which examined people's reactions beyond their national religious differences, Geva sought to integrate books, as material objects and as signs of culture, within organic and natural processes and phenomena, and to transform them into microorganisms challenged by the changing of the climate, by rain, wind, dust, mud, etc. The organic dimension in Geva's book works brings to mind the organic processes of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which re-emerged in 1999, after having been submerged for three decades, and could once again be viewed and walked upon. Due to entropic processes, that monument has become less distinguishable from its surroundings than at the time of its construction, and in a certain sense its rediscovery contradicts the organic entropy that was marked by its disappearance and is manifested so poetically by Geva's books project.


Ory Dessau