On Michal Rovner’s small farm in Ayalon Valley she keeps a pack of white dogs, each the size of a small furry sofa, and a donkey named Nof (meaning “Landscape”). “I always like to be close to the ground,” she says. “I always like to touch the earth, I like to smell it, I like to see people creating something that is very real, that has a very real dimension, when I wake up in the morning.” In her meadow stands a stone structure, like a temple, in the middle of the wide mantle of colorful blossoms.
Such monumental stone structures—collectively titled Makom (Place)—are at the center of Rovner’s thinking and her art. In the film Out in the World, we see the painstaking process of assembling one, block by weighty stone block, outside the Musée du Louvre in Paris, where Rovner’s work was showcased. The structures are fully cohesive—clean-lined, room-size boxes with perfect, mysterious apertures for peering in, or for entry or exit—yet the stones derive from a variety of dismantled or destroyed Israeli and Palestinian houses, from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa, Nablus, Hebron, the Galilee, and elsewhere. The lifetime of the stones in her Makom pieces is greater than the singular grievances of any one person’s brief time here.
Often, Rovner inspects humanity as a scientist inspects a new virus under a microscope, or as an entomologist studies insects: as a teeming curiosity, as a single multi-minded organism. In much of her imagery, swarms of humanlike creatures, unidentifiable as individuals, march in file over landscapes and across screens, or crawl like ants over rocks.
The artist is clearly at home in her Ayalon farm/studio, which has a spartan magic: a single red poppy raises its head from a vase on a deep white windowsill; outside, the branches of an orange tree are weighted down with fruit. “This place is my element,” she says. “These are the ingredients that make me who I am.”
These stills are from the film Out in the World, available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel.