Documentary film: the unbelievable story of Avshalom (Meir Eshel from Ashdod) who went to Paris and became a legend from nothing

Documentary film: the unbelievable story of Avshalom (Meir Eshel from Ashdod) who went to Paris and became a legend from nothing

“The Seven Years of Absalom” is a new documentary film by David Ofek and Amit Ezz, which is broadcast on VOD – Sketches the short career years of the artist Avshalom in Paris until his untimely death, even before he turned 29.

Meir Eshel was born in Ashdod in 1964, the eldest of the four children of Eli and Adel Eshel. After his military service (he served as an aircraft technician at the air force base in Hasteri), he moved to live in a building he built in the dunes of Ashdod along with several friends, and made a living selling drinks and jewelry.

Avshalom later told – “I built my first house when I was twenty years old: I was released from the army in a very bad condition and went to the desert. I knew nothing about art then, I only knew the name Picasso but I had never seen his works. For about a year I lived with Bedouins in Sinai, I had A fantasy about life in the desert. Until I realized that it didn’t satisfy me. From time to time, Eshel created models made of wood and paper of a knife, fork, spoon and spoon, suspended by a string inside a cardboard box as a source of ethnographic findings.

Avshalom (Meir Eshel).  Photos: yes Doku

In 1987 he went to Paris to sell jewelry on the street and from there continue to wander.

Avshalom, or in his original Ashdod name – Meir Eshel – emerged in Paris out of nowhere, without artistic education or experience. There he changed his direction thanks to his uncle (his father’s brother), a man of French bohemia and a great influence in the field of art, he moved to live in his house and from there all his doors opened. In Paris he had excellent PR – where they defined him as a child prodigy who was gifted with great talent.

Why did he change the name to Absalom? Because David in Parisian Bohemia was told that he resembled a famous painting of the biblical Absalom, the son of King David.

The same uncle from Paris was also the man who sent Abshalom to study art at the Paris-Sergy High School of Arts (from which he was soon expelled). During this short period, he met the well-known French artist Christian Boltanski, who encouraged his artistic work and also acted as his teacher after he left school.

Avshalom (Meir Eshel).  Photos: yes Doku

In his first years in Paris, Avshalom presented works based on objects he built and objects painted white, which seem frozen in time.

In the installation “Lonely Room” (1987), for example, which was presented in a group exhibition at “Villa Alesia” in Paris, Avshalom presented a living space emptied of any personal dimension. The walls and the basic furniture that remained in it were painted white, which gave the space a monastic look. From 1988 onwards, Avshalom began to produce such items and objects himself. In “Residential Proposal” (1990), for example, he created a white container in which geometric elements made of wood, cardboard and plaster were arranged and painted white.

The idea of ​​the cells and everything around, took a strong hold – as an ambitious-ascetic project designed for him and raises the question – how objects bind us during our lives.

However, at the same time he talks about freeing himself from a shackled property – he expresses his dream of buying a house for his parents, who lived in a rented apartment.

The beginning of Absalom’s threshold:

In 1989, Absalom discovered that he was carrying the virusHIV in his blood In addition, he fed his uncle, who also passed away from diseases related to the virus.

In 1991 he moved to live and work in Italy which was previously used by the sculptor Jacques Lifshitz. At that time, the AIDS disease had already broken out in Absalom’s body.

Under the knowledge of his illness, and when he hides it from most of his acquaintances, Avshalom began to create a large-scale project based on the construction of six residential buildings that he designed for himself. These buildings, which he called “cells”, were destined to be placed in six city centers around the world (Paris, Zurich, New York, Tel Aviv, Frankfurt and probably Tokyo) and constitute, as Avshalom said, a house “tailored according to my measurements”. Avshalom testified that the anonymous design of the architecture was intended to create a noticeable “until my existence in it will be more real than ever. In the fact that I will live in it, I will create disorder in the structure; in the fact that the volume I will occupy in it, my life will increase.”

Their purpose was to function, according to him, as a “virus in the city”: white buildings in different shapes, functional and minimalist. The echo of modernist architecture in bright white was supposed to stand as a contrast to the urban chaos, and allow Avshalom to live a life of solitude, which he thinks is a way to find honesty.

In 1992 his solo exhibition was presented at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. On the occasion of this exhibition, Avshalom came to Israel for the first time since he left it. Among the prominent exhibits in the exhibition was the work “Proposal for Residence” (1992), and “Room No. 1” (1992).

All six “cells” were built as a 1:1 scale prototype according to Absalom’s plans and were presented as a whole in Absalom’s last solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in 1993.

Of the six “cells”, only two were actually built. Next to “Cell No. 1”, which was supposed to be stationed in the third arrondissement of Paris, but was not stationed due to licensing problems.

On October 10, 1993, Avshalom died of an illness related to the AIDS virus. In 2010, a retrospective exhibition of his works was presented at the Center for Contemporary Art. KW in Berlin and Holland (2012) and at the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv (2013) and sparked a renewed interest in his work.

On May 29, 2022, the premiere of the film “The Seven Years of Absalom” took place at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The film won the “Jury Award” at the Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival 2022

Meir Eshel, died as Absholm when he was almost 29 years old, after hiding the fact of his illness from many. The film re-floods the relationship of silence that existed around the AIDS disease in the 90s and the many victims it claimed, mainly from the homosexual community. Another issue Boltanski raises is the possibility that Avshalom contracted the disease from his uncle, but it remains open at the end of the film.

The film is accompanied by a filmed interview with Absalom – apparently out of the knowledge that he will die soon, and out of a desire to leave something behind.

‘If I die, have I done enough? Have I said enough? That’s what bothers me more than anything else.’

During the film, the family faces an interesting dilemma – to which museum should they sell their son’s original work – “Room No. 1” – whether to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem or toMoMA in New York, who are both interested in purchasing it. (The decision was ultimately in favor of the Israel Museum, which purchased the piece about seven years ago).

Absalom’s seven years

Directed by: David Ofek and Amit Ezz

Israel, 2022; 60 minutes


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