Lena Zaidel: How I joined the Leviathan Group
Khlebnikov 100 (1985), Performance. Procession on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv. First row, first on L (on horseback): Michail Grobman. Second row, R to L (carrying tent): Lena Rabinovich (Lena Zaidel), Mark Kapchitz, Dina Blich. Third row, R to L: Boris Yuhvetz, Ilya Sundelevich, Mara Sundelevich. Photo from Michail Grobman’s website:
How I joined the Leviathan Group / Lena Zaidel (Lena Rabonovich)
Born 1962, Leningrad (St. Petersburg). I have been drawing and painting since my earliest memories, from about age 4. My parents, Olga and Felix Rabinovich, encouraged my love of painting and at an early age took me to “unofficial” art exhibitions (held in private apartments) as well as to museums (The Hermitage Museum, the Russian Museum, and more). Since childhood, my parents showed me albums of paintings, read bedtime stories to me from splendidly illustrated books, which I still remember. I attended painting and singing lessons after school, and from the ages of 11-13 (1973-1975) I attended a school of the arts in St. Petersburg until the family left for Israel in January 1976.
In Israel, I studied at the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, where Miriam Tuvia Boneh taught art history (1968-1983). When it was time to choose a subject for my matriculation paper, I told her i wanted to write about unofficial art and dissidents in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and ‘70s. When Miriam heard about my topic, she referred me to the artist Michail Grobman and recommended him as my mentor. I immediately called him up and made an appointment.
I read everything I could about Grobman to prepare for our meeting. Getting to know the Grobmans became an extremely significant and emotional event for me. He was among the very few Russian speakers at the time in Israel who could talk about contemporary art, and who knew all of the artists active in Israel and abroad. I became filled with enthusiasm at the simple language with which he succeeded in analyzing complex issues in conceptual and contemporary art in general, without the slightest trace of snobism. Michail and his wife Ira (Irina Vrubel-Golubkina) welcomed me into their home, helped me in the writing, and we became very good friends. I was so happy and grateful for their friendship. Michail provided me with materials from his archive, as I wrote the paper over an entire year. In 1980 I submitted the final paper to Dr. Miriam Orr for my matriculation, and received a high grade. One copy of my paper remains in Grobman’s archive.
As I continued my writing, I listened with great curiosity to the conversations in the home, about the state of contemporary art, artist/members of the Leviathan Group, the role of the artist in society, and more. When I completed the paper, Michail invited me to join Leviathan. Although I didn’t exactly understand what this meant, I was enthused by Michail’s offer and phrases such as “magic symbolism” and “Jewish mysticism.” I joined the group. This was after the co-founders (with Grobman), artists Avraham Ofek and Shmuel Ackerman, had left. I participated in several exhibitions and performances, among them the performances Messiah (1987), Jerusalem, and Khlebnikov 100 (1985), Tel Aviv, and the exhibition From Symbol to Technology (1982), at the Jerusalem Theatre. After graduation from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, l in 1987, we parted ways for several years, but are still in touch.
During the 1970s and ‘80s, artist Boris Yuhvetz lived near me in Givat Savyon. I loved his works, and studied painting and drawing with him for two years. At one point, I invited my friend Dina Blich, to join the classes. When we decided to apply to Bezalel, our portfolios were from his class. Both of us were accepted…For two years, Boris had been hearing my excited stories about visits to the Grobmans’ home and wanted to meet Michail. One day I simply said to the Grobmans that I was coming over with Boris. Later Dina met them as well. Both joined the Leviathan Group, and participated in several exhibitions and performances after I had already left the group.
In 2010, I had the idea to translate some of Michail’s poems at which I laughed until I cried. Later they were published as the book Liberty Arrives Naked (Tel Aviv: Keshev Lashira, 2013).
Link to a page from Michail Grobman’s book. Hebrew translation by Lena Zaidel:
Futurist Event, Homage to the poet Velimir Khlebnikov
The Leviathan Group, Messiah (1987). Performance and installation, Hamashbir Square, Jerusalem.
Photo from Michail Grobman’s website:
R to L: First row: Olga Rabinovich (Lena’s mother), Lena Zaidel (Lena Rabinovich), Zlata Grobman (Michail and Ira’s daughter). Second row: Michail Grobman, Dina Blich, Boris Yuhvetz, Irina Vrubel-Golubkina, 1984, Givat Savyon. Photograph: Felix Rabinovich (Lena’s father).
Selected photographs from the catalog of the Leviathan Group’s exhibition Through symbol to Technology (1982), Jerusalem Theatre
L: Vladimir Yakovlev, Architectural Landscape, gouache on paper
R: List of Leviathan members participating in the exhibition: Vladimir Yakovlev, Michail Grobman, Boris Yuhvetz,
Lena Rabinovich (Lena Zaidel), Dina Blich, Ilia Zundelevich, Lev Nussberg, Grigory Patlas
Michail Grobman, Angel of Death. Choreography: Grigori Patlas. Photo: A. Fogel
L: Boris Yuhvetz, Jacob’s Ladder, gouache on paper. R: Boris Yuhvetz, Solarium Project, gouache on paper.
L: Dina Blich and Lena Rabinovich (Lena Zaidel), Jacob’s Ladder. R: Dina Blich and Lena Rabinovich (Lena Zaidel), Beginning.
Photo: G. VInitsky
Ilia Sundelevitch, Sign. Photo: N. Sherman.
L: Grigori Patlas, Pantomime, Photo. R: Lev Nussberg, Playground project, gouache on paper.
Curatorial for the exhibition Through Technology to Symbol, by Michail Grobman, exhibition curator and head of the Leviathan Group
Lena and Oded Zaidel at the book launch for Liberty Arrives Naked, Tolaat Sfarim Bookstore.
Tel Aviv, June 2013. Photo: Leonid Zeiger
Michail Grobman and Lena Zaidel at the book launch for Liberty Arrives Naked, Tolaat Sfarim Bookstore.
Tel Aviv, June 2013. Photo: Leonid Zeiger
Lena Zaidel, 2023
New website: https://lenazaidel.com
Measurements are given in centimeters, height × width
All the reproduction photos of Lena Zaidel's artworks in this website,
are taken by Michael Amar, unless otherwise noted.