Renowned conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner creates a humanist statement by altering and transforming an old, inherently isolationist Yiddish saying.
Lawrence Weiner was one of the original conceptual artists who emerged during the 1960s. His art is based on the premise that the idea of a work is more important than its physical reality. Weiner’s texts, usually painted or applied directly on the wall, offer alternatives to depiction: they represent physical situations or philosophical concepts. Over the past thirty years he has sometimes turned to ethical concerns as well.
Combining wall texts with abstracted icons, NO TREE NO BRANCH began with the Yiddish saying, “Ale yevonim habn eyn ponim”—all Greeks (i.e., non-Jews) have the same face. This phrase, inherently isolationist and mistrustful of the “Other,” gained currency during the antisemitic upheavals of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe. By tweaking the text to read “All the Stars in the Sky Have the Same Face” and by translating it simultaneously into English, Hebrew, and Arabic, Weiner transforms its meaning into a humanist statement. The branch form that punctuates the texts can be read as a plain, unambiguous shape (Weiner uses the word “fact”). Yet it also bears deep symbolic meanings—the olive branch of peace, the tree of life. The artist considers this work as his “contribution to the dialogue.”