Running After Art

Rebecca Ora '03
Courtesy Rebecca Ora
Rebecca Ora '03

When Rebecca Ora ’03 was getting her MFA at California College of the Arts, a professor described the impact one of her projects had on him. It was, he said, like being surrounded by piles of excrement (he happened to use a more colorful word). No matter where you turn, you are going to step in a mess.

Nothing could have pleased the experimental videomaker more. “My work tends to be about conflict,” says Ora, a Louis D. Brandeis Scholar who majored in fine arts at Brandeis, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. “I’m not trying to come up with answers. I’m asking a lot of questions, digging deep below the surface, beyond what people think they know about a place or about themselves.”

Today, Ora is pursuing a PhD in film and digital media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She’s also just months away from completing an hour-long documentary on Israel; no place, she says, is more “messy and conflicted.” And because Jerusalem, in particular, is a place of cliques and subcultures — making it easy to feel like an outlier there — the documentary includes footage Ora filmed in March 2012 while engaged in a group activity she loves, running a marathon.

“Running the Jerusalem Marathon became an attempt to forge a new relationship to a place I had a familial connection with,” says Ora, a longtime runner who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in Los Angeles and whose father had deep roots in Jerusalem, “but where I, as a contemporary artist who’s female, have never really felt at home. It became an attempt at forging a relationship on my terms.”

Ora says she’ll submit the finished documentary to film festivals. She also makes videos shown in galleries, including the piece she completed for her MFA thesis. “Watching Lillian” (viewable at is a layered look at a mentally ill Chinese woman the employees at a San Francisco shoe store befriend. Are they reaching out to her? Or making fun?

Art grapples with truth, says Ora, who once planned to major in biology. “I love the sciences. But you can get the right answer in a science class. I started taking art classes because I love the idea of there being no right answer. You can keep on investigating and digging deeper, and there will still be space to go further.”

— Susan Piland