Since 1952, Israel has steadily participated at the Venice Biennale confirming its strong
position in the contemporary art field. Under the direction of Christine Macel, this year’s
edition titled Viva Arte Viva wished to celebrate art. Tami Katz-Freiman, curator of the Israeli Pavilion for this year’s Venice Biennale answers our questions on Gal Weinstein’s inception for his piece Jezreel Valley in the Dark.
- The term “archaeology of the future” comes to mind when looking at the Pavilion, through this paradoxical concept, time takes another dimension. What was the artist’s objective when blending temporalities?
It’s true that the essence of this project, its ultimate protagonist, is time. It is about the passage of time, about the fear of death, the tyranny of time, the human desire to stop time and about the hubris embedded in the myth of arresting time, as manifested in “Sun Stand Still” biblical miracle. The sense of “archaeology of the future” comes from the fact that we encounter “leftovers” of civilization, whether it’s the ornaments on the wall, the (artificial) moldy floor, or the (real) moldy Jezreel Valley in the Dark. To me these are more “leftovers” than “artifacts”. In addition to these “leftovers”, the manifestation of time’s vicissitudes (the various types of mold and its transformation over time), which becomes palpable as soon as one enters the pavilion, disrupts the white architectural space representing the spirit of modernity and progress (the future). In this sense, the mold spores in the Israeli Pavilion enfold the past, present, and future, evolving silently like a riddle searching for an answer: What has happened here? What past do these vestiges belong to?
Blending temporalities, from the artist’s perspective, is more related to the expression of internal reality (dream, vision, sensations) in which the past and future are intermingled. He speaks about fragmented, associative sense of time, where the future is perceived less as a horizon for hope or linear consequence of the present, and more as a lack-of-horizon-mental-situation, which unfortunately characterize life in Israel after 50 years of occupation with no resolution in the horizon.
- Mythology and reality confront each other in Weinstein’s piece, in which way is he challenging the very concept of nation?
Mythology and reality indeed confront each other in “Sun Stand Still”. Mythology is embedded both in the central wall piece Moon over Ayalon Valley, which refers to the biblical miracle that took place during the conquest of Canaan by Joshua Bin-Nun, and it’s also manifested in Jezreel Valley in the Dark, which refers to a mythological and Romantic image of early Zionist settlement, as it is embedded in Israeli collective memory.
The visual origin of Moon over Ayalon Valley is a photograph of the Ayalon Valley from the album In the Footsteps of Moses, which was published in English (in Israel, the United States, and Canada) in 1973. The album describes the return of the Jewish people to the Promised Land, accompanied by landscape photographs and archeological finds that seemingly support the biblical story. The book was produced in collaboration with the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture’s Department of Antiquities and Museums, and belongs to the genre of pseudo-archeological and pseudo-scientific propaganda that uses biblical stories as historical proof of the Jewish-Israeli connection to the land. An entire chapter in this album is devoted to the conquest of the land by Joshua Bin-Nun. Weinstein expropriated this ancient symbolic landscape from the book, and recreated the image using a laborious manual technique of gluing of colored felt and metal wool on wood panels to form a monumental image. By referring to this biblical story, in this specific context, Weinstein connect it to reality – to the current conflict, resulted by the “second” conquest of the land.
According to Weinstein, mythology and reality are two paradigms that are normally perceived as opposites. In the Israeli political climate, though, they are merged, bound together, molten to each other. Some of the Israeli political demagoguery is illuminated by mythological stories. In fact, Israel is a reality fact created by mythological legends that until this day are firmly embedded in daily culture. Right-wing (religious) politicians who support the settlers in the West Bank, for example, are trying to create an overlap between biblical mythology and reality, using archaeological artifacts and sites in order to verify biblical mythological events as if they really happened, as a justification for Israeli national existence. For Weinstein this manipulation is both fascinating and perplexing.
- Regarding the state of war in Israel, how is the Pavilion reflecting it? At a larger scale, how can the “international” spectator relate to it?
To me, it is a very sad, melancholic pavilion. As you could see, the floors, the entire walls – all is covered with mold and dirt, as if the original Bauhaus building that was inaugurated in 1952 – symbolizing the modernist hope for progress for the 4-years-old state of Israel – turned to be a neglected, deserted building from some reason. It is a sad pavilion because this year it’s 50 years of occupation and I think it reflects the current political climate which is getting more and more extreme in the Middle East and all over the world. I like to interpret the entire installation as a melancholic-poetic allegory of the Israeli story: a story that include miraculous acts and moments of enlightenment as well as neglect and destruction, a story vacillating between a megalomaniacal soaring to great heights and a resounding crash.
Located on the top floor of the pavilion, from which one can observe the landscape of Jezreel Valley in the Dark, is the sculptural work of smoke and fire El Al depicting a missile or satellite launch pad. The bursts of fire and smoke made of ethereal wool and Acrilan – the trail left by the soaring missile – is clearly an aggressive expression reflective of the political conflict in the Middle East. A “foreign eye” or as you said “international spectator” might read it broadly as a general expression of military violence and of the destructive potential of human actions anywhere upon the Earth. Nevertheless, the specific location and concreteness of this sculptural image positions this part of the installation as an implicit answer to the series of questions provoked by one’s experience on the lower two levels: What is the nature of the catastrophe that led to the abandonment of this site? Is there a connection between the mold and putrefaction pervading the lower levels and the presence of the missiles on the upper level?
Jazreel Valley – Photo by Illit Azoulay
In a contemporary Israeli context, it’s hard to think of any landscape in Israel without relating it to notions of “belonging”, “ownership”, “boundaries” and “control”. In other words, the landscape cannot be detached from politics, and is always scorched by the fire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and by the internal Israeli debate around it. The concern with landscape imagery in Israel – a country where the earth itself has been appropriated and subjected to conflicting historical narratives and to political, religious, and national goals – is always contaminated by national myths.
For Weinstein, the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be metaphorically read through the distinction between the organic and the artificial, since the core of this conflict revolves around the question of authentic belonging – which of the two peoples is organically rooted in the land, and which is the foreign implant? In this sense, the entire project may be read as a metaphor for this core question, due to its concern with the deceptive vacillation between organic and artificial elements, the real and its simulacra: real mold growing in real time and artificial, cultivated, domesticated mold that was glued to panels and flown from Tel Aviv to Venice, where it takes on the false appearance of real mold.
Moyra Davey, Hemlock Forest (production still), 2016
The Great Balcony, a poetic, symbolic and metaphorical title for the Montreal Biennale, aims not at conveying specific data or of informing its public, but rather at creating an impression on its audience. An impression that will shake and provoke a friction stimulating the viewers’ curiosity. Accepting every medium’s incapacity to exhaustively transmit “reality” or “messages”, the Montreal Biennale prefers to create experiences and to present works of art that stimulate the spectator’s mind and provoke multiple emotions. In order for this to happen, friction is at the centre of the Biennale dialectic, opposite concepts meet and dialogue between one another: empowerment and weakness, fiction and reality, politics and indifference… friction is there to give shape to a particular environment; a microcosm run by inner and very specific laws is created at the Biennale. Friction, the spark that constantly ignites, is the condition to keep things circulating and to spare us from boredom, which according to Pirotte is the most dangerous of all illnesses.
Two anachronic objects embody this “friction” principle: the first, a portrait by Lucas Cranach that is believed to represent the biblical myth of Judith and Holopherne; the second, a gas station designed by the German architect Mies Van der Rohe. The first explores the human condition and desire’s role in our relationships with others, whereas the second relocates materiality and usefulness – a philosophical “programmation” on its own – at the core of artistic concerns. Two major forces in art history reunite in the same space creating connections and bridges between various temporalities: the portrait temporality, the gas station temporality and ours. Thus a cacophony of outspoken cries and whispers from all over the world are displayed, not representing geographical art scenes but bearing witness instead to individual ways of expression across the globe.
At the very beginning of the project, the concept of hedonism was to be explored by artists. As the Biennale evolved, hedonism and its by-products were soon replaced by less optimistic narratives that denounced all the misfortunes and injustices that take place daily in our society. It seems that pleasure and the delights of life haven’t become a fundamental value, as Mr. Pirotte accurately noted hedonism is perhaps too big of a question to be approached and pondered upon at a Biennale. The aesthetics of pain and suffering are examined by a number of artists at the exhibition, seemingly revealing the state of mind of our world. A number of contemporary philosophers agree that our society is constructed under false pretenses, that we live in a constant illusion where the material, capitalist world governs all of our relationships with the outer world and the so called “information economy” distracts and misleads our attention. Moreover, media misinforms and prioritizes certain information. This creates a void between information and what is actually transmitted, for instance, some news are relegated to oblivion and others given too much importance. Who determines that a life is worth grieving for and that others are not? Whoever controls media and our perception, controls the world. The Biennale intends to explore our new condition as displaced people and to highlight the alarming number of people who are “displaced” against their will.
H©– Horizontally-striped Brass and Nickel, 2015 Steel stand, metal grid, powder coating,
casters, nickel plated bells, brass plated bells, metal rings 99 x 83 x 83 cm.
Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York – Photograph: Elisabeth Bernstein
In addition to politics and the aesthetics of resistance, the objects “regime” in the art ecosystem is part of the Biennial rhetoric. During the 20th century, objects took an important part in the multiple avant-garde movements. Artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, amongst others, introduced objects into their works. By doing so they regressed the usage of the capitalist value and transferred them to a work of art feature. The friction between art and capitalism was enhanced and triggered by these “simple” actions. These bygone objects, conceived in the 20th century, have proven to be more difficult to deflect than before. Mr. Pirotte tried to encourage the artists to rethink the relationship we have with objects: the Canadian artist Celia Perrin Sidarous proposes a new photographic installation where she meditates about the connections between sculptural and architectural forms.
The Great Balcony is a Biennale revealing the intricate human psyche that incites spectators and artists alike to revisit history in order to create communicating vessels allowing us to fortunately learn something from the past and to unsettle us.
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