- What is landscape’s role in the Pavilion and how is it representative of Israel’s history?
There are three major landscapes in the pavilion: one is the landscape of the Ayalon Valley in Moon over Ayalon Valley and as I explained it is related to the hubris embedded in the biblical miracle. The second landscape located on the intermediate level is the Jezreel Valley, represented in Jezreel Valley in the Dark – a floor installation consisting of puzzle-shaped agricultural plots filled with coffee dregs. The third one is Marble Sun – the marble floor installation, located in the pavilion’s courtyard, representing the Zionist settlement Nahalal (which is located in Jezreel Valley, near Armageddon).
The Jezreel Valley – one of the emblems of the agricultural settlements founded by Zionist pioneers – has acquired the status of a mythological landscape in Israeli collective memory. It is a wide expanse of land located in the north of Israel. Weinstein’s strategy of presenting a bird’s-eye view of the valley echoes the numerous observatories located on the tops of the surrounding mountains, from which generations of Israelis have admired the beauty of the landscape. The decision to represent the valley by dismantling it into the form of a puzzle reflects Weinstein’s ironic take on the shattering of the Zionist dream. Moreover, turning it to a wet, mold-infested puzzle that may even pose a health hazard – is a very strong metaphor for the current state of event in the region.
The third landscape – Marble Sun – refers to Nahalal, the first socialist village established by Eastern-European Jews who immigrated to the country during the first two decades of the 20th century. The design of the village, planned by the architect Richard Kaufman in the form of a circle, reflected a utopian, egalitarian ideology. The outer ring was divided into agricultural plots; the inner ring was designated for the farmers’ shacks; and the center of the circle housed public buildings and the residences of public functionaries. In Israeli mythology, Nahalal is synonymous with Jewish agricultural labor and an authentic, rural lifestyle; paradoxically, it is also viewed as the birthplace of a new Israeli elite. Weinstein’s original work was made of synthetic strips of artificial grass and cheap office carpeting in numerous shades of green, yellow, and brown. Here, the work has been adjusted to the Italian environment: it is composed of Carrara marble and various local stones in a range of grays, browns, and yellowish-beige, whose contrasting hues give off the effect of light radiating out from its center. Weinstein’s representation of this mythological settlement – first out of carpets and then again out of marble, a material associated with memorials and commemoration – raises questions about the birth and death of social and political ideals.
Enlightenment 2017 – video projection – Israeli Pavillon – Photo by Claudio Fanzini – Courtesy of Gal Weinstein
- Moreover, what is nature’s function within the Pavilion?
Decaying nature functions within the pavilion as a powerful metaphor. Weinstein created here a sort of “agricultural laboratory” – an experiment in “mold agriculture” that grows on the black coffee fields of the Jezreel Valley, with spores nourished by the local Venetian organisms in the air. The synthetic carpets used in his earlier version of Jezreel valley, which formed a stunning patchwork in vivid shades of green, yellow, and brown, were replaced here by organic carpets whose palette is dark and murky. The result is an ironic inversion of agricultural processes, as actions related to order, cultivation, and maintenance are replaced by inaction and neglect. The mythological valley associated with the golden age of Zionism, the Israeli brand-name synonymous with the miraculous revival of a barren landscape thanks to the wonders of modern agriculture, was transformed here into Jezreel Valley in the Dark – embedded with post-apocalyptic qualities.
- For the artist, is there any difference between body and architecture? What can the latter reveal about utopia’s role in our society?
For Weinstein, nature or natural phenomena like mold or fire can be conceived as a litmus paper for the transition between sense of control and loss of control. It’s the paradoxical aspect of trying to tame nature and the failure of this attempt; it’s the impulse to make order in a chaotic nature and the built-in inability to do so. Many of his works manifest the self-irony towards the very artistic action of attempting to domesticate and engineer nature. In the Venice project he aimed to blur the boundaries between body and architecture, by trying to create the illusion of organic aspects emerging from the walls, so that the architectural begins to function as a living decaying body. The coating of architectural elements with a roughly textured, fuzzy surface, form an organic link between architectural elements and bodily conditions.
- How’s decoration linked with nostalgia?
Decoration and nostalgia both aim to beautify reality and to organize it in a controlled and tolerable way. Both decoration and nostalgia aim to uproot strident and conformist aspects. In both of them there is an emphasis on ritual repetitive aspects.
Visible beneath the patches of mold in Determined, Durable and Invisible, especially on the right wall, are vestiges of ornamental decoration resembling the remains of fresco, which are reminiscent of the decorative elements in Weinstein’s earlier works. Ornamentation, or what Weinstein prefers to call “decoration,” plays a central element in his work. In his words, “decoration encompasses ornament as well as curtains, wallpaper, posters that double as wallpaper, carpets, parquet floors, porcelain dolls, linoleum, or sloping red roofs (which have no functional purpose in the hot, dry Israeli climate). These materials all serve as different coverings or coatings, each constituting a kind of architectural attire with low self-esteem (‘cheap’ would be a more exact term).”
In my catalogue essay I quoted Weinstein about this affinity between nostalgia and decoration: “Both try to create to beauty vis-à-vis something called ‘reality’: the former by shaping memory, the latter through the design of external space. Nostalgia designs the past, decoration designs the wall. Yet both are facades: The rational for their presence is the need to create something bearable. And just as in design, so in nostalgia: there are simplistic (easily recognizable) ones, and there are more sophisticated ones.”
This link between decoration and nostalgia is manifested in “Sun Stand Still”, where the traces of ornamentation on the entrance floor can be related to the landscapes etched into Israeli consciousness. Both Jezreel Valley in the Dark and Marble Sun explore the idea of nostalgia (the decoration of the past) and the longing for “those good old days.” In this context, the most readily available solution for contending with the tyranny of time and with thoughts about the future appears to be wallowing in the swamp of nostalgia, which is always fed by the past. This cultural obsession with nostalgia is rampant in Israeli society, bespeaking anxiety about a hopeless future.