Archeology of the future

Archeology of the future

 

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.

 

 

 

  1. 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.

 

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

Curiosity killed the cat

Curiosity killed the cat

 

Gal Weinstein is the enfant terrible who played with fire. The rebellious artist is preoccupied with showing the viewer the truth of the material, demonstrating, in the most as-a-matter-of-fact way, images of the unfiltered reality. The “betwixt and between”-ness of Weinstein’s application challenges the distinction between the authentic and the artifice. The artist toys with this visceral tactile desire and beckons the viewer to lick the flame.

Moon Over Ayalon Valley (2017) sets a grandiose tone on the mural of the Israel Pavilion for artist Gal Weinstein’s Sun Stands Still presentation for the 57th Venice Biennale. One cannot shake the Biblical reference of this work and the title of the exhibition under this painterly demonstration. To our surprise, the scrupulous appearance of pointillism is, in fact, achieved by steel wool, a material in which the artist is exceedingly well-versed. Weinstein’s fascination with such materials borrows its origins from the modernist view on object-hood and self-referentiality of an artwork. Steel wool, though in nature not organic, possesses a proximity to human physicality; and owing to this fact, the artist plays with our natural affinity to familiar objects, creating ambiguity and tempting viewers to touch his work.

 

Fire Tire – Photo by Viktor Kolibal

Attraction and disgust, the function of materials in Weinstein’s work is more paradoxical than perhaps Richard Serra’s minimalist considerations. On the one hand, the artist is concerned with demonstrating the true identity of the material, devoid of external interpretations or meanings other than the fact that they are objects. No amount of dye or any other substances influenced the already multicoloured carpets or the industrial look of the MDF used in the works in the exhibition Backwards (2016). However, Weinstein also seeks another direction in his treatment of materials, making an imitation of the original through organic reactions. From the series Looking the Same (2011), the artist experiments with the nature, even denature, of steel wool in its physical response to Diet-Coke and regular Coca-Cola respectively. The reaction is no doubt chemical, but as the steel rusted, the two self-portraits give a fundamentally different physicality in terms of colours and shading.

The artist’s hand is absent in this process. The transformation is apparent due to this singular mutation of the truth of the material in contact with a liquid. This element of imitation of the original is all the more illustrative in Jezreel Valley in the Dark (2017). The mould formation in the coffee dreg re-carpeted the landscape and, in essence, the image of Weinstein’s previous work Jezreel Valley from 2002. The reasoning behind this reiteration is in a way multifold yet, circular. The Jezreel Valley in Israel is revered as one of the most iconic landscape, a symbol of the nation’s agricultural background and often an argument in the ever-present territorial conflict. Weinstein, instead of revisiting the actual location after fifteen years, modelled his new work after the image of an image. This convolution directs the focus not to the symbolism of the land but back to the imitating agent.

However, Weinstein also seeks another direction in his treatment of materials, making an imitation of the original through organic reactions.

To Weinstein, the mould, in itself, as well as its formation beg the question: is its existence organic or has it been applied on? It is the chicken or the egg causality dilemma. “It is an unnatural process because if you think about Israel, the state started from modernism without going through an organic evolution of history.” The artist is not here to make any conclusions just as his purpose of alluding to well-known stories whose core has been manipulated by different parties to fit their political agenda in his presentation during the Biennale.

Jazreel Valley – Photo by Illit Azoulay

 

His art and the process of questioning himself the identity of the material surpass beyond the decortication of symbolic images. “For me it is interesting to take images that is associated with my work and trying to work out an evolution from it because what is symbolic is also dead, it is not living.” Many of his pieces look at Israel as the agricultural motherland or the media-mythed battlefield in a way that transcends references by giving them a new existence in a physical presence. Such is the reason to experience Weinstein’s installations, especially Sun Stand Still, with our somesthetic senses. The whole journey is constructed to work as a pavilion inside a pavilion. The mould raising from the floors and within the walls alongside the playful yet oppressive sculpture El Al (2017) contain the viewer’s activities within the confines of Weinstein’s defined spatial paranoia.

There is a constant push-and-pull struggle in Weinstein’s work. The artist exercises his ambition to control in the conception and the choice of medium yet, becomes completely helpless as the subjects take over his creations. On the flip side, he dominates, once again, in the completion of an exhibition, always taking pieces from the set of a previous work to allow new existence in a new reality as illustrated by the MDF-made, fully functional kitchen in his 2016 Backwards exhibition. Weinstein recognises the futility in deciphering the idea of a symbol, which is why he would rather chase after fire.

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South Africa under the spotlight at the Venice Biennial

South Africa under the spotlight at the Venice Biennial

South Africa - The 57th International Art Exhibition_La Biennale di VeneziaSouth Africa –  The 57th International Art Exhibition_La Biennale di Venezia

 

Two major artists, Candice Breitz and Mohau Modisakeng, are representing South Africa at the 57th edition of the Venice Biennale. Under the direction of Christine Macel, Viva Arte Viva is a celebratory venue highlighting art and artist’s power in our society. 

Nevertheless, rather than praising art and the people making it, the two young creators decided to give the opportunity to immigrants and other minorities to speak about their conditions and the encountered difficulties experienced throughout their journey. Candice Breitz’s short film Love Story is a raw statement where she questions the dehumanisation within our world. Marked by famine, displacement and humanitarian crisis, the 21st century is increasingly obsessed with show business, relegating or even denying to see alarming issues. By using Hollywood actors – Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin -, Breitz reroutes the public’s attention to this field giving a voice to millions of unknown refugees.

On the other hand, Mohau Modisakeng explores South African “male” identity during the post apartheid era. His work delves on the meaning of nation, gender and postcolonialism in the country.

Regardless of Mrs. Macel intention, Breitz and Modisakeng believe in art not so much as a narcissist way of expression but as a political outlet.  

 

Credits
SOUTH AFRICA (Republic of), Candice Breitz and Mohau Modisakeng
57. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte – La Biennale di Venezia, Viva Arte Viva
Photo by: Italo Rondinella
Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia
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Venice Biennial: Viva Arte Viva

Venice Biennial: Viva Arte Viva

Gaggiandre-2015_AVZ9496

The 57th Venice Biennale is about to open its doors in May 13th. With the title, Viva Art Viva curator Christine Macel intends to celebrate artists, their work and life in this year’s edition.

The selection made by Macel was based upon a theme instead of the traditional diagram which divided the event in countries. Of the 120 artists invited, 103 are exhibiting their work for the first time at the Biennial, the organisers are thus encouraging an innovative aesthetic experience. Among the newcomers we find artists such as Kader Attia, Sebastian Diaz Morales, Tibor Hajas, Mai Lara, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa and more. The idea behind the project, as stated by both, curator and the president of the event, M. Paolo Baratta was to celebrate humanism and art’s capacity to liberate the mind.

Taking us on a journey, the 9 pavilions are “like chapters of a book” connecting with each other. The first one, Pavilion of Artists and books delves in the importance of research and productive idleness for an artist. It is during this period of time that artists acquire knowledge and can create new ways of seeing the world. In a tension between purposely inaction, this pavilion aims at demonstrate how artists work and construct environments like workshops or studios to achieve their goals. The next chapter, The Pavilion of joys and fears is an introspective chamber where the artist and the spectator are confronted to negative emotions, feelings of alienation resounding in the political arena. Once again the rise of populism and the fear of the “other”, the stranger is scrutinized through the artist’s prisms.

Miller-Dan

Other pavilion name’s include the pavilion of traditions which analyses the proliferation of religion and of conservative morals; the pavilion of the earth examining ecological utopias and nostalgic futures; the Dionysian pavilion who celebrates the female body and so on. Viva Arte Viva is an organic and living habitat emulating the pulse of time and its mutating nature. It celebratory narratives aims at giving hope, by giving voice to young and lesser known artists, the Biennial design is to include in the contemporary art circuit those struggling to be part of the system.
Viva Arte Viva is a clamour by artists, it goes beyond art and reveres life itself. In dark times, art appears as a possibility giving hope.

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08_RafaEsparza_Install_2017Biennial

Installation view of Rafa Esparza, Figure Ground: Beyond the White Field, 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 17-June 11, 2017. Photograph by Matthew Carasella

 

Initiated in 1932 the Whitney Biennial  “not only reflects but foreshadows the uncertain, bitter, and divided state” of a nation struggling to cope with change. According to curator Christopher Y. Lew., the biennial is thus a barometer measuring and indicating the state of mind of a population facing political deception. 63 artists present pieces mirroring the current feelings and thoughts of a population submerged in an identity crisis where race, immigration and gender are the nexus uniting the whole.

It is impossible not to notice the preponderance of oil painting and form in the biennial. For instance Celeste Dupuy-Spencer canvas Fall with me for a million days portraitures a young man immersed in his laptop, seemingly listening to music gives a snapshot of the American and by extension of the global youth.

 

15_Dupuy-Spencer.C_02.sm

Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Fall with Me for a Million Days (My Sweet Waterfall), 2016.
Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm).
Private collection; courtesy the artist and Mier Gallery, Los Angeles

 

Another example of the amplitude of oil painting is the work made by Aliza Nisenbaum, La Talaverita in which a couple reads The New York Times in what seems to be a living room, surrounded by a Mexican decoration. It seems that the biennial has put an end to a long quarrel between abstract painting – associated with abstract expressionism – and form – associated with rather European painters such as Francis Bacon.

 

10_Nisebnaum.A_01sm

Aliza Nisenbaum, La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times, 2016.
Oil on linen, 68 x 88 in. (172.7 x 223.5 cm).
Collection of the artist; courtesy T293 Gallery, Rome and Mary Mary, Glasgow

The selection of artists and artworks alike, done before the election, shows a positive feeling.

Video’s presence reinforces its importance and its role as a political predilected vehicle. Eric Baudelaire oeuvre titled Also known as Jihad uses landscape theory to portray the fate of a young Islamic State recruit. Puerto Rican artist Beatriz Santiago Munoz filmed in Haiti the disrupting consequences of colonialism and its ecosystem. Giving another perspective of the possibilities of video, Mary Helena Clark videos experiment with sound and image taking the audience to new image horizons, creating unusual ecosystems.

The selection of artists and artworks alike, done before the election, shows a positive feeling. Some of the presented works like the installation created by Rafa Esparza, a rotonde made with “adobe” emphasise on the artist’s origins. His construction not only highlights his family background but challenges the white cube space narratives.

Despite the scandals and recent protests, the biennial succeeds at giving the spectators a wide and very complete panorama of the American condition.

 

29_Yi.A_02
Anicka Yi, still from The Flavor Genome, 2016. 3D high-definition video, color, sound; 22 min.
Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist and 47 Canal, New York

 

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