Manofim Festival Celebrates 10th Edition in Jerusalem

Manofim Festival Celebrates 10th Edition in Jerusalem

Launching the exhibition season in Jerusalem, Manofim Festival kicks off on October 23rd and runs for a period of 5 days until the 27th. This independent initiative run by Rinat Edelstein and Lee He Shulov is currently celebrating its 10th year, and will be showcasing a multiple array of events including exhibitions, performances, music events, film screenings, tours, conferences, parties, and workshops to name a few. Each evening the festival will move to a different part of Jerusalem, bringing art to unconventional places, ultimately reaching a broad audience boasting an all inclusive attitude by being open to the public and free of charge. Free shuttle buses transport visitors between locations during the vernissage. Celebrating the capital’s thriving culture, the festival acts as the flagship event of Jerusalem’s contemporary art scene.

 

 The Floating Life (2017), Ran Slavin at Manofim Festival in Jerusalem

The Floating Life (2017), Ran Slavin

 

By encouraging new creations, the festival generates a discourse and dialogue between artists and facilitates the accessibility of culture and art to residents and visitors, connecting the Eastern and Western sides of the city through art. The aim being to expose the contemporary art scene in Jerusalem to diverse crowds, as well as strengthen and empower Jerusalem’s artists. The festival is made possible with the support of Beracha Foundation, the Ministry of Culture and Sport, Jerusalem Municipality, Jerusalem Foundation, Mifal HaPais Council for Culture and Arts, Eden, and Manofim Friends Association. The project partners include all the contemporary art venues in Jerusalem, independent artist groups, culture institutions and artists from various disciplines.

 

‘Properties’: Exploring the Cultural Significance of Talbiya Neighbourhood

The main exhibition of the 2018 Manofim Festival entitled ‘Properties’ will take place in Talbiya neighborhood, located in the heart of Jerusalem on the edge of the city center. A green and leafy suburb, it also consists of many layers that store diverse historical narratives. It was established in the 19th century by wealthy Palestinian Arab Christians, reaching it’s architectural peak in the 1920’s. To this day Arab villas still stand, acting as a mark of historical significance. After the war in 1948, Palestinian residents that occupied the neighbourhood forcefully fled, and in due course, was populated mostly by Israeli Jews. Today its residents consist of mainly professionals, academics, diplomats, and government officials. It is also home to an unusual assortment of institutions that coexist in the same space including the President’s Residence, Prime Minister’s Residence, as well as various research and cultural institutions.

Newer Jerusalem and suburbs Talbieh, a Christian Arab community. Unknown Photographer, approx 1920-1933 at Manofim Festival in Jerusalem

Newer Jerusalem and suburbs Talbieh, a Christian Arab community. Unknown Photographer, approx 1920-1933 © American Colony collection

The exhibition aims to spotlight this diversity of the neighbourhood, held in various spaces – both public and private – creating a dialogue surrounding the contradictions that are present. Through various art actions, the exhibition will introduce critical questions that call for a reexamination of this exceptional, multi-faceted space whose residents may have come to see it as mundane and banal.

 

Manofim : Homage to Anna Ticho

Lifescape: The Work of Anna Ticho (b.1894 – 1980) presented at Ticho House, focuses on the depth and breadth of the artists work covering 70 years of her artistic endeavour. It showcases the range and richness of her oeuvre including early watercolour works from her days as a young girl in Vienna to her final works. The exhibition is complemented by the debut of Dorian Gottlieb’s new video, which acts as a homage as well as contemporary response to Ticho’s drawings of the historically significant Jerusalem hills. Anna Ticho: Rhythms in Landscape, another exhibition presented by The Jerusalem Print Workshop in collaboration with the Israeli Museum, highlights the artists landscape etchings, some of which were created at the workshop in the 70’s.

Judean Hills (1972), Charcoal on paper 100x70 cm, Anna Ticho at Manofim Festival in Jerusalem

Judean Hills (1972), Charcoal on paper 100x70 cm, Anna Ticho © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

 

Themes of Displacement and Global Warming

Maries Gallery presents Plastik Arts, focussing on the dilemma surrounding the threatening impact of plastic on our environment, and the ghostly presence and ultimate worsening of global warming through over consumption. It explores the vast range of polymeric materials and products that are used in everyday life, and for the rest of our lives, exploring the impending fate of Earth. The exhibition offers an artistic and philosophical meditation on the gap between the “magic of synthetic ease” and the weight of its price. The group exhibition features the likes of artists Riva Pinski Awadish, Yoel Gilon, Alon Even Paz, Smadar Tsook and Hadar Amit amongst others.

‘Homes’ by Niv Rozenberg, an exhibition presented by The Photographic Communications Department at Hadassah Academic College, explores the body of work created by the artist between 2000 and 2018 – where he was inspired by changes in the urban landscape in which he was surrounded – namely New York and Tel Aviv. Taking a closer look by examining this familiar yet unknown environment with a conflicted gaze, his manipulated images create an aesthetic that shifts between photography, architecture, and graphic design with an emphasis on colour, shape, space, and time. It also underscores themes of displacement that are so prevalent in our current society regarding the conflict of war leading to the separation of people from their families, as well as their homeland.

 

Rina Nikova in a Contemporary Context

Rina Nikova (b.1897 – 1973), a pioneer of classical and biblical ballet in Palestine, will be celebrated at Hacubia gallery. She founded the Yemenite Dance Ensemble, engaged in ethnic and biblical choreography, and explored the link between dance and the land. A solo performance by dancer Shira Eviatar in collaboration with Eviatar Said, will be held at the exhibition. This visual story delineates a personal Yemenite cultural landscape: movements, dances, rhythms, gestures, values, and patterns of thought and communication that altogether compose a language practiced inside the home. When this language entered the public space, it was identified and labeled as “other.” On stage, Said, an immigrant in his own home, unravels and re-links physical memories of the past, bodies of knowledge, sensations and emotions, as he celebrates his existence as an independent body in the present.

Rina Nikova, prima ballerina, in Swan Lake,The Palestine Opera,1925-1928, Photographer Zvi Oron at Manofim Festival in Jerusalem

Rina Nikova, prima ballerina, in Swan Lake,The Palestine Opera,1925-1928, Photographer Zvi Oron © Courtesy of the Zionist Archives, Jerusalem

 

ARTIS, a place to call home

ARTIS, a place to call home

Artis, founded in 2004, is an independent non-profit organisation based in New York aiming to create a vast offsite network accessible to Israeli artists to penetrate the global art circuit. Its comprehensive programmes inspire reflection and debate on our shared artistic, cultural and political discourse. Its conception and success see a shift in the quintessential recognised major art centres to highlight the talent and production in the ‘periphery’.

As a strategy to localise sales, in 2004, Sotheby’s Israeli Art auctions was moved from Tel Aviv to New York. Rivka Saker, an avid philanthropist, collector and the person responsible for opening up the Sotheby’s office in Israel, recognising the swift advancement in the art scene on a global scale, estimates the possibility of Israel and its artistic production to be left behind. Like a boat sailing against the current, instead of getting swept away by torrential waves, the Artis initiative was born, independent to the activities at Sotheby’s, as a week-worth of events promoting Israeli Art as well as a magazine distributed to Sotheby’s 17,000 collectors. The results concluded with an impressive success as an unmissable happening during the Armory Show that March.

As the non-profit organisation set camps in New York, the activities provided by Artis later branched out into a multitude of engagements within Israel, in New York and in Los Angeles. From doing grant-making exhibitions outside of Israel, hosting specific career development workshops in collaboration with the Israel-based organisation Artport and the New York-based non-profit Asylum Arts to curating a special section on the Artis webpage with artists’ video profiles, the organisation supports all its artist-oriented activities through participating in art fairs, making art sales with limited editions on its online store, hosting trips for collectors, and raising funds through its board and other foundations.

Now with an annual budget of approximately US $700,000 to $1 million, they are grateful for the generous donation made by an anonymous donor three years ago. With that particular funds, Artis created its Project Grants programme for Israeli artists to develop their work in the amount up to US $10,000. The selection process takes into consideration the proposal presentation, the feasibility of the budget and the timeline, and more notably, the jury at Artis, which are composed of alumni from Artis’ signature research trips who are experts and professionals in the international art world, look for unique characters and tenacity in the artist-applicants. “The artists need to have their artwork established to some degree in the art world in Israel or beyond,” says Yael Reinharz, Executive Director of Artis. “We are looking for artists who can compete and succeed internationally. We are looking for a balance in diversity in terms of gender, religion, practice, and so on. We are looking for artists who are in dialogue with the international art discourse, whose practice is au courant.”

“We are looking for artists who can compete and succeed internationally.”

Hill Ben Ari, a multidisciplinary artist based in Tel Aviv, is one of the Artis’ 2016 Project Grantees. Her awarded project Rethinking Broken Lines, which was exhibited at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, is a large-scale video installation looking at the duality of endurance and ephemerality of the human body through a dialogue with the oeuvre of the celebrated Israeli choreographer Heda Oren. The project as well as the exhibition have captured much media attention, one of the top benefits from getting the Artis stamp of approval and endorsement. In addition to that, these activities and awardees are included in the Artis newsletters, which has over 10,000 subscribers. Not only is the public visibility advantageous to the artists, but the exposure to Artis’ prized jury members is an even more desirable opportunity.

The Artis Research Trips to Israel has been running for the past decade. The alumni of this programmes are boasted experts in the art world. “The goal of the research trips is to look at the people who have some kind of influence within the art world, some kind of ability to create projects, writings, to galvanise opportunities for artists.” Reinharz affirms that Artis facilitates debates and conversations to develop a mutual interest in contemporary art within Israel and beyond. “It is about learning and we are happy with that as a basic level.” While there is no obligation to produce any kind of collaborations or work with individuals or institutions after the trips, many participants, due to their genuine interest and their openness to experience, have decided to stay behind in Israel. “It is a long-term game and it is all about relationship. That is why having a base in New York or doing activities in Los Angeles is really important.”

Reinharz remembers many testimonies after following Artis to Israel where people come out with more questions than answers. “In many cases, there are a lot of contradictions, which can in some ways be boiled down to the difference between making individual relationships and connections and looking at a larger political situation. Often, these things do not match.” These are the intrigue and originality one cannot find in the established metropolitans of the art world. The thirteen-year-long presence of Artis is, of course, encouraging as, globally, we start to look at the offerings in countries we used to call ‘peripheries’ like Israel. Yet, according to Reinharz, “the landscape in Israel is that there are not many sources for funding. I think it is still a challenging pursuit being an artist working outside of a major art centre.” It seems there is still much more to be discovered in Israel’s mine of jewelled contemporary art.

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Narcissus’ Reflection

Narcissus’ Reflection

Piercing eyes, still as a lake, printed on the glossy images by photographer Adi Nes entice viewers to peel off these well-crafted veneers and reveal an autobiographical search of identity and the reason of a nation. With his art, Nes is the master storyteller. Yet, his career seems to hit its critical juncture only now after a five-year hiatus since Nes’ last series The Village in 2012. Like something is brewing and about to begin.

Adi Nes’ iconic image, Untitled (The Last Supper), from the photographer’s Soldiers series produced in 1999 once graced the front page of the New York Times, not only represents a high point in his artistic career, but also summarises many of his ideologies of what we should consider now as Nes’ first period of work. The reason to the previous assertion is the photographer’s motivation to depart from his archetypal staged photographs into researching the crux of the photographic medium, the raison d’être of propagating images. “I feel that photography has changed from the roots – how an image starts.”

Adi Nes- Soldiers

Untitled, 1999, from the serie “Soldiers” – 90 x 90 cm & 140 x 140 cm. © Courtesy of the Artist.

Flipping back the pages to the day when Nes registered for courses at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem after serving in the army and has mistakenly checked the box for the Photography department, his method of drawing out sketches and storyboarding prior to shooting was unusual in the late 80’s in Israel. Nes’ dramatic style and audacity are drawn from his experience working in the television and cinema industry as well as from Postmodernist figures from North America like Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. In Guy Debord’s definition of life being “presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles”, Nes bases his photography heavily on introspection, or rather his association with his world, his reality and his people.

“I deal with homoeroticism and masculinity because I’m gay; with Israeliness because I’m an Israeli. Because I’ve grown up in the periphery, I deal with the gap between the centre and the boundary; because my parents immigrated from Iran, I deal with ethnic issues and minority groups; because I’m an artist, I pay tribute to classical art; because I’m Jewish, I deal with Judaism.” Underneath the parallelism drawn from staged actors posing as contemporary homeless people and the moment before the Binding of Isaac in Untitled (Abraham & Isaac) (2004) or the tribute to Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse (1906) and its allusion to the mythological beast Pegasus in Untitled (2008) from The Village series, Nes wishes to relate the viewers on an exceedingly intimate level.

Adi Nes - Biblical Abraham & Isaac

Untitled (Abraham & Isaac) 2004, from the serie “Biblical Stories” – 100 x 100 cm & 140 x 140 cm. © Courtesy of the Artist.

The elicited ambiguity in Nes’ images, which is also the reason to their unyielding fascination, often obfuscates the truth of its message that oscillates between its commanding visual language with its dark tones and contrasts, the allegorical stories,  the alluded drama and the underlying tensed atmosphere, and Nes’ concept in discussing identity. This collection of images by Nes is almost a by-product of the photographer’s state of mind and worldview during that specific period. His desire to piece together his inner identity struggles while living in and telling stories of “a young nation that started from a dream” and having his ideals shaped by Hebrew, an ancient and colourful language whose modern usage can still be considered to be in its infancy.

Nes bases his photography heavily on introspection, or rather his association with his world, his reality and his people.

It is not illogical to analyse that everything which has been created until now in Nes’ career is a long exposition to his story and of what is brewing up in his ongoing research. Upon the completion of the series The Village in 2012, Nes participated in a project at the science faculty at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Alongside scientists, the photographer delved into how the core of matters remains as materials fall apart. “I thought to create a project that follows the way of how I feel about contemporary life. My body, at the age of 51, starts to break apart but my identity is always there.” Far different from his situation during his creative proliferation, Nes finds himself leading a comfortable life. Yet, conflict ensues. “I’ve got to a place where I can feel that everything is settled down and suddenly, it starts to all break apart again.” This crisis in his identity as an artist solicits him to look for new expressions, new colours, new textures, and new ways of thinking.

Like when a star collapses, its nebular energy might birth another solar system. Nes is currently taking on a trepidatious task to rejuvenate his photographic discipline by incorporating motion in juxtaposition with still photographs. However, the results may not come for another couple of years.

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5 artists from our “Contemporary Art in Israel” issue

5 artists from our “Contemporary Art in Israel” issue

Shai Kremer

Shai Kremer is an Israeli artist born in 1974. He studied at the Camera Obscura School of Arts in Tel Aviv where he obtained his M.A, later on going to the School of Visual Arts in New York where he obtained his Masters of Fine Arts. His artistic practice spans from landscape photography to more experimental creations such as his series Perception. His work was exhibited in reputable art fairs like Art Basel Miami, Art Chicago, Les Rencontres d’Arles, Paris Photo, The Armory Show, Tseva Tari and more. His work has been nominated to numerous prizes such as the BMW Paris Photo Prize, the Henri Cartier Bresson Award, the HSBC Photography prize, and has won the Photo Folio Review Prize at les Rencontres d’Arles. Furthermore, his works are in prestigious collections like in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Art collection, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Tel Aviv Museum collection, the Musée de la Roche-sur-Yon collection and more.

Atomic Mushroom, 2017

Raida Adon

Raida Adon’s work explores women’s condition and concepts such as belonging, border and the limitations of the body. In her videos she recurs to the colour red and black embodying death and femininity. She was born in Acre, Israel in 1972 and assisted the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Her first exhibition was in 1996 at the Artists House in Tel Aviv. Aside from her artistic career, Adon is also an actress working for television, theater and the film industry. In 2008, she won the Minister of Culture and Education Prize for Palestinian Art and in 2011 the Minister of Education Prize for most prominent Israeli Artist.

Michel Na’aman

Artist Michal Na’aman was born in 1951 at the Kvutzat Kinneret in Israel. Her oeuvre, often described as pertaining to conceptual art, delve in issues such as language and gender. She studied at the art College of Ramat Hasharon and later obtained her Bachelor of Arts at the Tel Aviv University. Her first solo exhibition was called “Vai Hai Oh” at the Yodfat Gallery in Tel Aviv in 1975. She continued to showcase her work all over the world in countries such as the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, England, Italy, and more. She has won several prices and scholarships such as the Meir Dizengoff Prize for Painting and Sculpture in 1998, the Jacques and Eugenie O’Hana Prize for a Young Israeli Artist in 1981, the Sandberg Prize for Israeli Art in 2002, the Israeli Prize in the field of visual arts in 2014 and many others. Her work is in museum collections like the Tel Aviv Museum and the Israel Museum among other private collections. Since 2005, she is associate professor at the Midrasha Art School of Art in Kalmania.

Death of the Savior has Arrived, 2006, oil and masking tape on canvas, 130 x 100 cm.

Tanya Preminger

Tanya Preminger is a Russian artist living and teaching in Israel since 1972. She studied at the Surikov Academy Arts where she obtained her M.A in Sculpture. Her grandiose sculptures can be ascribed as land art as they engage organic materials and are to be found on the outdoors. She has participated in numerous residencies like at the Houston University residency program in the United States (2002), the residency program at the Pedvale Art Museum in Latvia (2009) or the Artis Grant for the Setuchi Triennale in Japan among others. Her work has been displayed in numerous international exhibitions in countries such as Argentina, Japan, South Korea, Italy, China, Russia and more.

Death of the Savior has Arrived, 2006, oil and masking tape on canvas, 130 x 100 cm.

Fatma Shanan Dery

Fatma Shanan Dery’s oeuvre focuses on realistic, large scale paintings where she depicts the village of Dreuze in Israel. Born in 1986, she studied at the Oranim College in Israel and with the artist Eli Shamir. She participated in numerous residency programs such as the Home Base Project in Jerusalem in 2014, the ArtPort residency in 2016 and the Peleh Fund Residency in California in 2017. In 2013 she won the Pais Culture Council Grant for her solo exhibition “a single Continuum”, the Artis project grant in 2016, the Haim Shiff Prize for Figurative-Realist art given by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2016 and more. Among other collection, her work pertains to the Israel Museum collection, the Luna Art Fund in Tel Aviv and New York, the Rivka Saker and Uri Zucker collection and others.

Untitled, 2017, oil on canvas, 66 x 100 cm

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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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