Home is where the art is

The Jerusalem Biennale is back. One of the largest exhibitions of works of visual art in the country will be held, for the fifth time, from November 11 to December 30, with its, at this point, a regular quantitative and qualitatively expansive dissemination of creations and themes.

This edition, also known as JB2021, is called “Four Cubits”, which, in Jewish tradition, refers to a person’s immediate individual environment. As the event’s organizers wisely point out, it is “a concept that resonates with contemporary meaning in these times of a global pandemic.”

That’s a bit of a no-brainer, and JB2021 Founder and Creative Director Rami Ozeri felt it natural to offer artistic approaches to the social distancing and blocking requirements, which have marked and restricted our lifestyles for the last 18 months or more. less. “This year’s Jerusalem Biennale is very different from previous editions where we met in museums, galleries and other public spaces to share the experience of art,” he says.

Ozeri feels that the difficult logistics have raised some fundamental questions about how we appreciate what we have in our own patch. Is it a question of familiarity that generates contempt? Should we think about airing out some of our visual constants and taking a leap of faith by allowing others a chance to see what we’ve been hiding from the world our entire lives? “This year, we ask ourselves: is art part of our private domain?” Ozeri continues. “Do we have significant artwork on the walls of our living room, bedroom, or kitchen? And, if so, what should we do to go one step further and share this art with family, friends, or even strangers? “

That’s a pretty big idea, and one that many of us can resist, especially after getting used to spending so much time indoors, as the limitations of the Ministry of Health kept us at bay. But the feeling is that these are difficult times, and the harsh need to launch into a new level of provision, reflection and dissemination of art.

Koen Vanmechelen thinks we should listen more closely to Mother Nature (credit: Florian Voggeneder)

In fact, Ozeri wasn’t even sure the biennale would take place. “It has been a real roller coaster,” he exclaims, adding that it was not the ministerial edicts of the COVID-19 government that were considered a threat. Surprisingly, it was the opposite. “We announced the biennial, with the theme of Four Cubits, back in December 2020. That was a declaration of intent, talking about looking inward and isolating yourself. Many people told me that I was making a mistake. They said there was 11 months to go to November and by then people would have completely forgotten, that everything would have been behind us. “Illusions.” The coronavirus is not behind us, and I was isolated a couple of times, and we thought we could have to cancel [the biennale]. But here it is, ”he laughs. “It’s actually happening.”

Indeed, it is, and with the benefit of accumulated rich experience, Ozeri has put together an intriguing and diverse program of shows, themes, sub-texts, and events.

In total, JB2021 incorporates works by more than 300 artists from a variety of backgrounds. Naturally, with the aforementioned pandemic guidelines on foreigners entering the country still largely in effect, most of the contributors to the various exposures are local. But there are also items that have been shipped here from the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, the United Emirates, and Argentina. The shows will take place in various historical and cultural places in the capital, as in previous editions and, depending on the theme of the biennial, in a lot of private spaces.

There are three main topics on the seven-week agenda, all presented in a physical and virtual way. The self-explanatory category “TakeMeHome” will be located at the base of the biennale, Shaare Zedek’s century-old building on Jaffa Road. The insular or welcoming domestic spirit informs the nature of the exhibits with more than 100 contemporary artists displaying works of art that, in their opinion, visitors would want to take home to beautify their own domicile.

The organizers aim to enhance the sense that viewers are engaged in artistic events by allowing each member of the public to conclude their rounds of the exhibition by selecting a work that, if given the opportunity, they would like to take home. they adorn their own four walls. At the end of JB2021 there will be a raffle and the winners will be entrusted with the chosen exhibition, in a loan of six months, after which they will have the option to buy the work in question. Sounds like an excellent ruse to get on the biennial train and lead us to creative action.

TakeMeHome offerings will be complemented by some relevant installation-based displays, including exhibitions by silversmith Sari Srulovitch, Brazilian-born multidisciplinary artist Shuli Bornstein Wolf, and famed Belgian conceptual artist Koen Vanmechelen.

THE LATTER is a particular feather in the cap of Ozeri’s biennial roster, as the internationally acclaimed 56-year-old brings a taste of his renowned Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP) to this country.

Vanmechelen has a thing for birds. He began raising chickens at the tender age of five, inspired by his frequent visits to an uncle ornithologist. He became known as an emerging assembly artist in his early twenties, with his early work featuring bird cages.

The Belgian has a strong environmental thread running through his work and feels that his choice of feathered creature, an often maligned creature, can be added, offering humanity a key to some of the fundamentals of life around us. That, for Vanmechelen, also helps unravel a riddle that has stumped humanity since time immemorial. What was the first; the egg or the chicken? “It’s a question I was asked multiple times, of course,” Vanmechelen observes patiently. “Most people think it’s pretty funny, but there’s always a reason this question is so popular.”

He has a unique and surprising take on that. “In my opinion it is not the chicken or the egg, it is the chicken and the egg.” How is that? “I regard the chicken as energy and the egg as mass,” he continues, referring to a certain Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist. “We learn from Einstein that energy is the same as mass. So, if we gather these two entities in a single object, then it is the chicken and the egg ”, he emphasizes.

The enigma of the party piece, Vanmechelen says, reflects a root problem in our own existence that has informed his artistic ethics from the beginning of his creative journey. “That makes a reference to the eternal egg. If you think of the existence of the world, there is the energy, and around the energy you get the shell. That is the existence of the world. So I think this question, the chicken or the egg, is much more important than that. “

For the Belgian, it’s about getting back to basics and not trying to endanger the non-human world around us. “Nature has this kind of information. If you extract information from energy and mass, that’s one part. The other part is human information, how humans translate information from nature. We are never sure if this is the truth or not. ” Shadows of fake news? “We are creating our own world without really counting that nature is actually the truth. This is real “.

The chicken has provided Vanmechelen with a template to examine how human intervention in Mother Nature’s way has impacted our global breathing and living space, and upset the delicate existential balancing act.

That line of thinking is at the core of his Crossquery installation at Shaare Zedek, curated by Stephanie Manasseh. It has also become, albeit unintentionally, a response to the fear factor that has invaded our lives and interpersonal relationships in a post-pandemic world. Instead of retreating to our own comfort zone and isolating ourselves with “our own kind”, Vanmechelen trumpet interacts and mingles with “the other”.

“When I started my Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, I saw that we were so structured in monoculture by creating all these domesticated chickens. This is a whole world of inbreeding. So when I started Cosmopolitan Chicken I said, okay, we probably have to break the inbreeding framework and start to include the world of diversity. ” That is also a practical, survival consideration. “He has a much better future in terms of fertility and immunity.” Immunity sounds like a particularly apt topic to tackle in this dark age.

Hence the global reach of CCP. “By breaking the frame of a chicken that is related to a country, you enter a new world and each time you have something fresh, something new, something that tells you something about real evolution.”

So far, the ongoing transdisciplinary art project has delivered a chicken with DNA baggage from indigenous breeds from around the world, including Belgium, France, the US, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Egypt, Cuba, Italy, Senegal, China, Slovenia and Austria. The exercise has also inspired a host of drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations, some of which will be exhibited in Jerusalem. A local breed of chickens will be in the spotlight here, as two Baladi chickens strut their stuff in a large cage and join the CCP’s proliferation timeline.

Elsewhere on the JB2021 circuit are aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking elements from a variety of disciplines, styles and ethnicities. The Venues section incorporates group exhibitions in different institutions in Jerusalem, connecting architecture, history and art. Venerable venues include HaMiffal, Jerusalem Print Workshop, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Agripas 12 Gallery, Gesher Guest House, and Tower of David Museum. The latter presents the intriguingly called exhibition “Between a Rupture and a Rupture: Jewelry as a Mirror for the Present Period”, curated by contemporary Israeli jeweler Ariel Lavian. The exhibition presents works by 16 contemporary jewelers from Turkey and eight from Israel, who live in different realities, isolated in their own studios, all affected by forced ruptures – confinements – and social alienation.

US-born Andi Arnovitz, from Jerusalem, is featured in the “The House is in the Book” design at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, curated by Emily Bilski. This is another project driven by social distancing, which focuses on a new collaborative book created during the confinement by Arnovitz, Lynne Avadenka from the United States, and Argentine painter Mirta Kupferminc.

The neat acronym PHASEs (Private Homes Art Space Events) is a new model for intimate gatherings around art, developed by the Jerusalem Biennale in response to the limitations of the pandemic. The public will be invited to visit private art spaces for more intimate experiences spanning art, workshops, lectures, and conversations. Each project will be documented throughout the process, resulting in short online videos that hopefully will facilitate a more global conversation about what it means to bring art into the private space.

The PHASEs program features Motta Brim, the Haredi artist who inspired the popular television series Shtisel, speaking, in Hebrew, about his art and upbringing. British artist Ruth Schreiber’s exhibition at Ramban Synagogue looks at contemporary techniques and practices of pregnancy and childbirth, while fellow Jerusalem-born, Jerusalem-born artist Sam Griffin explores her family history and daily quest for holiness. at the Artist’s Studio in Beit Alliance. .


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