By Adam Abrams/JNS.org
The 3rd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art will run from Oct. 1-Nov. 16 in Israel’s capital, featuring work from more than 200 Israeli and international artists who have creatively addressed a diverse array of Jewish content.
Since debuting in 2013, the Jerusalem Biennale has aimed to introduce a diverse audience to modern Jewish art and artists. This year’s event explores the theme of “watershed” from various angles, such as Jewish identity, history, immigration and refugees.
The biennale’s founder, Jerusalem native Rami Ozeri, spent two years at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design studying how to channel Jewish elements into his work. During a trip to Germany in 2010, Ozeri discovered the Berlin Biennale and was inspired to bring a similar event to Jerusalem.
This year’s biennale is an upgrade from previous years due to the quality of the exhibitions as well as “how international the biennale really is,” Ozeri told JNS.org. In 2013, the festival “had around 60 participating artists, and only 10 of them were from outside Israel,” he said. This year’s group of 200-plus artists contained roughly equal percentages of Israeli and foreign-born participants, with the global presence coming from the U.S., South America, Europe, Russia and India.
“This [international representation] will give us more interpretations of what contemporary Jewish art can be,” said Ozeri.
The biennale organizer described the event’s exhibits at the Old City of Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum, including Lili Almog’s “The Space Within,” which he said explores “the presence or the non-presence of the female body in public space.”
The artist, Ozeri explained, takes this theme to an extreme by covering female figures in fabric “from head to toe” and placing them in different surroundings in the public domain. The images created utilizing this technique appear to show a silhouette in the shape of a covered woman, creating a barrier in the urban landscape and raising the question, “What does it mean to have the female body absent from the public sphere?”
The other biennale exhibit featured at the Tower of David, “Alternative Topography” by Israeli architect-artist Avner Sher, examines tension between the permanent and the ephemeral in the spiritual and urban geography of Jerusalem.
Sher, the son of a Holocaust survivor, told JNS.org that when his father learned Sher wanted to study art at the Bezalel Academy, “it was terrible for him because he did not see it as a practical way of life.”
“[My father] forced me to learn at the Technion (Israel’s technology institute in Haifa) and I became an architect,” he said. “[But] when I [became] an architect I went to learn art, so I have worn both hats for many years.”
Sher said throughout his life, he felt he should be an artist and not an architect, but now he works “with both things very well.”
Regarding his creative process, the artist expressed his deep interest in the relationship between destruction and reconstruction, and attributed his technique of “scratching and burning” cork to his fascination with the opposing processes.
“[It] is a very interesting method for creating chaos,” he said. “The process has a strong connection with the cork itself, which does not even burn in a forest fire.”
Sher explained that once every nine years, when a cork oak is harvested, “the tree is cut down…its bark is harvested for the cork, but the tree is still alive. I thought this process is quite similar to us, the Jewish people, who have been through so many traumas, but we are still alive.”
“What I’m doing is scratching, burning and making total chaos on this piece of material and then trying to build a new world,” said Sher, who has been working with his scratching-and-scorching process for about 15 years.
Using this technique, Sher created his 2017 biennale exhibition, which features a series of maps and images on cork—all involving the Old City of Jerusalem—and depicting the various energies and conflicts that have inhabited the area during the course of millennia.
Sher’s exhibition also uses his architectural expertise. The artist constructed an exhibition space that doubles as a sukkah, made entirely from wood and cork, atop one of the walls of the Tower of David Museum. The structure, he said, features “a wonderful view into the Old City and new city of Jerusalem.”
“The exterior walls of the sukkah are covered with drawings,” Sher said, “and inside the sukkah, there are many written notes in various languages with requests for God, like [the notes] people place in the Western Wall.”