The Israeli Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale presents itself as an allegory of all things (both good and bad) Israeli. It is a self deprecating attempt that in its narrative unfold the idea of war as something… bad. Of course, by including the bad, artist Gal Weinstein and curator Tami Katz-Freiman embrace that very politically correct self deprecation that has characterised this Biennale so far and to be honest is tedious. I know that war is bad, thank you very much and I don’t need Israel, of all nations, to say that to me.
‘Sun Stand Still’ is a site-specific installation by Gal Weinstein which, according to curator Katz-Freiman aims at ‘exploring the human desire to stop time. Reflecting a fascination with actual and potential forms of creation and destruction, progress and devastation. This project critically engages with the mythological and Romantic images embedded in Israel’s collective memory’. The installation’s title refers to the biblical miracle performed by the ancient Israelite leader Joshua Bin-Nun, who sought to win his battle against the kings of Canaan before darkness fell by commanding the sun to stop in its course.
The Pavilion extends on three levels and the courtyard and consists of six individual works: a recreation of a moldy and decaying floor and walls and a monumental landscape made of metal wool and felt, located on the pavilion’s ground level; a floor installation consisting of puzzle shaped agricultural plots filled with coffee dregs, located on the intermediate level, a rather spectacular sculptural world depicting a missile launch and a mable floor installation located in the courtyard. Thus, inside the building we see Israel’s present (Palestinian?) and outside of it, in the courtyard, we see the collectivistic ‘utopia’ of socialist agriculture.
Upon arrival the visitor immerses in a ‘rottening’ space. Mold is the material of choice for Weinstein’s installation and it can be felt while walking on a carpet of something that is organic but does not feel right. The messages is that something went wrong in that space. As original as this might seem, this has surprisingly been the material of choice of at least five Pavilions and I believe this deserves a commentary because it is as if artists try to appropriate time as a Duchampian ready made. Although there was a time when painting was assessed through the ability to transform a freezing moment into a variety of temporalities, here ‘mold’ is transformed into ‘time’. Not good.
What I liked about this site specific is, again, the relationship between the decomposition and, in this case, Bauhaus. I am saying this because Weinstein transforms the pavilion’s modernist Bauhaus interior into a sensual environment. The mold works in opposition to the transparent hygiene of the architecture. The curator believes it necessary to inform us that ‘by means of a laborious manual process, Weinstein transforms it–both physically and metaphorically- into an abandoned site’. The problem with this is that nothing seems more current than mold in this year’s Biennale. From this point of view, far from nostalgic, the whole experiment looks very fashionable. This is why when one passes to the second floor and goes round the spectacular cotton-made explotion which includes a missile launch, the whole projects makes it feel that Israel, this year, tried too hard to please everybody and what it worse, to make it far too clear. To add insult to injury, the courtyard has a mosaic representing collectivist architecture as if war is bad and socialism is good. I think this time I will stay on the cornice. J A T