The venues themselves were chosen in order to enhance the intersection between Judaism and contemporary art. Visitors can attend any of the venues around the city center of Jerusalem. The exhibitions will begin at the Tower of David, which has a fascinating history in and of itself. Through many rules of the city over thousands of years, it was this area in the Old City that would need to be conquered in order to take rule of the city of Jerusalem. Other venues include Van Leer’s Polonky Research Institution, the North Africa Jewish Heritage Center, Hechal Shlomo Museum, Achim Hasid Center on Emek Rephai’m Street, the First Train Station of Jerusalem and more. Each of the venues are intended to create dialogue between the remains of Jewish history and the future of Jewish life. The artists bring their own ideas to the sites, and visitors to the Biennale are encouraged to think about their own identity in the context of Jewish history and Jewish life around Jerusalem.
Grapple with Jewish Identities
Graphic designer Dov Abramson presents his piece, “Kav 70” (“Line 70”) which presents a conceptual map of Jerusalem by dividing it into equal-sized cells that contain graphic representations of photographs he took walking around each part of Jerusalem. He maintains that ‘dividing Jerusalem is risky business,’ but risk is critical to dialogue with Judaism through art. Abramson himself left the way of the Orthodoxy in which he grew up and through his art, grapples with his Jewish identity.
Witness the Transformation of Contemporary Art
Founding director of the Biennale, Rami Ozeri, claims that the art world is changing before our eyes. Contemporary art is moving towards movement, video, performance, and action art over static art. This occurs as many groups are reclaiming the title “Jewish”—another transformation that trends towards movement. Ozeri highlights that Jewish ceremonies are movement and action-focused. Take, for example, Jewish davening (praying), which largely relies on body movements backwards and forwards and therefore trends toward movement much like contemporary art. This makes the intersection between Jewish art and contemporary art even more relevant.
This year’s Biennale features a red and a white wine specifically designed for the Biennale. Visitors will be able to taste them at the opening events. There’s nothing better than viewing amazing and thought-provoking artworks over a glass or two of wine.
Understand How Non-Jews And Non-Israelis Understand Judaism
Last Biennale featured 60 artists, 50 of whom were Israeli. But alas, this exhibition is about Jewish contemporary art, not Israeli contemporary art. As such, the director has worked tirelessly to bring non-Israeli and even non-Jewish artists to the festival. This year, 50% of the participating artists come from abroad. The non-Jewish artists add the necessary and relevant dialogue between Jewish and non-Jewish worlds by engaging in dialogue about Jewish content. For example, Brazilian artist Pablo Lobato portrays Israel’s complexities through his installation of still images of soldiers at ease. The piece, entitled “Distracted We Stand” brings a compelling view of what non-Jewish artists choose to look at when examining the Jewish State.
Learn More About Jewish Content Through Art
In an age of Jewish renewal, many people want to learn more about Jewish content, reclaim, or explore their own Jewish identity. In Ynin Shillo’s video art compositions, the Mount of Olives Cemetery is explored, with various seasons, lighting, human events, and sounds. In one piece, a layered still image is displayed with a timer that constantly reaches 59:00 minutes and then loops back to 0:00. The piece is intended to portray the Jewish people waiting for Messiah but the refusal of G-d to fulfill to the prophecy—at least so far. In another of his pieces, Shillo tapes a group of Hassidic men praying at a grave site on the Mount of Olives, who are portrayed as actors entering G-d’s stage and are seemingly quite aware of them being watched by G-d, but not by Shillo. The contrast between the dead and the living in Shillo’s work displays one of the most central themes in Judaism.
The Floating Dress
If you have been near the Old City recently, chances are that you have seen the beautiful white wedding dress floating above The Tower of David. If you view the surroundings of the dress as a wedding, you might see the dress as marrying the tower. In this installation, artist Motti Mizrahi created a five-meter-high white wedding dress that will be set free into the sky over the Old City of Jerusalem on the last day of the Biennale. The dress itself was Mizrahi’s conceptual idea, but an Arab artist’s creation, who worked together with Israeli models to make the conceptual dress a reality.
The Submerged Dress
Another beautiful dress is showcased by Israeli video artist Sigalit Landau, who features a photographical series of the transformation of a dress that she submerged underneath the Dead Sea for five months. The transformation of the black dress is portrayed as it is encrusted with salt crystals. The dress itself is iconic—it was worn by Lea, the main character in Hadibbuk, which is the most popular play in Israel. The color white has Kabbalistic meaning that can shed light on the artist’s intent and statement—make sure to ask the docent about this to learn more.
When asked what advice he has for Millennials who visit the exhibitions, featured artist Motti Mizrahi suggests, ‘Have the ability to be a little bit young, a little bit stupid, and a little bit Jewish. Find yourself in your people.’ It is difficult not to find yourself in your people at the Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art. At the venues, you truly feel the past. You feel part of something, a dialogue between the old and the new, that creates meaning for visitors. Not only do the sites and art impact us, but by bringing our own art and ideas here, we are also imbuing the sites that have existed for thousands of years with new meaning.
By Eliana Rudee
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the new “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. She was published in USA Today and Forbes after writing about her experiences in Israel last summer. Follow her Aliyah blog at JNS.org, on Facebook, and Instagram.