Tarnishing History Through Matter:

Sun Stand Still at the Israeli Pavilion in Venice

ABSTRACT

In 1946, two years prior to the founding of Israel, an initial query about the construction of an Israeli Pavilion was submitted to the mayor of Venice. Five years later, Zeev Rechter was appointed as the architect for the Biennale project. Built in a style characterizing pre-State construction in Israel and completed in 1952, the Pavilion and its architecture played an important and symbolic role in the construction of national identity at a time when the “newly founded Israeli state faced the challenge of uniting its heterogeneous population into a national community.” The Pavilion was to represent Israel on an international platform, and Rechter’s Modernist design reflected the state’s longing to promote the country as part of the West.

 

Over the years, several artists representing Israel at the Venice Biennale have transformed the Pavilion through architectural interventions. Most recently, Gal Weinstein visibly ‘aged’ the Pavilion by growing layers of mold on the walls and floors of the space in his 2017 exhibition Sun Stand Still. This paper takes the exhibition as a case study examining how Weinstein uses materiality and installations disrupting the Modernist architecture and functionalist aesthetic of the Pavilion as a means of critiquing how the nation forged its image on a global stage, while simultaneously reflecting on the current state of the country. I argue that the centerpiece of the exhibition—an installation of molding growths spread throughout the building which actively age and decay the interior of the structure—serves as an allegory for the nation, his manipulation of the interior of the Pavilion functioning as a metaphorical critique of the state.

Presented at the 34th Annual Meeting of the Association for Israel Studies, "Israel at 70: Challenges and Opportunities," University of California, Berkeley, CA

 June 25-27, 2018

This panel was organized by Luna Goldberg in collaboration with Rocco Giansante.

Framing Israel Through the Arts: Representations of the Nation from Within and Without

Chair: Phillip Hollander, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Luna Goldberg, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Tarnishing History Through Matter: Gal Weinstein’s Sun Stand Still at the Israeli Pavilion in Venice

Rocco Giansante, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Imagined Israel: Claude Lanzmann and Susan Sontag Film the Jewish State

Noam Gil, Tel Aviv University

21st Century Jewish American Literature and the State of Israel: A New Chapter

Dina Roginsky, Yale University

Dual Representation: Israeli and Jewish-American Discourse on National Performance

 

PANEL DESCRIPTION

The image of Israel on the global stage is the product of the intersection between what it projects and what is projected onto it. While the state creates positive images in order to influence public opinion and promote its agenda, and private actors might also publish critical representations of the nation, the non-Israeli uses Israel as a screen on which an imagined country is projected. This is the case of the Jewish Diaspora whose relation with Israel is charged with elements strictly connected to its internal dynamics, as well as that of those not connected to the Jewish state, whose perceptions are greatly shaped by the international spotlight on the nation and the conflicts within it.

 

The arts have long served the purpose of representing a nation, generating symbols of national identity embodying a nation’s lasting values while fostering a sense of collective memory. In today’s globalized world, the arts further function as a means of critical self reflection on the nation, contemporary culture and politics.

 

The objective of our panel is to present these two “modes of representation” — Israel’s self image and the Israel from outside — and elaborate on how these two discourses, at times diverging, can be integrated and promote a conversation on Israel that can better serve the reality on the ground. Using the creative arts as a frame, this panel will examine the projected image of Israel abroad as well as the gaze of the foreigner on the Jewish state, through reflections on exported cultural products, recent state-sponsored exhibitions in transnational art fairs such as the Venice Biennale, contemporary cinema and Jewish American literature.

Luna 
Goldberg