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Israel Pavilion unravels the Geopolitics of Holy Spaces in Venice Architecture Biennale

Italy - Jun 5, 2018 - 00:57   3817 views

The Israeli Pavilion explores the heterotaxic nature of holy spaces through the lens of architecture at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Focusing on the geopolitics of holy spaces, the Pavilion, titled "In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation", explores the Status quo mechanism that was established in the 19th century to regulate conflicts and facilitate co-existence in the Holy places.

The Pavilion of Israel, curated by Ifat Finkelman, Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Oren Sagiv and Tania Coen-Uzzielli, invited visitors to move through 5 major contested holy sites that highlight the fragile and controversial system of cohabitation and disputed territoriality in the Holy Land – today Israel-Palestine. 

Conrad S. Schick, Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and surroundings, Jerusalem, 1862. Image © Adi Gilad

Each holy site raises different phenomenon and their highly uncertain territorial claims over centuries has made them some of the most significant and challenging sites to reexamine within this context.

"In Statu Quo follows the processes, decisions, and actions through which "monumental" sites are shaped. It suggests not only the instrumental use of architecture to lay claims in the conflict but also its capacity to negotiate between different identities through spatial occurrences and programmatic possibilities," stated in a press statement. 

Image © Sarale Gur Lavy

First floor starts with Choreography - The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

Visitors enter the Pavilion of Israel on the first floor, which explores the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A color-coded, 3-D model of the church by German architect Conrad Schick (1822–1901) – the only one that exists in the world – will be presented for the first time outside of the holy land in the context of an exhibition. Since at least the fourth century, the Holy Sepulchre has been a pivotal Christian pilgrimage destination. The history of the church has been marred with conflict between competing Christian denominations for ownership over its many sanctuaries and rights to worship. 

The Status Quo in the church was implemented to control the rivalry by imposing territorial and temporal demarcations between 6 Christian communities. Legally, the Status Quo is still enacted, however it is reformulated and evolving constantly. Further emphasizing the strict rules of the church, a data-base movie will be projected on the wall in front of the rare model, completes the meticulous spatial division by detailing rituals, ceremonies and schedules performed in the church, weather religious and mundane.

Image © Claudio Franzini

Mezzanine Floor presents The Mughrabi Ascent, Jerusalem

The Ascent, an animated film co-directed and illustrated by David Polonsky – Tel-Aviv based illustrator of Ari Folman’s animated war documentary film Waltz with Bashir - provides the visceral experience of going up the Mughrabi Ascent, the only non-Muslim entrance leading to the upper level of the Temple Mount/ Al- Haram al-Sharif /Al-Aqsa.

Following the collapse of the earthen pathway on 2004, a wooden footbridge was constructed by the Israeli authorities as a temporary solution, sparking a series of disagreements regarding both the architectural layout of the entrance and control over access. To date, no plans for a new, permanent bridge have met the demands of the struggling parties. The wooden bridge in its ‘permanent temporariness’ renders a postponed political solution and showcases monuments as active agents in the territorial conflict.

Image © Sarale Gur Lavy

Third Floor presents the project of the Western Wall Plaza, Jerusalem

The Mughrabi Ascent leads visitors to the third floor, beginning with an exploration on the negotiation of the Western Wall’s structure and use throughout history. Following the tearing down of the Mughrabi quarter at the end of the Six Day War in June 1967, the Western Wall area suddenly became an undefined, huge square plaza. Many architects have since sought to leave a mark on the holy site with architectural proposals and manifestos. However, these proposals were implemented to leave a mark on society rather than to improve the design of the plaza and solidify its function as a holy place and national symbol.

The Israeli Pavilion team chose 10 of the most captivating architectural proposals of the Western Wall plaza over time, including those by Louis Kahn, Isamu Noguchi, Moshe Safdie and Superstudio. For each plan, the team created custom-made, 3-D printed models. In front of the models, a live stream of the Western Wall precinct will be screened, highlighting the dichotomy between secular and sacred, Judaism and statehood, and the question of religious hegemony within a temporary plaza in an on-going design process.

Image © Sarale Gur Lavy

Third floor also features a Scenography of The Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron/Al-Khalil 

The Cave of the Patriarchs, known by Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, a monumental Herodian building in the old city of Hebron (Al-Khalil), is explored on the exhibition’s third floor, adjacent to the Western Wall models. The site is recognized as the actual location of tombs of the three great Patriarchs and their wives, historically a place of worship for both Jews and Muslim. For more than 20 years, the site was controlled and maintained by the Israeli military and police forces together with the Muslim Waqf and has been hermetically divided for separate use of both religions; Jews have access only to its southern halls, and Muslims restricted to its northern part.

However, 20 days a year, aligning with special holidays and under close military control, the site passes hands for 24 hours only, enabling each religion full use of all chambers in the cave. In a matter of hours, the Jewish area is cleared out of all Jewish artifacts and stands vacant for a few short moments before the Muslims enter with their own artifacts and turn the cave into a mosque for the next 24 hours and vice versa. 

Israeli artist Nira Pereg has created a video installation projected on two different walls, showcasing both of her films Abraham Abraham and Sarah Sarah. The films demonstrate the scene that takes place within that 24- hour period, an intense ritual from both the Jewish and Muslim perspectives.

Image © Sarale Gur Lavy

Third floor includes the landscape of Rachel’s Tomb, Bethlehem

Continuing through the exhibit on the third floor, visitors reach the final holy site, Rachel's Tomb. Rachel’s Tomb is revered as the burial place of the biblical matriarch Rachel. Its location on the side of the historical road from Jerusalem to Hebron initially gave way to easy access with no regard to national identity or religion.Rachel’s Tomb is no longer an easily accessible shrine shared by all, but rather has become a fortress tomb, a compound surrounded by an 8 meter-high separation wall within an urban tissue accessible only to Jewish worshippers. 

Image © Sarale Gur Lavy

Rachel’s Tomb and its surroundings may be likened to a palimpsest, in which only traces of its original form remain. Studying the evolution of the site over the centuries reveals the landscape as a medium of exchange between space and the events that shape it.

In this portion of the exhibition, the transformation of Rachel’s Tomb from an open space to a closed-in enclave is shown in the form of an animated architectural drawing, tracing the changes over the years. In addition, 3 movies showing Rachel’s Tomb area in two periods- the early 20th century and today - is screened, emphasizing the ways in which visitors and worshipers from different sides of the political map experienced the site. These images further expound upon architecture’s ability to create solutions for coexistence or rather encourage divisiveness.

The 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara under the title of Freespace, will be on view from May 26th to November 25th, 2018 in the Giardini and the Arsenale, and around other venues in Venice.

Top image © Claudio Franzini

> via Venice Architecture Biennale/Israel Pavilion