Jerusalem Show VII: Report
The seventh iteration of The Jerusalem Show, entitled Fractures, opened on 24th October with a curator-led tour across the twelve exhibition sites in the Old City of East Jerusalem. Attended by nearly 300 people, the tour provided, by all accounts, an in-depth introduction to the context and to the processes of the show. However, due to checkpoint closures, the thirty-minute journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem took two and a half hours, causing some to miss the tour, these writers included, which threw up a number of important questions about accessibility to culture in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
For those of us participating in the show, whether as audience members or artists and curators, the politics of separation across space and time was evident. On the first two days of the show, daylight savings in the West Bank created an hour's time difference between events taking place in Ramallah as part of Qalandiya International and those in Jerusalem, disrupting the intended continuity between the two cultural events. These small impositions are negligible when compared to the constant surveillance Jerusalamites are subject to at the hands of the Israeli military who constantly police the cities quarters, yet the composition of the show is undoubtedly shaped by the realities of working in Jerusalem. One example of this was the experience of one of the participating artists, West Bank-based Bashar Alhoroub, who was denied a permit to travel from Ramallah to Jerusalem for the show's opening event. In the end, Alhoroub's absence made the presence of his piece Less Holiness (2014), depicting a large-scale drawing of the iconic Jerusalem landscape, was made all the more poignant. The main drawing was accompanied by take-away postcards that captured fragments of the main image, pointing to the ongoing dismantling and appropriation of space threatening the future of the city.
Nevertheless, despite missing the opening tour, guided walks through the many installation sites, which were organized under seven different chapters (Intensities; Details; Intervals; Measures; Lines; Writing and Fabric), continued throughout the duration of the show, giving audience members another chance to gain a cohesive sense of the site-specific artistic interventions dotted around the labyrinthine old city. (Aside from tours, visitors were also able to independently explore the sites and participate using maps.) Overall, the experience was one of remapping: whereas Jerusalem's old city is traditionally a site for religious tourism, by hosting art works in venues such as an old bookbinders, disused hammams, libraries, and sites of important historical significance, the city's rich cultural past was asserted as, to quote Tina Sherwell, 'a place of knowledge, recreation and trade, interwoven with numerous family histories'. For instance, Conor McGrady's architectural wall drawings in Hamam Al Ayn, and Hera Buyuktasciyan's installation at Patriarch's Pool both utilized ancient spaces to comment on current political concerns about control over space, movement and water supplies.
But though site specificity characterized most if not all of the works on show, contextual issues once again fed into the exhibition as a whole. Despite having gained permissions to access sites through lengthy bureaucratic procedures, a handful of locations were changed at the last minute, giving artists involved only a few days to resituate their concepts. Indeed, this was a show that situated Jerusalem at the centre of the artistic engagement that largely depended on the ability (and inability) to navigate the spatial layout of the exhibition.
In light of this, many artworks on show reflected the political discontinuities and ethno-religious fragmentations afflicting Palestinian lives. This was clear in several of the works, including Jerusalem-based Benji Boyadgian's series of twenty-four watercolour landscape paintings, which depict Wadi el-Shami, a Palestinian valley in the process of demolition. Collectively, his pieces work to memorialize the landscape of his childhood that has undergone a series of disruptions and destructions owing to the 1967 war, the construction of the wall, and the planned building of an imposing highway that will connect settlements in Jerusalem to those in Bethlehem. The paintings were displayed in the Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art on separated screening walls, which several audience members wryly observing how it served as a representation of the 'separation wall'. Curator Basak Senova explained that the installation's aim was to reflect the valley's multi-levelled topography.
The structural impositions working to alter the landscape of historic Palestine was also reflected in an installation by Palestinian artist Majd Abdel Hamid titled Hourglass #1 (2014), which ws displayed in the window of Saint Francis icon shop located in the Christian quarter. Here, a collection of hourglasses handmade and produced in collaboration with a glassmaker in Hizmah, (an area located in Jerusalem Governate) were filled with cement from the wall that separates the West Bank from Jerusalem. While the pieces use material from the architecture of occupation, they were subtly embedded into an ornate shop window display, offering a reflective space to consider the daily impositions that affect Palestinian movement and participation in this contested city.
At the same time, however, the show also gave audiences an opportunity to consider Jerusalem from elevated and distant vantage points. Pekka Niittyvirta's aerial photographs of Jerusalem at night, part of the Obliquity series (2014), offered a different angle to the mass-mediated images that focus on either the city's conflicts or religious significance. The exhibitions opening piece by Jumana Manna and Sille Sorihle, a video installation titled The Goodness Regime (2013), also sought to reposition our perspective on Palestine by considering the role it played in shaping Norway's political history and construction of its self-image following the Oslo Peace Accords, in which Palestine acts as a symbol for Norway's failed diplomacy. Viewing this film in the context of Jerusalem served as a powerful reminder of the political and economic inequalities Palestinians continue to face as a result of failed political interventions; it also challenged the dominant narrative that Oslo was only a failure for Palestine.The show was accompanied by screening programmes curated by Başak Senova, Anne Barlow, Yazid Anani and Branko Franceschi; and a performance of BLOCUS by Jonathan Loppin, which travelled from The Swedish Christian Study Centre in Jerusalem to Al-Bireh and Bethlehem.
Despite the unavoidable pitfalls of producing and exhibiting art in an occupied city, there was a quiet consideration to these artistic interventions, and their cumulative effect carved out a reflective space to reconsider the hidden histories and unveiling futures of Jerusalem. Despite this being the final Jerusalem Show in its current form, its founder Jack Persekian spoke of the role that cultural intervention can play in creating new knowledge of how to make and produce art in the politically contested city of Jerusalem, and Occupied Palestine more broadly. This year's collaboration between a host of international and Palestinian artists and their researched sites was evident from the diversity of art works on display; one that required viewers to immerse themselves in the folds of the city.