Every two years in Jerusalem we get the chance to see modern life reflected back at us through the mindful, creative expression of over 200 artists from Israel and abroad. The transcendent, inimitable Jerusalem Biennale for contemporary Jewish art collectively integrates the many wondrous facets of the Holy City within 2017’s ephemeral theme of “Watershed”. The Biennale will illuminate the bright beating hearts of artists expressing their watershed, an important event that could change the course of history.
For its third installment, The Biennale will host 25 life-changing exhibitions and projects from around the world. “Boedi Widjaja comes from Singapore to create a series of ink prints created with stones he is bringing with him, and stones he will collect in Jerusalem.” Says Ram Ozeri, the Jerusalem Biennale’s Founder. “I am also very excited about the participation of Micha Ulman who many consider as the most important Israeli artist today.” In a conversation with Time Out Israel, Ozeri shares the magic behind the ever-flowing well of artistic Jewish art, and a behind the scenes look into curating a historical milestone:
What sparked the idea of creating The Jerusalem Biennale?
Ram Ozeri: It started from my Bezalel experience. I went there at the age of 30 after two degrees from the Hebrew University. In my studies at the philosophy department of the Hebrew University, I felt that there was a good balance between western philosophy, and Jewish philosophy. In Bezalel any reference to the Jewish world was rejected. This experience started a whole journey of meeting artists with work relating to Jewish thought, tradition, and experience. They all told the same story, a story of being marginalized by the Israeli art world. Then I went to the Berlin Biennale in 2010 and it inspired me: I decided that I could start a platform dedicated to contemporary Jewish art in Jerusalem. The model of a Biennale was perfect, as it did not require huge resources, like a gallery or a small museum would. Biennales around the world become part of the city's life and remain a real cultural institution. It is not a one-time event.
What is it about this time of year that proves fitting to showcase contemporary Jewish art?
Ram Ozeri: Biennale 2017 will open on October 1st. It is the third time that we open on 11 of Tishrei, the day after Yom Kippur. According to the Jewish tradition, if you are doing something for the third time it gives you a possession (“Hezka”), but after 40 days of Slichot and Tshuva, and just after the culmination of Yom Kippur, the Biennale celebrates opening events for three days and then comes Sukkot which is a holiday full of Simcha. The city is packed with tourists celebrating Sukkot, so we hope to add another layer of art to their experience in Jerusalem. The Biennale stays open four more weeks after Sukkot is over, when the school year starts in Universities which allows groups to come visit.
Why does it happen every two years?
Ram Ozeri: Two years is a good amount of time for the art world to renew itself. The whole idea is give the visitor a sense of what the current trends are in the art world.
The Biennale showcases a diverse range of talented artists whose work uncovers the ideals behind Jewish ideology, Jewish identity, and experience. What is the process of finding the artists, and what are you looking for in an artist?
Ram Ozeri: We exhibit mostly curated group exhibitions, so the selection process is focused on curators. We are looking for exhibitions that have a strong concept relevant to the Jewish discourse. This is an important time for us right now. At past events we were mainly asking, "What is contemporary Jewish art?” offering different curators the stage to give their interpretation to this question. Some curators argued that the category did not even exist, and we thought this was an important standpoint. Today, if there is an exhibition that is relevant to the Jewish discourse, then it doesn't really matter if it is called "Jewish Art" or not. You cannot ignore the Jewish discourse: it is very vibrant, taking place in media and in politics. What we do is invite artists and curators to take part in this conversation, to give their important voice in order to shape the present and the future of Jewish life.
Why did the theme, “Watershed” resonate?
Ram Ozeri: The breakthrough happened when I brought the catalogue of the last Istanbul Biennale to one of our meetings. Their theme was "Salt Water", and it was truly beautiful to see and experience how that Biennale was so tightly connected to the city. So we started thinking what would be the equivalent in Jerusalem and got to “Watershed,” which is the best translation we found for “Kav Parashat Hamayim” in Hebrew. If you take all the points on a mountain in which a raindrop will split to two streams or more and you connect all those points, you get the "line of divergence". Jerusalem is located on a line that crosses Israel from north to south. Rain that falls east of this line goes to the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea, and rain that falls west to it goes to the Mediterranean. It is a line that divides Jerusalem. It is a part of nature and a part of our imagination. Add that to how the geological term is used, both in Hebrew and English, to state a very important event that changed the course of history, and you get a title which is not only strong on its own but also very strongly connected to Jerusalem.
What is the significance of hosting the Biennale in Jerusalem?
Ram Ozeri: Tel Aviv it the capital of Israeli art, it’s hard to argue with that. But when you say “Jewish art” everything changes. Jerusalem finds, in a very natural way, its position as the epicenter of that field. Of course it is a smaller field. But it is ours.
The Jerusalem Biennale will take place at the Bezeq Building and other nearby locations including the Tower of David Museum and Austrian Hospice, October 1-November 16. NIS 45. (JerusalemBien