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Pavilion of Israel at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia Unravels the Geopolitics of Holy Spaces

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The Pavilion of Israel, helmed by Curators Ifat Finkelman, Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Oren Sagiv and Tania Coen-Uzzielli, is pleased to present the exhibition In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation for the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Through the lens of architecture, the exhibition explores the Status quo mechanism that was established in the 19th century to regulate conflicts and facilitate co-existence in the Holy places. In the exhibition, visitors move through five holy sites that highlight Israel’s fragile system of cohabitation and disputed territoriality. 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.

CHOREOGRAPHY – The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (First Floor)
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.

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.
The Mughrabi Ascent (Mezzanine Floor)
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 Temple Mount/ 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 the architectural layout of the entrance. 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.

PROJECT – The Western Wall Plaza (Third Floor)
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.

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 past and present.

SCENOGRAPHY – The Cave of the Patriarchs (Third Floor)The Cave of the Patriarchs, known by Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, 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 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.

LANDSCAPE – Rachel’s Tomb (Third Floor)
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 road initially gave way to easy access with no regard to national identity or religion.
Rachel’s Tomb is no longer an easily accessible shrine, but rather has become a fortress tomb exclusively for Jews. Rachel’s Tomb and its surroundings may be likened to a palimpsest, in which only traces of its original form remain.
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 – will be 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.
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.

In Statu Quo: Structures of Negotiation
Commissioner: Miki Gov, Arad Turgeman.
Curators: Ifat Finkelman, Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Tania Coen-Uzzielli, Oren Sagiv.
Exhibitors: Ifat Finkelman, Deborah Pinto Fdeda, Tania Coen-Uzzielli, Oren Sagiv, Nira Pereg, David Polonsky, Roiy Nitzan.
Venue: Giardini
Press Preview
Thursday, 24 May
Friday, 25 May

For Press Inquiries:
Andrey Furmanovich & Melissa Olster
Nadine Johnson & Associates, Inc.
+1 212 228 5555

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