What one person sees is not necessarily what another sees — even if they are both looking at the same thing. In the case of Israeli designer Tal Erez’s new “A Point of View” exhibition, that thing is Jerusalem.
Erez’s work on this project has given him a new perspective on the city. Now, with the interactive exhibition on view until July 28 at First Station, (Jerusalem’s recently renovated historic train station turned arts and entertainment venue) Erez is giving the public a chance to see Israel’s capital in a different way.
More precisely, visitors can look at Jerusalem in 18 ways — through specially made View-Master reels curated by Erez for the 3rd annual Jerusalem Season of Culture. Each reel has a different theme, a different interpretive narrative of the city. According to Erez, he originally had 30 themes, and whittled the number down to a more manageable number.
“As I got to know Jerusalem better, I realized that the city is all about clichés. Everyone here adopts a single narrative of the city and sticks to it. In Jerusalem, narrative seems to equal cliché,” the 31-year-old noted in an interview with The Arty Semite as he attended to final details of the exhibition’s installation.
“I began to think that maybe there was nothing beneath the clichés I could work with, so I decided to go for what is above them, to create a super-narrative,” he explained.
As visitors enter the gallery at First Station, they encounter 18 View-Masters placed in a circle. Each is mounted at eye-level and is loaded with a reel containing 7 stereoscopic (3D) images. The envelope for the reel, colorfully printed with the reel’s theme and a sample photograph, lies on the pedestal on which the View-Master is mounted.
Some of the reels’ titles are expected, like “Jerusalem is faith,” “Jerusalem is gold,” “Jerusalem is a syndrome,” “Jerusalem is a battlefield,” and even “Jerusalem is occupation.” But others are less obvious and immediately pique one’s curiosity. You wonder what Erez means by the more provocative (or even cynical, as Erez suggested) “Jerusalem is in the details,” “Jerusalem is both,” “Jerusalem is in an aperture,” “Jerusalem is Gaon,” “Jerusalem is coverings” and “Jerusalem is sane.”
Even when the reels’ themes sound straightforward, the images on them may not be. For instance, “Jerusalem is east” and “Jerusalem is west” both surprise by dealing exclusively with food. One shows a woman’s hands going through the steps of making the Middle Eastern dish kubbeh (a fried croquette made of bulgur stuffed with minced beef or lamb), and the other shows the making of a noodle kugel, whose origins are in Eastern Europe.
Erez gathered all 126 images through an iterative curatorial process. “I commissioned specific photos, I found some in archives, and in some cases I approached specific photographers, such as Alex Levac, Ziv Koren, Yoram Amir, Menahem Kahana and Hila Harel, who are known for their work on Jerusalem and asked them to help curate a reel,” he said.
In some instances, the designer simply stumbled upon images that ended up in the exhibition. For instance, there is entire reel of photos from The Holy Land Experience, a Jerusalem theme park in Florida — a place Erez did not know existed until he found it while surfing the Internet. In a similar vein, “Jerusalem is everywhere” is a compilation of Google Street View images of towns around the world that share their name with the original Jerusalem.
Erez hopes the public will be intrigued by a photography exhibition that has no photographs hanging on the walls. “This medium captures the whole field of view, but you have to be drawn into it, to discover it and create an interpretation,” the designer noted. “I really like how the View-Master flattens out the narrative so that no one narrative is more important than the others. Also, the limit of 7 images per reel makes for concise storytelling. It’s kind of like Twitter,” he added.
Erez expects visitors to come away from “A Point of View” not having fully understood what they have seen. “It’s a platform more than a final product,” he explained.
Indeed, like beauty, Jerusalem is in the eye of the beholder. “Jerusalem is like no other place,” Erez said. “I’ve learned that it is impossible to define it, and that’s a relief.”