The project was a post-modern artist’s dream. For three days last month, 80 Israeli and international artists worked — some of them around the clock — to transform every facet of a beachside Caesarea villa into a stunning, site-specific collection of art.
The result was hundreds of unique installations that utilized materials found within the three-story house, or on the structure itself. There was a miniature mechanical disco trapped within a vintage ’60s fridge; a cement couch hanging out at the bottom of the pool; photos of glamorous girls posing against dilapidated interiors; rooms overflowing with mud and sand; haikus inked on walls; a “parasitic” wooden cave latched onto the back patio, and an ingenious living room furniture set repurposed from old shutters, one bench of which sold for 2,500 shekels.
The brainchild of former resident, 24-year-old Sharonna Karni Cohen, “Once I Was a House” drew an estimated 3,000 visitors over four days. It opened to the public on December 21st to coincide with the date of the so-called “end of the world.”
“When my parents told me they were demolishing the house, I thought it would be a great opportunity for artists to take over the space and see what could come of it,” Cohen said. “And it turned into something much more than I expected. One of the main goals was to show the world how truly innovative Israelis can be. That was part of the mentality behind limiting the work-time to three days — to see what a group of Israeli artists could accomplish in such a short time frame.”
Her parents, a private equity investor and a charity volunteer who have owned the house for 24 years, immediately jumped on board. Cohen teamed up with three curators and the Tel Aviv Arts Council, which works to bring cultural events to the residents of Tel Aviv. They chose 80 artists, mostly from Israel, including students, street artists, up-and-comers, and established names.
Cohen said, “The moment it became a project, it didn’t feel like a house anymore. It sounds a bit cheesy but the project itself started to feel like home — the artists, the team, the people we were speaking to on a daily basis. My parents also got sucked into the idea that this was our ‘no-longer’ house, it was our new house, a family with 80 artists.”
The event, sponsored by Stoli, Perrier, Maccabee, and Abu Hassan, as well as several individual donors, raised 140,000 shekels. Half of the money will be donated to two local charities — Merkaz Halev, which supports underprivileged
Jennifer Strong, who traveled from Tel Aviv to attend the closing night, said, “My friends and I were amazed, but not only by the art. The most interesting part was being invited to roam around someone’s personal home, and experiencing the transformation of something that you know must be meaningful to the people that used to live there.”
Several artists were also inspired by the concept.
Shai Schneider, an artist who created a three-dimensional cement mural on the walls of the master bedroom, found inspiration after talking to one of the owners of the house. He said, “I spoke to Sharonna’s mom and she told me she would wake up in the morning and look out the window and wish she could see the sea. That’s when I knew I wanted to bring the scenery inside. The walls face north and west so my piece became a depiction of the view outside, as if the wall was transparent.”
He said the energy of the process of creation lent to the final result. “The project felt like it was exactly what the house needed because of its inhabitants and because of the way it was made. Anywhere you went you could feel people in the house completely connecting to the situation. People were all over the place — climbing on the roof and crawling into small spaces — looking for new things to discover.”
For architect and artist Kfir Galatia-Azulay, who filled a room with soil and light installations, the project was about exploring the relationship between construction and demolition. “We go through this process in our lives all day, everyday,” Galatia-Azulay said. “And that’s what this process was about –building a new generation of art, of artists and of children. And of course building something new from the house. It was built into a piece of artwork, but was destroyed as a home.”
Artist Maya Gelfman agreed. “I wanted to take something familiar and turn it into something else, to take something that has already existed for years in one way and make it into something completely different,” she said. “There’s something very happy about it, but it means also a kind of simultaneous death of the old thing. It’s about capturing that tension and that moment.” Her installation of flying birds tethered to the ground was meant to illustrate the relationship of past and future.
Later this month, the 30-year-old structure will be demolished to make way for a new, contemporary home. Thousands of participants, visitors, artists, and neighbors are expected to attend the demolition, and take part in the final moments of the project and the house.
Cohen said, “Houses are being knocked down every day. And it would be very cool, to say, we were able to bring thousands of people just to witness this house being demolished. It’s entertaining to think that people will come and pay special attention to the demolition of a villa. But it’s all a part of it, isn’t it?”