‘Four Cubits,’ the fifth Jerusalem Biennale, takes cue from pandemic

Ancient two-meter measurement is theme of this year’s Jewish art exhibition, which explores personal spaces and isolation; event runs through December 30

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Motta Brim, one of the participating artists in the 5th Jerusalem Biennale, which opened November 11 and runs through December 30, 2021, at various sites around the city (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Motta Brim, one of the participating artists in the 5th Jerusalem Biennale, which opened November 11 and runs through December 30, 2021, at various sites around the city (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Pandemic lockdowns and quarantines spent in close quarters have become very familiar concepts, and fittingly, are the reigning theme of this year’s Jerusalem Biennale, titled “Four Cubits,” for the ancient measurement that is equated to some two meters (6.5 ft.).

The wide-ranging art event that opened November 11 features more than 300 artists from Israel as well as the US, UK, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Argentina. Artworks are being exhibited in venues around the city through December 30, 2021.

The centerpiece of the Biennale is “#TakeMeHome,” an exhibit of some 200 works placed and hung on the walls of the former Shaare Zedek hospital building on Jaffa Road. The landmarked building is slated for development, and currently on loan to the Biennale and other organizations.

The exhibit is named for the artists’ efforts to explore how art functions in peoples’ homes, offices and studios. It also has a clever alternate meaning, as visitors can enter a lottery to take home an artwork they choose for a six-month period, with the option of purchasing it.

Rami Ozeri, the Biennale founder and creative director, explored the functionality of artwork in the home, thinking about the differences between what’s hung in public spaces and in more private corners, what artists display on their studio walls and what they let languish in their drafting desk drawers.

“What does art do in private spaces, given the last year we’ve just been through?” asked Ozeri during a tour of the exhibit. “After each Biennale, I feel like I’ve finished a doctorate about the subject. I’m all in.”

Rami Ozeri, founder and director of the Jerusalem Biennale, the wide-ranging art event that opened November 11, 2021 through December 30 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The artworks in “#TakeMeHome” are eclectic in style and hung without names or tags, so that viewers have no preconceived notions of the artists or artworks they’re seeing. Anyone interested in participating in the take-me-home lottery will choose the artworks based on numbers, a process that will be explained at the site.

“It’s an attempt to make people wander and just look at the works they’d like to have in their house,” said Ozeri.

At the center of the former hospital building is the synagogue that was used by hospital staff and patients for 70 years and then abandoned as a place of prayer when the building was taken over by the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.

Set across from the main entrance, is a spare, high-ceilinged room painted lavishly with flowers and curlicues, with a built-in ark for Torah scrolls.

It’s here that Judaic silversmith Sari Srulovitch is exhibiting her works, reimagining Jewish ceremonial pieces used by families and communities, adding her own interpretations to the silver and metals that form the core of this Bezalel-trained artist’s work.

The former Shaare Zedek hospital synagogue is being used as the center gallery of the Jerusalem Biennale, featuring an exhibit by Judaic silversmith Sari Srulovitch, which opened November 11 through December 30, 2021 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Outside the synagogue, the walls of the hallways are dedicated to different groupings of paintings while individual rooms were turned into galleries for individual artists.

Yehudit Bermatz’s felted clock made out of dryer lint, part of her exhibit at the 5th Jerusalem Biennale, which opened November 11, 2021 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Yehudit Bermatz uses dryer lint to form her felted sculptures inspired by the children’s book “Good Night Moon,” focusing on the repurposing of the material to create a clock, mobile and other pieces.

Upstairs, two in-house artists’ studios were created in one corner and artists Chanan Mazal and Motta Brim sat in their small chambers to produce works for this event.

Mazal’s bright, bold paintings are often portraits, painted in strong colors and layers of patterns.

“I’m interested in reflecting real people,” said Mazal, who painted all but one of the featured works during the pandemic. “The four cubits allowed me to go back to my world and what I see.”

Brim, who is ultra-Orthodox and has been living and sleeping in his #TakeMeHome studio, went to different peoples’ homes to paint their inner spaces, their four cubits, and his dreamy images are of kitchen tables and doorways, vases and the occasional self-portrait.

Haim Mazal painted most of his Jerusalem Biennale works during the pandemic (Jessica Steinberg / Times of Israel)

Other installations in the former hospital building include works by Shuli Bornstein Wolf, Linda Lieff Altabef, Ken Goldman and Rachel Rotenberg.

The Shaare Zedek site also includes the work of Belgian artist Koen Vanmachelen, whose “Crossquery,” solo installation deals with life in stages, using the Baladi, Israel’s indigenous breed of chicken, in a large cage at its center. The two hens will become part of Vanmechelen’s long-term crossbreeding art project, the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, by crossbreeding with the Mechelse Hrvatica presented in a portrait on the wall.

A full tour of the Biennale exhibits takes participants around the city, with venues that include the Tower of David Museum, HaMiffal, Jerusalem Print Workshop, the art gallery of Mishkenot, the Agripas 12 Gallery and the Gesher Guest House.

An exhibit by 16 contemporary jewelers curated by Israeli jeweler Ariel Lavian brings together artists from Turkey and Israel, all of whom were isolated in their own studios throughout the duration of the pandemic.

The jewelry pieces for “Between a Break and a Breakdown: Jewelry as a Mirror for the Current Period” are displayed in one of the newly renovated Tower of David Museum galleries, using metals, fabrics and stones to demonstrate the frustrations and power of isolation.

The jewelry pieces for “Between a Break and a Breakdown: Jewelry as a Mirror for the Current Period” are displayed in one of the newly renovated Tower of David Museum galleries (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The exhibit in Mishkenot, “Voyage Around My Room,” was curated by Ermanno Tedeschi and Vera Pilpoul and features the work of 12 Italian artists and four Israeli artists exploring the concept of the room.

“Maktoub” at the Jerusalem Theater was curated by Lenore Cohen-Mizrachi and Chama Mechtaly and exhibits calligraphy artists from the UAE and Israel, following the signing of the Abraham Accords.

“The House is in the Book” is the exhibit at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, curated by Emily Bilski. A new collaborative book was created during lockdown by artists Andi Arnovitz, Lynne Avadenka and Mirta Kupferminc, from Israel, the US and Argentina respectively, using a shared repertoire of images developed as each artist worked alone in her studio.

The month-and-a-half-long Biennale includes gallery talks, panel discussions with artists and curators, music and dance performances and guided tours in English and Hebrew in person and online.

Tickets for all public venues are free of charge, except for the Tower of David Museum. Check the Biennale website and Facebook page for more updated information on events.

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