Italian artist’s ‘Human Forms’ reopen a long-closed Beit Guvrin cave
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Italian artist’s ‘Human Forms’ reopen a long-closed Beit Guvrin cave

Ivo Bisignano sought a different kind of museum to exhibit his collection of sculptures and video art

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

  • The 'Human Forms' sculptures created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
    The 'Human Forms' sculptures created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
  • Shadows created from the 'Human Forms' sculptures by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
    Shadows created from the 'Human Forms' sculptures by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
  • One of the 'Human Forms' sculptures and video art images created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
    One of the 'Human Forms' sculptures and video art images created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
  • Some of the 'Human Forms' sculptures created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
    Some of the 'Human Forms' sculptures created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
  • One of the 'Human Forms' sculptures and video art images created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)
    One of the 'Human Forms' sculptures and video art images created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)

The southern cave at Beit Guvrin, about an hour’s drive southwest of Jerusalem, has soaring earth walls dating back to at least 500 BCE. Used by Jews, Romans and Byzantines alternately as a home, bath, stables and burial grounds, it is now the temporary home of an art exhibit.

It had been closed to the public for 25 years, but it took an outsider, Italian artist Ivo Bisignano, a former Vogue Italy fashion editor, to see the possibilities of the ancient cave for his exhibit of massive wooden sculptures and gripping video art.

Now his eight wooden sculptures, built from wood scraps found in Acre on the northern coast and reminiscent of the modernist shapes of architect Le Corbusier, are situated on the dusty floors of the cave, casting giant shadows in an exhibit that will be in place until November 1.

“Each piece of wood can be anything you want,” said Bisignano, who calls them “Human Forms.”

“I wanted this huge scale of shadow.”

Artist Ivo Bisignano at his ‘Human Forms’ exhibition in the Beit Guvrin caves (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The sculptures are accompanied by texts written by leading art and creative luminaries, including Robert C. Morgan, Binnie A Dansby, Sir Peter Cook and Israeli-British chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who has collaborated with Bisignano and his Israeli architect husband Alex Meitlis on his London restaurants.

Bisignano and Meitlis usually split their time between London and Tel Aviv, but they spent the last five months in Israel, where they had come to visit and ended up staying due to the coronavirus.

All eight sculptures, some as tall as five feet, were created in Bisignano’s Tel Aviv apartment, long before he conceived of this exhibit.

“I lived for months with these giants in the house,” said Bisignano.

Behind the wooden sculptures and projected on other walls of the cave are Bisignano’s five video works, enormous screens featuring sound-free images made with eight different techniques.

One of the ‘Human Forms’ sculptures and video art images created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)

The videos, said Bisignano, are about his obsessions, such as the collection of hand-drawn black crows filling the screen in a Hitchcockian manner and made through the stop-motion video method, or one created from 120 paintings of the same face, made with pencil, papier-mâché and other materials and then scanned and digitized to create the video.

“It took me nine hours a day for a year to make a three-minute video,” he said. “All the time I’m surprised at myself when I do something, but it’s what I love best, to discover something new.”

Bisignano’s husband, Meitlis, suggested the caves as the location for his installation.

“This is outside the four walls of the museum,” said Bisignano, who at first wanted to install his works in the Negev desert. “Here you don’t have rules.This is only emotional, and whatever conclusions you come to, is good.”

The hundreds of caves around Beit Guvrin National Park qualified for UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2014. Now that the “Human Forms” installation has been exhibited in one UNESCO site, Bisignano is hoping to have the exhibit travel to Petra, Jordan, next.

The ‘Human Forms’ sculptures created by artist Ivo Bisignano at the Beit Guvrin National Park, open until November 1, 2020 (Courtesy Ivo Bisignano)

Israel, however, remains very familiar, with a Mediterranean culture similar to his own childhood home in Sicily.

“I don’t see that Israel is a difficult place,” he said. “It’s not my obsession.”

And he couldn’t be happier about the reception his exhibit has received.

“To have 500 people every day to see this is a miracle,” said Bisignano.
“I’m so happy. Imagine this, having art in a cave. This is what I wished for, to open the eyes and the mind.”

Visitors are encouraged to order tickets ahead of time for the Beit Guvrin National Park, which is also open in the evenings in order to view the exhibit.

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