Windows into Jerusalem’s history commemorate the artist who collected them
‘Window Stories,’ the first installment of this year’s Mekudeshet Festival, was created to remember artist and activist Yoram Amir, who died in March
The shimmering wood-and-glass structure rises out of Jerusalem’s Gan HaSus garden, a small, grassy knoll off King George Street, sandwiched between a WeWork and Bezalel Street.
“Window Stories,” as this massive installation is known, and which opened July 7, is made of 550 windows and window frames, part of the immense collection gathered by Jerusalemite Yoram Amir, a local artist, activist and preservationist who died in March after a brief battle with lung cancer.
The installation, which will remain open through September 21, is part of the annual Mekudeshet Festival, and was initially planned by Amir with Mekudeshet and artists Itamar Paloge and Lior Peleg. The plan was to create a towering sculpture out of Amir’s prized collection, rescued from condemned or abandoned buildings that reflect Jerusalem’s history, religions and communities.
Amir had dedicated his personal and professional life to preserving and fighting the modern architecture encroaching on the ancient, sacred city of Jerusalem. His collection included the cerulean window panes of the former Palace Hotel, now refurbished as the Waldorf Astoria; the arched frames of Armenian buildings, a rounded window frame from the entrance of the city’s Ottoman-era train station.
When Amir received his diagnosis in the fall, his friends, as well as the city’s activists, artists and organizers, gathered to figure out what they could do to help.
“All these people, the moment they heard about Amir being sick, they wanted to be involved,” said Karen Brunwasser, deputy director of Mekudeshet. “All these people who knew and loved Yoram.”
It was clear that whatever was done, it would involve Amir’s collection of 2,000 window frames, his prized possessions.
When he first began collecting the window frames, he would use them as mounts for his photographs, “making gold from garbage, he liked to say,” said Kobi Frig, a friend and fellow activist who helped produce “Window Stories.”
“He saved them from dilapidated buildings and sometimes stole them from structures, and other buildings that were about to be destroyed,” said Frig. “They are testaments to history. It’s the story of Jerusalem in the last 200 years, the story of the people who came here and built their houses. It was the story of getting out of the Old City, from outside the walls.”
It was Mekudeshet director Naomi Fortis who came up with the idea of creating an installation from Amir’s collection. She had a substantial budget of NIS 1.2 million from Eden, the Jerusalem Center Development Company, earmarked to create a summer installation. It was also Fortis’s idea to connect Amir with artists Lior Peleg and Itamar Paloge, to conceive of a structure for the window frame collection.
“This is what made it work,” said Frig. “From there it was hard, but quite easy.”
Gan HaSus, named for the sleek black horse sculpture that sits at the entrance to the garden, made the most sense as a location, given that it’s a slightly smaller, more intimate park that doesn’t get as much use, said Frig. That detail appealed to the Mekudeshet staff, added Brunwasser, as the festival likes to use spaces that are not sufficiently utilized, seeing what can happen when people are guided there for a reason.
The structure is two stories high, accessible from all sides of the small park, and wheelchair accessible as well, with a ramp leading in from one side of the structure. There are angled slats of fresh wood connecting the gently peeling and aged wooden window frames, forming the sturdy floors and walls of the structure. The low walls of the tower are covered in clear plexiglass, for safety reasons.
The installation becomes a glowing orb in the middle of a hot summer day, and it sparkles and glitters with light at night, when the cool breezes of the city blow gently.
“It’s an art installation,” said Frig, “but the windows are a message as to how we’re supposed to be treating the city.”
Amir wanted to educate people about how important beautiful windows are, added Brunwasser. “He thought people should be taking their time, he didn’t like fast construction,” she said. “He had a universal message about respecting and cherishing the past without violating it.”
The installation will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through September. There will also be a podcast in three languages, Hebrew, Arabic and English, talking about Amir and his life and beliefs.
“He was an activist, a conservationist, a shuk seller, an independent artist, there was something so authentic about him,” said Brunwasser. “His home was always open, sometimes it was a studio or a pop-up restaurant, or a secondhand store, and you never knew what it was going to be, but it was always open to everybody and he captured the hearts of a lot of the young artists who really saw something to emulate. When he died, the entire alternative art scene showed up. He was very loving, and he so loved Jerusalem; he was always trying to remind us how to treat the city properly.”
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