The news bulletins and reactions in the various media in Israel to current affairs and to the emergency events that we are frequently confronted with present an endless flood of landscapes and places as the scenes of events and sites of terrorist attacks.
The current group of exhibitions at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art features nine solo exhibitions of artists who combine photography and sculptural installation in various ways, to deliver such examples of the scene of events to our consciousness – not as a current news report, but as thoughtful representations, whose impact is the product of the artists’ extended observation, prolonged stay, and actions at the site in question. All the exhibitions are centered on certain emotionally charged aspects encapsulated by sights of where we live. Besides images of burnt fields, urban spaces, and landscapes, the exhibits present images of buildings, construction sites, ruins, piles of sand, stones, iron rods, assorted objects, concrete castings, building plans, and bomb-shelter plans. Each exhibition is an autonomous unit in its own right, while maintaining common themes and materials with all the others. Many of the exhibitions treat the scene by focusing on a single element, as a metonymy of the local situation in the continuing present.
The Hebrew for “scene of events” is zirat ha’eru’a, and is a commonly used expression in military, police, and news parlance. On its own, in the Israeli military context, the Hebrew zirah refers to the theater of battle; from an architectural point of view, the word pertains to a venue of performances that allows viewing from several points of view. In the latter sense, it is akin to the ancient Roman arena (from the Latin harena, meaning “sand”) – so called because of the sand that covered the ground to absorb the blood of the fighters during gladiatorial competitions and combat, which were the venue’s primary purpose. Belying these associations, however, and the news coverage of actual events, most of these exhibitions on view depict spaces that are empty of human figures yet contain traces of a past event, or the prospect of an impending one. Thus, the Scene of the Events exhibitions allude to a diversity of temporalities and layers of memory: to an ongoing past (historical, mythic memory), to the tangible present (short-term memory), and to repressed (traumatic) memory. Some offer suggestive images of the subject, while others offer images that are critical, tackling an explicit incident and seeking, through the camera or a sculptural element, to turn the spotlight squarely on the reality of our lives, and communicate signals of warning and concern.