At the heart of the installation by Micha Ullman (b. 1939) lies an architectural drawing of the ground floor of the artist’s house, which is situated not far from the museum, near the border between Ramat Hasharon and Herzliya. It is a modest, functional, two-family semi-detached house, of the sort that was prevalent in the area in the late 1940s. Today, the neighborhood is undergoing rapid development and construction, with new apartment blocks springing up around the last of the remaining old detached houses, which will also soon be razed in accordance with the new development masterplan. Ullman replicated the house blueprint on the floor of the hall, adapting its size to the museum space, then traced the outlines of the plan with shallow berms of red hamra sandy soil. These encompass not only the external footprint, but the “internal organs” of the family home, and the adjacent other half of the two-family dwelling. Thus, we can make out a kitchen table set for dinner; a bed in the bedroom; a manhole cover; and the interior of a toilet – all cast in sand with the help of stencils, brooms, funnels, and other improvised devices that Ullman created over the years as part of his unique working method, which preserves the human scale.
Visitors are invited to enter the house and spend time in it, determining their own route as they walk in and around the rooms. The shallow berms of sand marking the plan outline are not reinforced by any bonding or thickening material, and thus potentially vulnerable to disturbance by the visitors. Even the slightest, unwitting touch of the toe of the shoe in a berm can result in a cascading shower of red soil granules and damage the outline. The fragility of the structure is very real: the risk of damage is not just a poetic or political metaphor, and requires the visiting public to act with the utmost care and caution. During the exhibition, the artist will regularly visit the installation with a group of students, to observe and examine and, if necessary, repair the installation in accordance with the protocols and procedures that he will formulate. In this regard, the installation is an ongoing process that will carry on for the duration of the exhibition (a period of several months), with the visitors’ behavior forming an integral part of it and its meaning.
The scene of events outlined in Ullman’s Semi-Detached installation – which can be appreciated in its entirety from the elevated perspective that this unique hall makes possible – we might speculate as to the story behind the structure and its symbolism: an ancient dwelling uncovered by an archeological dig, perhaps, or the remains of a contemporary home that was vaporized in an instant in a cataclysmic explosion that annihilated all living and inanimate things within, reducing them to mere piles of sand. Either way, it evokes an analogy between the house – a vulnerable shell whose purpose is to protect, define and shield the living organism within it – and a political entity, or the human body.
Thus, Ullman’s two-family dwelling analogy offers an ecosystem that links together the human body, house, and country; the archetypal with the tangible; mythical time with contemporary time; a model with a program for a person’s actual existence; and one person’s existence with that of another. Through the sand, Ullman appears to be urging us to study what it means to maintain good neighborly relations and common courtesy, which may enable peaceful coexistence and continuity in this locale.