Just a single letter distinguishes Haim Fenichel – who was killed in the 1967 War and received the IDF Chief of Staff’s Medal of Honor after his death – and his nephew, the sculptor Haimi Fenichel, born in 1972, who is named after him. The picture of the dead uncle – with the inscription Haim Fenichel RIP – gazed upon Haimi, throughout his childhood, during his weekly visits to his grandparents’ home. From there he embarked on a steady, ant-like journey that harks back to that childhood and that Israeliness, and sparks a kind of internal transformation within them. To paraphrase Isaac in the Book of Genesis 27:22: “The voice is Haim’s, but the hands are those of Haimi” – and the transition between them is almost imperceptible. Fenichel the sculptor – a graduate of the Ceramic Design Department of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design – plays with materials, swapping them around to create new combinations of image and substance, to produce hybrids that are at once familiar and alien.
Fenichel’s works at the exhibition draw on two types of site, each steeped in Zionist-Israeli symbolism: a construction site, and an archeological dig. Hovering between them, in his mind, is the persistent presence of his grandfather’s well-stocked tool shed, from whence Fenichel learned the discipline of painstaking manual labor and the wisdom of workmanship. On the face of it, Haimi Fenichel acts as a Zionist proletarian of the old school, for whom construction and excavation are two major pillars of his ideology. In Zionist thought, the mythology of archeology supported the ethos of construction, in a bid to promote a conceptual continuity that links the ancient with the recent, and the distant past with the present and future. The link between construction and excavation is not only a two-way connection (one aspiring upwards while the other burrows down), but encapsulates the full scope of the Zionist mega-narrative – from the depths of the historical past to the built and fortified structures of the present. In the case of Fenichel’s work, a single material links these two sites together: hardened sand, which he uses both as a fundamental constituent in construction and as an image of an archeological mound in the landscape.
Fenichel sees himself as an Israeli artist, who has no need for apologetics to justify his preoccupation with local materials and content, which are biographical products of his past and his education. Yet the time in which he was born destined him to operate “in the aftermath of events.” He was fated to gaze upon Israeli reality and its values of labor and heroism, on which he was raised and educated, well after the pathos that been their driving force in the past had evaporated and grown weary, leaving only a pale monochromatic vision made up of fragments of quotations, remnants, and tributes to a culture that had sunk into the dust. Through these tributes, Fenichel examines the unwitting conversion and transformation process to which he himself is likewise subject: Has the faithful Israeli citizen – a member of a youth movement and soldier in a combat brigade, who served at the end of the first Palestinian intifadah (uprising) – given rise to a new citizen? Do the laws of material fatigue apply to him, as well? How significant is the difference between Haim and Haimi, and what foreign substances have been cast into this gap?