There is a towering stone wall which has occupied the space between numbers 8 and 12 Alfasi Street in the quiet, green suburb of Rehavia for many years. Embedded in the wall is a sign, which reads:
The State of Israel
Ministry of Education and Culture, Department of Antiquities
Burial Cave from the Hasmonean Era
If you venture inside, taking one step after another, you will discover a large tomb with a pyramid for a roof. The property consists of an incense yard, entrance area, and burial chambers, whose access is currently partially blocked. The tomb is known as the Tomb of Jason, following the discovery of inscriptions during initial excavations at the site in the 1950s. A well-tended garden surrounds the tomb, as well as a path encircling it, and a bench for rest and reflection.
Just a few meters away is where Shir and Raz lived, while studying photography at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. When they encountered the tomb, they were intrigued and drawn towards it. The uncanny experience of stumbling upon a tomb from the Second Temple period alongside everyday life in a residential neighborhood, developed into an ongoing art project, which is on display at the exhibition.
File Raiders is an exhibition displaying a multidisciplinary installation. The purpose is not to examine any of the works separately, however to allow the accumulation of the images and the subtle connection between them all, to crystallize into an all-encompassing arrangement.
The starting point was the chance encounter with the tomb in all its dank and musty dimness, in its bustling, bird-filled garden, a bench that has graced its entrance for decades, and with an imagination that was sparked and continues to revive the place, even when we leave it in the distance behind us. However, the road that lies between the moment of discovery and the exhibition itself, is long and winding, entwined with Shir and Tom's long and fervent excavation of archeological and historical articles written since the discovery of the tomb in the mid- 1950s, until today.
As it sometimes happens while accumulating information, especially when it is of a national nature pertaining to a sensitive site in a place like Jerusalem, contradictions, both big and small, begin to emerge. One wonders about the basic assumptions and interpretations, the subject of which obviously fascinates the researchers. This perhaps adds a human dimension, however it distances the scientific truth and renders it out of reach. This fascination is present at the exhibition, yet so are the question marks.
The tomb is likely to have been built during the second century B.C.E., however opinions are divided as to the duration and manner in which it was used, which continued until the year 31 C.E. At some stage during the Second Temple period, probably around 37 B.C.E., the tomb was looted and emptied of most of its contents. A few years later, it was seriously damaged in an earthquake that hit the city in 31 B.C.E., but continued to serve as a burial cave until 31 C.E., when it was finally abandoned and sealed.
Despite the upheavals, an assortment of fragments from vessels and remains of valuables were discovered buried with the deceased, whose bones were found at the site. The inscriptions indicate that the structure served as a family burial cave for the upscale Jason family, mentioned in the Book of Maccabees I and the writings of Josephus. Clay vessel fragments, beads, jewelry, utensils, coins, a mirror, and even game dice are only part of the long list of items discovered. In addition, charcoal inscriptions were revealed, as well as various wall engravings and paintings. The connection between all of these findings has not been fully deciphered.
Among the wall paintings, there were three ships. One of them was identified as a pirate ship, which provoked a romantic and surprising identification of Jason as an early Jewish pirate.
With the discovery, most of the paintings were photographed and copied, while their exposure to oxygen and light caused them to fade. The only way to view them now is from the photos that are left.
In Roland Barthes' famous essay, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1980), he lists three actions or intentions that the photograph entails: Doing, experiencing, and the look. In describing the subject of the photograph, Barthes uses the word, "spectrum," its original meaning being "ghost", from the Latin. He points out that in every photograph one finds the return of the dead. The bold connection between death and photography is fitting for the themes of the exhibition, however the look that emerges from Shir and Tom's work is not fearful but sober, perhaps even amused.
The artworks begin with a source image – an illustration, sketch, sculpture, or engraving, and extend to a secondary image, which is the source image photographed or drawn: Black and white photographs that perpetuate the coal drawings of ships and a deer, or photographs of lamp engravings in stone; the sketched lines of architect, Asher Hiram, who reconstructed the structure in the 1960s, which appear pixelated in the various text files; a clay figurine of a deer, probably found at an excavation in Samaria, and it's photograph, appear alongside a photograph of a deer's head found at the tomb. These images were "looted" or adopted by Shir and Tom, who attempted to breathe new life in them: The colors of earth and stone were added to the black and white photographs; free movement was applied to the stills; enlarged sketches hang on the gallery walls and are featured on the pane of glass overlooking Jaffa Street. They echo Hiram's sketches in their pixelated version. Collages of the many sketches from the tomb, and photographs of the deer are combined into a single image: subtle manipulations that are difficult to identify, and presented to us, the viewers, as absolute truth; as a coherent and reliable narrative.
Barthes speaks about the inherent flatness of a photographed image, and claims that cinema adds a quality of concealment – a continuous revelation that emerges from the hidden. In File Raiders, the additions and digital processing of the stills, and the eye of the camera that roams over them, provide the image with depth. They create three-dimensional illusions that seek to replace the experience of space, which is currently inaccessible, and transform the flat photograph into an experience of substance that has not been encountered since the tomb's restoration and closure. It is an act that seeks to convert the tomb into a kind of camera obscura or dark room, from where contemporary images are formed, and where one can wander among its works of art.
Yet, after having paused and reflected, the injustice is revealed. The deception, the hint of a glimmer that undermines the seriousness of the original images. During the ongoing process of transferring the image from the wall of the tomb to the walls of the gallery, from charcoal inscription on the stone to the most up-to-date text, from the second century B.C.E. to the twenty first century, and after all the research and demands, the probing and cataloging, the meaning got lost. And with this loss, the entire installation becomes a requiem for the overused and debased images, and it seems that what watches us from the video, the collage, and from the large charcoal sketch - and charcoal is a dead tree - is a ghost that settles beside us on the garden bench or in the gallery, observing and smiling quietly.
Shir and Tom are aware of the fluttering look of those walking along Alfasi Street on a regular, everyday morning. With the nonchalance of two fingers casually carrying a plastic bag on the way to the grocery store, the same look that differentiates between a road sign and a cardboard box beside the neighborhood garbage bin, it rests for a moment on the gaping mouth of the burial cave at Number 10 Alfasi Street. And all at once, just like Barthes' "punctum," the same small, peripheral detail that perforates the portal to the secret of the photograph, the eye experiences a tiny jab, reminding us of what time and daily worries have made us forget.
This fear of death is still accompanied by a casual and amused look, stretched like a metal cable through a tunnel of space and time, marking a path of contemporary reflection from Jerusalem to London, and from point to point in the gallery. A similar jab is thrust from the small ceramic statues – fingers, body fragments, the color of the ceramic fragments found on the site; severed like the slices of deciphered information, like the Aramaic word segments that have been understood, and like the experience encountered while producing art that creates depth in a place that has already moved beyond it, across the sea. Two fingers that reappear in the exhibition, bearing a light weight or a heavy history, motioning in a way that invites us to come closer, to observe and create depth, attesting to what is taking place right here and now, and at the same time, so far way.