The postcard as we know it was born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and its heyday continued until the 1920s. The postcard then served as a quick, cheap, convenient and widely-accepted tool. Images were in black and white and were sometimes painted using various hand-painting methods. In the beginning of Zionism, postcards were used to communicate with Jewish communities overseas, and bore portraits of key national figures and propaganda promoting the Jewish Yishuv in the Land of Israel, alongside Rosh Hashanah greetings. In the State of Israel’s early days, several postcard manufacturing companies were active. Thus, a pool/stock of images was created, which reflected the spirit of the time and place, both in terms of ideology and popular values of beauty and aesthetics, way of life and lifestyle.
Last summer, the “Room for Two – Double Date” residency program was held, a joint effort of HaCubia Gallery and Beita, with the support of Mifal HaPayis. Within this program, Beita hosted artists Davi Barell and Keren Zaltz, both photographers and photography professors, who have researched various Israeli postcard collections, primarily postcards from the sixties and seventies. The image elicited by these collections is a combination of post Six Day War national bravado, and a developing culture of recreation and leisure.
A postcard is a small object, manufactured in cheap, mass production, characterized by overdone colors. Postcards depict symbolic, staged, grandiose scenes, or happenstance moments at pastoral sites where the sun always shines, the sky is blue, and the lawn is green and fresh. In most all of these photographs, the photographer’s identity is unknown.
The other side of the postcard is a minimalist human document depicting, in just a few lines, the sender’s state of mind, the site appearing in the postcard’s image, the weather, and greetings and wishes to friends and family. All this is conveyed in a personal, yet empty tone, a text which everyone knows might be read by the attentive eyes of a stranger.
In the exhibition “The View is Spectacular, at Night It’s Cold”, the title of which was taken from the text appearing on one of the postcards, Zaltz and Barell enlarge the tiny postcards to giant dimensions. Visitors to the exhibition are immediately transformed into tiny figures within the landscape of the postcards. To the onlooker, it might appear as if the moving figures were part of the original postcard.
The entire exhibition addresses the deconstruction of the photographed object. The colors dissect into various colored dots, which only distance can unify into an identifiable color. The photographed landscape separates into different elements: skyline, fountain, palm tree, a woman performing a folkdance. Everything seems so familiar, yet the context is missing.
The artists create two contrapuntal movements: one, a hybrid of different images forming a collage which seeks to convince that it depicts an authentic place; the other, a new deconstruction into flat layers positioned on different planes. To the viewer looking in from the gallery entrance, this might look like a theater set, a setup reminiscent of depictions of landscapes in biblical scenes from the early Renaissance.
Although the longing in the images is nostalgic, and full of affection for the postcard as an object and for the photographic glance, saturated with innocence and color, these are merely the backdrop for a playful glance that juxtaposes the Temple Mount alongside the springs of the Sachane national park, or connects the branch of an almond tree to a traveler wearing a Tembel hathiking in the Negev desert. This is a glance that gives a presence precisely to that which is missing in the picture, pointing the real glance in the direction of the complex Israeli reality as it truly is – whether with respect to the Palestinian population, first and second-class within the Israeli population, religious and secular, gender issues or other pained topics. These are all suggested by the exhibition’s title, which cites the conflicted relationship between the spectacular view, and the dark, cold of the night.
In her article “Mapping Landscape and the Question of Territory” (Oranim, 2010), Dr. Yael Guilat describes the development of ‘landscape maps’ as a unique category in Israeli and Palestinian contemporary art. These maps constitute a system of overlap between landscape, body and cartography, which point to the conflict between different types of representation, landscape versus map. Guilat claims this is a genre that succeeds in connecting between these types of representation, while preserving the conflict within it.
The landscape map of Zaltz and Barell is different from most of the examples cited by Guilat. It does not present itself immediately as a map, and does not create a coating for the gallery’s ground, but rather is made of upright two-dimensional layers, glued and positioned upon the walls throughout the gallery. Yet the spaces between the installations are experienced as a part of them, and expand the territory they map out, and which they contemplate.
Alongside the clichéd landscapes appear enlarged postcard frames, designed as windows. These windows originally contained a thematic series of images, yet here they appear as a hollow and empty surface. Perhaps as in a riddle, eye and imagination fill in the empty spaces with familiar images from the past, yet the frame next to the window allows none other than the quotidian Jerusalem reality, devoid of glamor or splendor, to show through.
Every landscape has its flip side, the personal aspect that arises from the texts, a peek into the lives of others, family correspondences, identifying information that could elicit a sense of identification on one hand, or feelings of guilt or discomfort on the other hand. The personal text has been expropriated, and here it is, photographed, printed, duplicated and enlarged. And if until now it might have seemed that the exhibition was a kind of invitation to travel through one possible model of being Israeli, from among many, the photographed texts raise the possibility that all Israeli families are actually alike, and reality has changed in its own way.
The exhibition enables the viewer to join in a game of “what if”.
What if we were to replace the image of the native-born Israeli Sabra with an Arab wearing a keffiyeh? What if we were to put our ideologies aside and allow the spaces between meanings to grow? What if we were free to look at things in a new way?
Beita Jerusalem, January 2022