May 20 — November 26, 2023
The exhibition is presented on behalf of the Israel Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Oren Eldar, Edith Kofsky, Hadas Maor
Oren Eldar, Edith Kofsky, Daniel Meir
Michael Gov, Arad Turgeman
The Israel Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture
Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia
Telephone Exchange Buildings, 2023, concrete cast (1:50 scale) and sound installation; photo: Daniel Hanoch
The Israel Pavilion has been sealed up. The modern 1952 building (Arch. Ze′ev Rechter), which usually welcomes visitors through its glass façade, is now opaque, dark, and uncanny.
cloud-to-ground* stems from an architectural inquiry. It proposes a multifaceted discussion about the hardware of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, incorporating the pavilion itself as one of the exhibits. Its closure alludes to the physical nature of modern communication networks and the materiality of the technological cloud. Impenetrable structures commonly referred to as ″black boxes,″ connected by a vast network of cables, over land, underground, and underwater, are now in a transitional stage: Telephone exchange buildings using copper cables are gradually being abandoned and demolished, while huge data centers using fiber-optic cables are rapidly being built. Attesting to the progression of technology, these physical aspects also reflect the shifting powers—ownership of infrastructure as a means of sovereignty. Their opaque appearance paradoxically points to their importance.
Delving into the rapid changes these information structures have undergone over the years, the exhibition sheds light on the economic and geopolitical processes currently underway in Israel and the region, highlighting the dynamic between architecture and control. Unfolding as an immersive installation, it focuses on the transition from sound to light, and examines the shift from analogue to digital communication, from accessible, city-center buildings to sealed structures in peripheral locations, and from a direct to a decentralized connectivity. cloud-to-ground introversively manifests its subject matter through a symbolic proposition, using space, sound, and light as its primary materials.
* A scientific term for lightning that hits the earth
Sealed Pavilion, 2023, drywalls, steel frames, paint and sound installation; photo: Daniel Hanoch
Nimbus, 2023, plaster relief (1:125 scale); photo: Daniel Hanoch
Blocking the Pavilion′s back entrance is a relief portraying one of the six data centers built this year in central Israel to serve both Google and Amazon in operating the new Israeli government national cloud project, Nimbus (Latin for dark cloud), while turning the country into a cloud region for their own use, competing with similar endeavors in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Viewing the relief′s details is made possible through a kinetic lighting apparatus that functions as a scanner, exposing the depths of the semi-flat surface in a gradual, repetitive manner, aiming to establish vision where it is not readily available. The floor plan contour of this data center (designed by Skorka Architects), located in the heart of a former agricultural community, is, oddly enough, similar in form, though not in size, to that of the Israel Pavilion at the Giardini.
The bunker-like appearance of data centers—a protective shell and a vast array of support systems around the machinery halls—attests to their great importance, protecting the information flow. As we rely increasingly on information infrastructures, the volume of these support systems expands, leading to exponential growth of their environmental footprint, hidden under the guise of the "cloud."
Bnei Zion server farm, 2023; photo: Roi Dwek
Construction of the Bnei Zion data center (Skorka Architects), 2022; photo: Maor Chay & Omer Shemer; courtesy of Serverfarm
Ze′ev Rechter, original ground floor drawing of the Israeli Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia, ca. 1950; courtesy of Rechter Center for Architecture
A Passageway Genealogy, 2023, photo-chemical etching; photo: Daniel Hanoch
Israel′s strategic location as passageway between continents, in addition to the importance of its land to the three monotheistic religions, have turned it into a historical battleground. Since the establishment of the state in 1948, however, it has become a quasi-island and has remained within a fragile equilibrium. Today, this relative stability is undermined by Blue-Raman, a new fiber-optic cable being laid by Google, stretching through the Israeli desert. Set to bypass Egypt en route from India to Europe (while connecting Israel and Saudi Arabia), it revives the ancient trade routes, including Via Maris along the coastline, the King′s Highway along the Jordanian mountains, and the incense route.
This historical link emphasizes the close connection between thoroughfares and control, and the resulting geopolitical tensions. While the three main trade routes have remained almost unchanged throughout history, what did change were the rulers who used them, the technology in whose name they were paved, and the imprints they left behind. This attests not only to the infrastructure′s strength, but also to its fragility.
Engraved through photo-chemical etching, the map superimposes the various historical routes, thereby unfolding a state of constant re-colonization by hyper- global commercial forces, obtained via possession of infrastructure rather than conquest of land.
Concrete tomb stones, warning about the existence of fiber-optic cables below, Timna Valley, 2023; photo: Oren Eldar and Edith Kofsky
Telephone Exchange Buildings, 2023, concrete cast (1:50 scale) and sound installation, photo: Daniel Hanoch
The audio-sculptural installation, co-produced with sound artist Daniel Meir, focuses on city-center telephone exchange buildings. Due to technological changes, these former communication and intelligence hubs have become obsolete, sold by the privatized national telephone company, and are now empty, slated for demolition or adapted for alternative uses.
The installation spans five sculptures; abstract models of some of the dozens existing architectural building types, which received close architectural attention by the state′s architects, who refused to treat them as generic ′′buildings for machines,′′ and insisted that each will ′′derive′′ from its site. Ministry pressure eventually led to the adaption of duplicated models, a method which became dominant with the privatization of the services.
Cast in concrete but hollow, each of the sculptures emits a unique sound, based on original samples recorded in the respective building. Representing the different environments and unique reverberation of the individual empty halls, each track is repeated and duplicated several times to the point of tonal abstraction. The work manifests the negative space of these structures and traces absence. The tension between the sealed Pavilion and the hollow sculptures resonates with the fundamental difference between highly secured contemporary data centers, and soon-to-be-diminished telephone exchanges around the world.
Daniel Meir sampling the resonance of the Afula telephone exchange, 2023
Yeruham, 1959, arch: Gad Ascher
Slit Windows Model, 1967, arch: Moredechai Shoshani
Afula, 1968, arch: Leah Appel
Fortress Model, 1984, arch: Amizur Porat
Orientalism Model, 1991, arch: Ya′akov Stoler
Nimbus, 2023, plaster relief (1:125 scale), and Slit Windows Model (arch: Moredechai Shoshani, 1967), 2023, concrete cast (1:50 scale) and sound installation, photo: Daniel Hanoch
The exhibition is accompanied by a printed publication, designed by award-winning designer Dana Gez (Studio Gimel2) and published by Park Books, with articles by prominent and emerging Israeli scholars, among them Dr. Arch. Erez Golani-Solomon, Dr. Arch. Eliyahu Keller, Prof. Arch. Els Verbakel, and Dr. Lior Zalmanson, as well as 500 photographs, drawings, and three different indexes (Telephone exchange buildings; Data centers; and thoroughfares maps).
"What might archaeologists of the fourth millennium conclude if they uncovered this peculiar find? An inoperable facility of an unidentified nature, deeply buried in the ground, fortified and square in shape, approximately a million and a half cubic meters in size, crammed with stacks of unfamiliar devices, strangely ordered, and made of materials that are known to scientists but long since neither manufactured nor used. How might such physical traces of a bygone technological practice be understood if discovered? How would a technical relic of such sort be classified? One current construction initiative in southern Israel encourages us to ask these questions. It urges us to recognize the complex layering of such an undertaking and the latent meaning behind it."
from Erez Golani Solomon's "A Cloud in a Hole in Timna Valley"
cloud-to-ground catalogue (Park books), designed by Dana Gez and Ella Yehudai; photo: Daniel Hanoch
Curators & Exhibitors
Israel Ministry of Culture and Sport
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Embassy of Israel in Italy
Commissioner & producer
Productions′ Den Ltd, Tel Aviv
Pavilion commissioner & manager
With the generous support of
The Israel Lottery Council for Culture & Arts
Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem
Outset Contemporary Art Fund
Exhibition think tank
Tal Neery, Dr. Lior Zalmanson, Dr. Erez Golani Solomon, Dr. Eliyahu Keller, Dr. Roy Amit, Dr. Gilad Reich
Lila Bobrowicz, Naomi Van Essen
Yarden Yahal, Nir Dellus, Omer Mashiach, Avigael Miodownik, Ginosar Wolf, Ron Chen, Roi Dwek, Vika Libman, Maya Frishberg, Michael Joseph Pick, Elad Shpindel
Dana Gez, Ella Yehudai
Text editing and translation
Daria Kassovsky (English)
Nadia Cazzaniga (Italiano)
Audio system installation
The exhibition catalogue is published by
Park Books, Zurich
© 2023, the curators