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Contemporary Art Meets Ancient Stones In Jerusalem

An avant-garde exhibit by Israeli Canadian artist, Nicole Kornberg Jacobovici, has brought art and archeology together

Contemporary art might not be the first thing on the minds of visitors to the remnants of ancient Jerusalem, but a ground-breaking exhibit called “Arteology: The Power of the Ancients in Contemporary Form,” by Israeli Canadian artist, Nicole Kornberg Jacobovici, has brought art and archeology together. Located 20 feet under the Western Wall, this exhibit features 27 ceramic pieces and is the first to be displayed in an active, subterranean Israeli archeological site.

The exhibition was made possible by a partnership between the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the City of David, the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Biennale. While the ceramics will only be on view in Jerusalem during Sukkot, the exhibition is designed to go on tour internationally.

An artifact from the ‘Arteology’ exhibition by Nicole Kornberg-Jacobovici, at the Jerusalem Archeological Park (Photo Credit: Eric Sultan)

Renowned photographer Eric Sultan has captured the exhibition with the intention to use these images as massive backdrops to the traveling exhibition, to help recreate the unique site in which it was first displayed. Talks are underway to take the exhibition overseas, including to Greece, Japan and Italy. The project is under the framework of the Jerusalem Biennale, whose goal is to showcase the city’s rich history and culture through the prism of contemporary art. At the opening, Jerusalem Biennale founder and director Rami Ozeri told visitors, “Art in Jerusalem is always site-specific. Every place in the city carries with it, for good and for bad, hundreds and thousands of years of history and traditions. We have this amazing opportunity to connect the magnificent ceramic art by Nicole with the foundations of the most important ancient structure of this part of the world. This connection is magical both aesthetically and symbolically.” 

Renowned archeologist ,Yuval Baruch, director of the Jerusalem District of the IAA, has been excavating at the City of David and Temple Mount since 1997. “We’re very proud to provide this special space for Nicole’s ceramics exhibition. This space was part of the water system of Jerusalem, some 2,700 years ago. It’s the first time in Jerusalem we’ve had an art exhibit in an active archeological site. I sincerely hope it’s not the last time. In many respects, archeology’s “language” is based on pottery. That’s why we decided to deal with ceramics. It’s an ancient raw material that has accompanied human civilization since its beginning,” he said. “Nicole’s ceramics are particularly appropriate because it’s contemporary art that echoes ancient forms and methods. This dialogue between past and present shouldn’t just be a matter for archeologists. It should involve the general population and that’s what we’re trying to promote,” said Baruch.

A vase surrounded by cherubs is an artifact that is part of an exhibition called ‘Arteology’ by Nicole Kornberg-Jacobovici, at the Jerusalem Archeological Park. (Photo Credit: Eric Sultan)

Standing in front of the multi-layered display of her work, Kornberg Jacobovici said the inspiration for her pieces on display leans on biblical, cultural and historical themes and motifs, from sources as varied as cultures present 5,000 years ago along the Aegean Sea to the Israelites in Egypt and the Etruscans in ancient Rome. “Throughout history, clay has been used to contain the objects of our lives—food, water, coins, jewelry, scrolls—the objects that sustain us. It is through our continued relationship with clay that we can connect to ourselves, our history, and cultures of the past,” she said. “Ceramics carry the energy, aesthetics and the hand of the maker—sometimes preserving the actual fingerprint of the artist. Ceramics reflect a moment in time. Placing my pieces within an active archeological site allows me to have a dialogue with the ancients and, in a sense, with people of the future, since this site reminds us that these pieces too will one day be archeology,” Jacobovici said.

The Jerusalem Archeological Park forms part of the subterranean ancient water system in Jerusalem. This site is a popular tourist attraction. (Photo Credit: Eric Sultan)

Baruch said he is optimistic that the juxtaposition of contemporary art and archeology will be a bridge that brings people to a greater understanding of the meaning of the ruins and the multiple layers of Jerusalem. “Archeology is part of the cultural environment of the city. It’s important to develop new ways to bring that to the public. This is a kind of pilot project,” he said.

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate.

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