Dana Yoeli / Interior
Beit Bialik Museum – The Second Floor
Exhibition Curator: Dr. Smadar Sheffi
Chief Curator and Director of the Bialik Complex: Ayelet Bitan Shlonsky
“Interior,” by Dana Yoeli, launches a new project of site-specific installations in the small room on the second floor of the Bialik House Museum. Yoeli created scenes of memory in wooden boxes, bringing to mind rooms in a miniature dollhouse, or perhaps maquettes for a stage setting. It is a reduction within a reduction, a miniature space inside of a small space, within the historic Bialik House, on Bialik Street – a game of poetic exploration.
A cluster of memories populate the boxes and the space, a network of intertwined images, inseparable despite embodying disparate times and seemingly unconnected places. The scenes inside the boxes are made from materials Yoeli purchased in various flea markets, mostly from the 1920s and ‘30s. She combined a photograph of the Buchenwald forest (one of the most beautiful in Germany but now inextricably associated with the infamous death camp of the same name) with botanical drawings and cardboard backdrops from a 19th century children’s theatre. Into this impossible encounter between nature and other images, she places architectural details of interiors from a family album documenting a house in Berlin 1926-1934, creating a scene of nightmarish recollection. An upholstered armchair and a library exist as wrecks in the heart of Nature, alive with dangers. The sensation of an overhanging cloud, of darkening skies and the need to seek refuge in culture is chilling since we, the spectators, like an all-knowing narrator, know the end of the story. In another box, the same armchair with capitonnage upholstery (with sunken buttons) appears among boulders against the backdrop of the Roman baths at Masada, another site of glory and disaster.
For more than a decade Yoeli has been engaging in the crisis of Modernism in her work, addressing the waning faith in progress. During her artist residency in Germany in 2015, Yoeli created the project Ashuchit | Fichte [spruce tree] in which she traced her grandfather’s stories about his hometown Bayreuth, Wagner’s city so beloved by Hitler. She made victory/memorial wreaths from plants growing in different places throughout the city. In other projects, children’s books and porcelain dishware were used to emphasize kitsch that can turn sickly sweet, unfamiliar and threatening. Another group of works engage in classical Roman theatres and temples. Yoeli observes them with a double gaze as both signifiers of high culture and temples of cruel death, and occasionally for art. In her video work “Roman Theatre” screened in Bialik’s richly humanistic library, Yoeli constructs and deconstructs a hinted-at theatre, contemplating what is considered the pinnacle of western culture. In this stop-motion video, she depicts the illusory visual similarity between processes of building and ruin. Pillars, pilasters, severed fingers, and a candle alternatively appear and disappear as if in an unfamiliar ritual, whose logic, like historical events, remains indecipherable.
The issue of the relation between modernism and tradition is central to Bialik’s thought. Berlin was the goal and desire of the young Bialik; by the time he lived there, 1921-1922, he was middle-aged, and it seems he was disappointed in the city. He defined those years as “difficult and cruel,” as he was beset by health problems of his own and his wife Mania’s, as well as business difficulties. Bialik felt that the city had exhausted its culture. In an interview in 1923, he stated, “We must consider Berlin as a temporary center, a type of transition, as there are already clear signs that the power of this center is gradually decreasing and weakening.” This was an unusual outlook at the time, since it seemed to all that post-World War I liberal Weimar Germany was a sound center for Jewish cultural activities, especially in light of the rise of Communism.
Yoeli uses the language of models, reductions, and dioramas such as found in natural history museums with their pedagogic intent, to delineate the unclear, what lurks concealed behind a cultural façade, what we can sense but cannot define.
“…a dark cloud then descended over the house and within” --
Haim Nahman Bialik, “Shiva” [week of mourning] (1932)
Dr. Smadar Sheffi