In January 2014, Alfred Gallery settled in an old building on Shlush Alley, on the border of Tel-Aviv and Jaffa. The gallery members sought relevant correlations between the new socio-urban surrounding and their artistic endeavor. The building, erected in 1935, was in a rundown condition, it sensed of abandonment. The walls were cracked and peeling due to natural dilapidation, poor construction standards, and recurring interior alterations. There is something about abandonment, which entices the decipherment of time, harnessing imprints from the past for the benefit of the present. Spatial renovations in utilitarian rooms, the gallery space, the classrooms and studios, peeled away imperfections, and erased remnants of past events. Only the stairway, left untouched, encased by neglect, framing time, place, events, and people.
The project ‘Eliusha House – Maison Dom-Ino’ is a route traveling a particular period in the building’s history. In 1949 the building was purchased by ‘Amal Print’ to serve as the headquarters of the central committee of the Israeli Communist Party. The building was named ‘Eliusha House’, commemorating Eliahu Gozanski, a central figure in the Party, who was tragically killed the year before. Over the next 4 years 2 stories were added to the building, as is indicated by an iron insert in the concrete threshold at the doorway to the roof terrace. That same year the Party won a court appeal against the Israeli Minister of Interior. In his ruling, the Supreme Court Judge laid down the foundations for Freedom of Speech in Israel.
The building’s plain layout, with a stairway at one end, and habitable spaces to its side, resembles in its modesty, Le Courbusier’s generic modern building of 1914 – the ‘Dom-Ino House’. This formulaic conceptual construction was based on architectural and structural guidelines, reflecting values and life style in Modern times. Similar to the ‘Dom-Ino House’, the ‘Eliusha House’ was easy to renovate and alter, as occurred several times throughout its history, while the stairway was left intact and untouched.
The route connects 7 occurrences along the stairway, beginning at the entrance to the building and culminating at the roof terrace. Changes to the stairway’s interior, remnants of past events as well as deliberate insertions, entwine in form and matter, and express the changes, which took place between the years 1949 and 1953. Occasional excursions to other periods in the building’s history pronounce functional-esthetic instances in the building, such as a peephole through the stairway wall overlooking the gallery space, at the point where until 1949 the building’s exterior roof spanned. This exterior-interior passage is marked by an architectural stair section, emphasizing the shift between the building’s original stairs and the stairs used for the additions. These occurrences along the route reflect notions, which fluctuate between the mundane and the abstract, including architectural detailing, furniture and other exhibited artifacts. A metal shelf, for instance, carries a sand brick model of the ‘Dom-Ino House’, while another metal shelf holds a television portraying archival photos of the Communist Party. Throughout the project archival documents are utilized to enliven instances in the building’s history, such as posters prepared by ‘Amal Print’ and a surveillance protocol. Except for Eliusha Gozanski, two other key persons from the building’s history are mentioned particularly. The first, Ester Vilenska, was a prominent figure in the mostly male party leadership. She was famous for her involvement in labor rights struggles, joint Jewish-Arab coalitions, and having an independent stance, which defied even Soviet decrees. The other, Alfred Hecht, after which the gallery is named, was an art collector and painting framer in London during the 50’s. The topmost level in the route exemplifies the relevance of the past to the present, in a conceptual-ideological fashion, as well as with respect to Israel’s socio-political shift since the mid 1990’s. This level is dedicated to the freedom of speech precedence, as stated in the ‘Kol Ha’Am’ judicial ruling, and the demise of the socialist ideal, both of which are conceived in current day Israel as belonging to an irrelevant distant past. Verbal explanations and labels follow the occurrences at various levels in the stairway route, discoursing on authentic looking materials and details, as well as real remnants. Combining the authentic with the inserted reinforces the mechanism of spatial framing, which undermines the clear cut border between the building’s mundane functional state and its symbolic resonance. The building, in this project, is manipulated like raw material, existing in a continuous spatial functionality, while at the same time reconfiguring that very same position.
Curator: Efrat Gal
Creative mentoring: Dianna Dallal
Photo credit: Tal Nisim, Roy Fabian