Gal Weinstein’s new floor installation, The Valley of Jezreel, embodies all the qualities that characterize his work at large: sensitivity to material and space, preoccupation with surface via inferior synthetic materials, camouflage and substitutes, and a fundamental ambivalence regarding the potential political content implied by the work.
An agricultural landscape of cultivated fields is mediated into the museum by means of the cheapest office type carpets. The spectacular patchwork quilt of the Jezreel Valley is spread in diverse shades of green, brown and yellow, translated into the surprising form of a colossal jigsaw puzzle of 1000 pieces.
The Valley of Jezreel – the mythological valley of Zionism’s heyday – is a landscape icon, a distinctive symbol of the 1920 pioneering Zionist settlement enterprise. It is synonymous with productivity, with industrious rural rootedness, and with the marvels of modern agriculture. Weistein’s strategy – to transform it into a camouflage net and represent it as a children’s game – interferes with the immediate context of this familiar image, eliciting disconcert and challenging the self-evident.
The very same strategy was employed by Weinstein in his roof works – both at the Kibbutz Art Gallery, Tel Aviv (1999) and the São Paulo Biennial (2002). These pieces reinforced the contrast between the key functional quality of the roof as shelter and protection, and the fact that is shelters nothing. For Weinstein, the roof is like the valley – a representation, a formula. The roof represents a “home” (as well as a dream); the valley represents “nature” (as well as a vision). The artistic act re-formulates these charged concepts. The “home” becomes an architectural growth, while the fertile “nature” is rendered a barren, synthetic and domesticated surface that can be disassembled and reassembled.
By their very essence, Weinstein’s works reject a narrow political reading. What may seem political at first sight is not always meant to be so. Nonetheless, against the backdrop of a long Israeli tradition of landscape depictions and an obsessive preoccupation with “territory” and “land”, one cannot avoid considering the Valley planted in the museum as a patchwork quilt spread over the entire Zionist dream. The jewel in the crown of modern agriculture was transformed into a crushed utopia.
The issues of “nature” versus “culture”, the “real” versus its countless simulations, were addressed by Weinstein in other work too: in the early sculptures covered with black bristles, in the synthetic football courts, and in the stylized animal drawings made of steel wool. However, the engagement with “nature” equally stems from Weinstein’s great interest in romantic concepts, as from his urge to refute them. The Valley of Jezreel, a sheltering roof, and a hymn are all associated with the communal spirit of Zionism and the constitution of a collective identity. The rephrasing of these ideas encapsulates the unfulfilled promise of Zionism.