If the Fire within Our Eyes

Bezalel Gallery for Contemporary Art , Jan 15 - Feb 25, 2023
Curated by Dor Guez

Stereoscope 30° - roads, Mandatory parks, and other layers

Installation view

Stereoscope 60° - the Mount Scopus Viewshed

Stereoscope 45° - special trees, land designations, and other layers

Stereoscope 15° - barriers, curb stones, and regional plan 11092a - Mount Scopus Slopes National Park

In a new solo exhibition at the Bezalel Gallery of Contemporary Art, Shabtai Pinchevsky presents a video work titled On the Optics of Mount Scopus (2021) and a sculptural installation made up of stereoscopes which were commissioned especially for the exhibition. The exhibition opens just as the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is preparing to move from its Mount Scopus campus to a new building in central Jerusalem.

At the heart of the exhibition is a two-channel video work in the form of an imaginary commencement speech given at the Hebrew University theater on top of Mount Scopus. The campus is shared by the Hebrew University and the Bezalel Academy, which moved there in 1990. Since the university was inaugurated in 1925, the theater and its scenery have served as a backdrop for events with national-Zionist significance – held first by the Zionist establishment and later by the State of Israel. This "primeval" landscape, stretching east to the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea and the Jordanian Highlands, figures largely in local and Western painting and photography in the 19th and 20th centuries. The video work is based on visual research into the history of photography on Mount Scopus, and uses a 3D model of the theater created by Pinchevsky to discuss the role of landscape imagery throughout the Zionist project.

The title of the exhibition, "If the Fire within Our Eyes", is taken from the performative text written by Pinchevsky, that accompanies the video work. The phrase references ancient theories of human vision, which understood vision as a tactile sense, and the eye an organ that “probes” the world. These theories are mentioned in relation to a discussion of the role of landscape imagery in a political and cultural space in which “the view” is an asset used to promote settlement and control.

Pinchevsky writes: "The repeated subjection of the landscape as an artistic subject has been just one of the excuses made by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) in creating the Mount Scopus Slopes National Park. The National Park is part of a chain of parks surrounding Jerusalem that have been purposely designed to limit the expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods and deny Palestinian livelihood in the city. To justify establishing it, the INPA presents a rich history of imagery based on this landscape, framing it as a national Jewish asset that the State of Israel must protect and keep free of construction.”

The video work is accompanied by a sculptural installation made up of stereoscopes that Pinchevsky built. These optical devices for viewing 3D images were a popular means of entertainment and "virtual" tourism in the early 20th century. The same optical principles govern contemporary media devices such as VR glasses. The stereoscopes shown in the exhibition are variations on Charles Wheatstone's original design from 1832. The device was first introduced to the public in Great Britain a year before the invention of photography was announced in France. The stereoscopes in the exhibition will display architectural and geographical drawings by Pinchevsky, which offer a geometrical and geophysical analysis of the relationship between seeing and controlling that exists between Mount Scopus and its environs.

Curator Prof. Dor Guez