The Collection Houses
One may enter the story through the dwarf, Tiplet, whose father purchased the old house of Maria, ex-wife of Erich Glas, later known as Eri Glas, in Weimar, next to the Bauhaus’s Haus am Horn, the house where their son, Gotthard, aka Uziel, aka Uzi Gal, inventor of the Uzi sub-machine gun, grew up, years after Erich Glas left his wife and son and Germany and went to Palestine, and Tiplet’s father continues to work the vegetable garden outside the house, just as it was then, back in the 1930s, and his son raises rabbits and sells them, among others, to the director of the memorial site at Buchenwald concentration camp, Dr. Volkhard Knigge, who invited Yochai Avrahami and his family for dinner in his home, and inquired whether they would eat rabbit, a meal which never took place.
This way, for instance.
One may also enter the story through the deserted Taas factory on Hashalom Road, Tel Aviv, across the street from Avrahami's home, a factory in which the Uzi sub-machine gun, among other arms, was manufactured after its invention by Uzi Gal, aka Uziel, aka Gotthard Glas, son of Eri Glas, aka Erich Glas, who was an officer in the Prussian army and an aerial photographer during World War I, and studied at the Bauhaus and lived in Weimar with his first wife, Maria, who raised their son in the house next to the Bauhaus’s Haus am Hon, and left his wife and four year old son and went to Palestine, bequeathing to his son the modernist genetics of
the Bauhaus whose signs are (presumably) discernible in the efficient, minimalistic weapon exhibited, for example, at the Collection House Museum, also called the IDF Museum, on Yafo-Tel Aviv Road, one of many military museums scattered throughout Israel, and a part
of an enterprise displaying the country’s military past, also including milling machines and caches, such as the large cache in Yagur, the kibbutz to which Erich Glas arrived, and whose neighboring Mount
Carmel he depicted in the background of one of the etchings in his book of destruction and resurrection entitled Nights, and where his son grew up, studying at the Ludwig Tietz Trade School, founded by German Jews in order to take in refugee youth from Germany, and which was designed by Erich Mendelsohn, a modernist German Jewish architect—a site in which no contractor takes any interest because its soil was polluted by the chemicals used to coat the arms manufactured there.
Yochai Avrahami is well aware of the symbolic, addictive, fantastic, at times comic, power of these stories and their likes, and he gathers the materials comprising them—all of them reality materials—concocting them with a catching passion.
The current exhibition is one possible collection of stories centered on army and state and arms and economy and Zionism and modernity and Holocaust and art and reality and memory and oblivion. A dynamic cabinet of curiosities; fascinating, funny, at times wacky.
t is only one possible collection, because one may start this rhizomatic wandering anywhere, and may follow it anywhere. Not because of some ostensible arbitrariness. Quite the opposite. The power of this project—project is, perhaps, the most suitable word for it—lies in the clear recognition of the power of reality and the powerful affinities between its constituent elements.
Yochai Avrahami’s enterprise constantly deconstructs and rearranges and deconstructs once again. In a dialectical (or better yet—multilectical) act, he severs old ties. Thus, in this chronicle, things are sometimes other things as well, even their opposites. Virtually no signifier has a single, solid signified: the school is also an arms factory (the Bauhaus which spawned—and this is one of the major links here—the Uzi sub-machine gun; the Tietz Trade School in
Kibbutz Yagur where weaponry was manufactured); art is craft (the Bauhaus, Bezalel),
utopia is dystopia (the modernist utopia of the Bauhaus encounters the modernist dystopia of destruction; the kibbutz is a military site); the kibbutz (e.g., Yagur) is an arms cache; houses are ruins (from the artificial ruin initiated by Goethe in the park in Weimar, through Mendelsohn’s Tietz Trade School building, gradually losing its original character, to the deserted Taas
plant in Tel Aviv, and the ruins of Palestinianism—the specter hovering over Israeli existence); schoolchildren are fighters (the Tietz Trade School); the Jewish refugee is a Prussian officer (Erich Glas); the Jewish child has a relative in the SS (Gotthard Glas’s mother, Maria, lived with Etta, whose brother was a member in the SS); the excluded exclude and displace others (Jews, Palestinians); the victim (Erich Glas; his son Uzi) is a victimizer (Uzi Glas, who was sent to Palestine due to his Judaism, and became the inventor of weaponry); the local is foreign (Eri is Erich; Uzi, the ultimate Sabra, is Gotthard; Mt. Carmel serves as backdrop for the story of the Holocaust); construction is destruction (Zionism which arose at the price of the destruction of Palestinianism); technical jargon (about the Uzi, for example) becomes a nostalgic text; a weapon is an aesthetic object (the Uzi as a modernist object); the acute critic (Avrahami) is also a curious participant in the discourse.
The undermining of the sign’s stability does not neutralize its meaning. This is the crux of the matter. Moreover, the different, at times contradictory, meanings are not accidental. They come together to form a charged picture—not an argument or a phrase, but rather a suggestive depiction of Israeliness. A depiction which takes long stops along the way to ponder the interrelations between art and reality, and modernity, and the relationship between the civilian and the military, and memory.
An act of organization takes place alongside the deconstruction. The type of organization opted by Avrahami is distinctively identified: the arrangement of museum display, the epitome of sorting and joining. Five departments: Weaving, Architecture, Print, Metalwork, and Photography—possibly the Bauhaus, possibly the old (and new) Bezalel School, possibly a display of kibbutz branches, and mainly an abstraction of all these, teamed with a museum staging which, due to the nature of the exhibits, alludes primarily to the Israeli military museums.
The place where Bauhaus, Bezalel, and the kibbutz meet is that of Zionist modernism,
of the consecration of labor and functionality and autonomous art, or better still—of the rhetoric of all of these. These themes are also deprived of their ostensible autonomy and automatism. Avrahami pits them one against the other, neutralizing fettered meanings, further complicating the picture of our reality. He draws or highlights hidden analogies (Jewishness and Palestinianism, military and civilian, historical knowledge and aesthetic knowledge), exposes contradictions (the destructiveness of the Zionist enterprise, education in the service of militarism, art reincarnated as destructiveness, and destructiveness reincarnated as art), ironically criticizing the improvised, heaping, propagandist display modes prevalent in such military museums.
The display flaunts its displayness—sculptures, mannequins, models, maquettes, films—thereby positioning itself in the art department. At the same time it emphasizes its documentary background: parts of the comprehensive research work are presented unaltered, the films present interviews with real people who took part in real events, memory plays an important role (memory vs. commemoration, which is the object of critique and manipulation here).
Art and display are intertwined with historical reality. Avrahami shows how the arts and crafts schools intersect with the military museums (which are a branch of the army). Bezalel, he
tells us (or the Bauhaus, one of the peaks in the transformation of the modernist theory into practice) is a weapons cache. At Bezalel-Bauhaus they make chairs and kettles, as well as sub- machine guns. Nothing is purely civilian here. Everyone is recruited.
The story presented here thus squarely stands on the ground of reality. But it does not offer itself. It is Avrahami who comes and exposes and presents the associations generating it. He creates an alternative narrative, replete with contents; a firm and abiding true story which is not comprised of coincidences, nor is it an invention (the aspect of interpretation, if it exists, is practically irrelevant). This is why the testimony is so important here, and with it—the memory (it is not accidental that most of the interviewees are elderly people, who carry a rich enough baggage of memory). This is the reason this story is quintessentially political.
But the story is not one; it is multidirectional. In this respect, it introduces a fascinating comment about causality: not a negation of causality, but a demonstration of how it spawns a range
of possibilities. In other words, there is no denial of reality here, but quite the opposite—an enrichment of its possibilities and an introduction of a great complexity, along with its significant ethical implications.
Thus, this project does not introduce one key sentence, a bottom line, a general argument. The spectator, the reader, is invited to oscillate between various possibilities and spin more and more stories, local stories and master-narratives, based on the flood of information given her. No single, strong and distinctive impression offers itself either: pain, irony, anger, compassion. There is a measure of all these here.
Still and all, one—technical, relatively marginal—fact tempts me to adopt, crown, and make it, nevertheless, the final, bottom line: the deserted Taas factory on Hashalom Road, Tel Aviv.
A dilapidated building, a ruin, yet another ruin, whose surrounding ground, contaminated with the arms industry waste water, is good for nothing, serving as a metonymy (there are no metaphors in this project) for the heavily polluted soil of the entire country.