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Cloud-to Ground courtyard Installation photograph, Israel Pavilion, 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale. Photo: Daniel Hanoch

Well known to generations of Israelis and others during the 1930s and even later, the iconic image of winged red camel was celebrated as the logo created for Tel Aviv’s groundbreaking 1934 Levant Fair. Attracting visitors from around the world, the event, like the 1939 New York World’s Fair showcased modern-age advancements: new inventions including food products, contemporary design and cutting-edge architecture. Long associated with the ancient traditions of Israel, the camel was transformed, in keeping with the spirit of the event: an earthbound creature, heavy of foot, now soared through the air, transformed by the most astounding invention of the century: the miracle of aviation. He still appears today on occasion, as an homage to Israel, the nation focused on the oldest, the newest and beyond.

This blog has previously surveyed examples of recent architecture in Israel: one, a coffee bar whose spaces are continually reconfigured through colored light; another, a desert shelter intended to seamlessly fuse with its austere surroundings. But, with the annual entries for the prestigious Venice Biennale, architecture from Israel is the starting point for dialogue that begins, but does not end, with building.

Taking its title from the term which specifies the action of lightning striking the earth, Israel’s exhibit “Cloud-to-Ground,” can be seen in Venice through November. Examining the installation photos or seeing the show in person, the viewer may infer that the assembly of objects, scattered through the interior and courtyard of Zeev Richter’s 1952 glass pavilion are meant to evoke the spirit of Brutalism, an architectural style of the 1960s, once demeaned, but now studied and valued. Although this might have been intentional, the display of these ungainly concrete and plaster constructions, some etched to resemble little Renaissance villas or rustic cottages—has little or nothing to do with art.

All-encompassing, “Cloud-to-Ground” is an immersive, conceptual encounter with the architecture of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”: containers, never seen by most of us, that were designed to house technological hardware including wires, cables, the elements that made mobile phones work and more. The installation makes a statement about the light and the dark shadows of the digital world, and our place in it. Its venue, a formerly light-filled mid-century building, is now shrouded in dark materials, a transformation which underscores the exhibit’s disturbing “inaccessibility” as the display forces the viewer to confront the double-edged sword of the future. What the viewer might have formerly perceived as air-borne or ephemeral (the cloud) acquires weight that goes beyond the object to what it signifies.

“Cloud-to-Ground” is also about Israel, its location, environment, history and more, as the display homes in on the nation’s transformation in fields that include security, medicine and agriculture.

The exhibit curators have provided commentary on the inspiration for and meanings behind the display . One of them, Hadas Maor, an art historian and lecturer at the Bezalel Academy, underlines the theme of process in her summary: “Focusing on the transition from sound to light, it extends [is presented as] as an immersive installation using void space, sound and light as its primary materials, examining the shift from analogue to digital communication, from accessible, cite-centered buildings to sealed structures in peripheral locations, and from a direct to a decentralized connectivity.”

Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B’nai B’rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.