Press Release

The Israel Museum Presents Hadassa Goldvicht's The House of Life, A Multi-Channel Video Work That Explores Venice's Transformation and Diminished Population Through the Lens of the Keeper of Its Ancient Jewish Cemeteries

Event Date: 
9 May 2017
New York, NY

Exhibited in Conjunction with the 57th Venice Biennale, the Work Meditates on Themes of Historical Memory and the Threshold Between Life and Death

On View at the Palazzo Querini Stampalia Museum, the Exhibition is Presented in Collaboration with Meislin Projects

The House of Life, a poetic and expansive installation by Hadassa Goldvicht, explores themes of historical memory; the threshold between life, death, myth, and art; and the rapidly changing nature of Venice, via a multi-channel video work that will be installed at the Querini Stampalia in conjunction with the Venice Biennale. Presented by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, in collaboration with Meislin Projects, the exhibition follows Aldo Izzo, the 86-year-old guardian and keeper of the Jewish cemeteries in Venice. 

Curated by Amitai Mendelsohn, Senior Curator, Head of the David Orgler Department of Israeli Art at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, the exhibition will be on view May 9 – November 26, 2017.  Installed throughout the entire third floor of the Palazzo Querini Stampalia Museum, the exhibition invites visitors to navigate fragments of conversations between Izzo and Goldvicht that took place over the course of four years. 

Izzo was once the captain of a large merchant vessel, and for the past 35 years has been tending the cemetery with the same care he once dedicated to his ship. As visitors progress through the exhibition, they encounter different realms of Izzo’s life—from his daily work at the cemetery, to his life at home, and the illustrated diaries he keeps. As the exhibition progresses, Izzo’s home and the cemeteries merge, becoming interchangeable and mirroring the way he seamlessly inhabits two worlds: blurring the border between life, death, and myth, a thematic thread that runs throughout much of Goldvicht’s practice.

Goldvicht’s work often takes as its subject intimate conversations with members of a community or institution, unraveling language and gesture to reveal socially and politically charged content. The House of Life began as an exploration of Venice’s Jewish community through personal conversations with its members, which evoked deep emotional responses that spoke to the city’s struggle. Through Izzo, who introduced her to the city’s Jewish cemeteries, Goldvicht began to see the plight of these specific sites as an allegory for the struggles of the city itself.

“Throughout my practice, I am interested in boundaries and thresholds—the place in which the line between the personal and the public blurs,” said Goldvicht. “The substance my works are made from is very real, mined both from my personal life and others. I am fascinated by the way each gesture or response to a personal question is a black box of social and political content, revealing layers of personal history. My work revolves around these deeply personal rituals and intimate conversations, which are a way to explore much larger issues. In my years of following Mr. Izzo, I felt as if he was teaching me things that I was almost reluctant to learn about, the liminal space between life and death, a place that most people cannot inhabit.” 

The exhibition’s central narrative follows Izzo, who hid in the cemetery as a young boy during World War II. Like the Greek mythological figure Charon, Izzo leads viewers on a voyage through the cemetery and its turbulent history, erasing the border between life and death; guiding visitors to a place where the dead protect the living and the living protect the dead. After retiring from his post as a captain, Izzo was appointed as caretaker of the cemeteries, which have been repeatedly demolished and rebuilt over the centuries, and which he now helms with the same care, charting and logging the daily activities. Approaching the cemetery as an art historian, Izzo has supervised the restoration of its grounds, preserving the ancient tombstones and rituals that revolve around the elevation of the soul after death.

“The work offers viewers a poetic statement on the universal emotional experience buried in individual and collective memory,” said curator Amitai Mendelsohn. “Hadassa’s many hours of interviews with Aldo and the Jewish community members became the backbone of the narrative, the subconscious grid against which the story is told, and which becomes a point of departure for an exploration of much bigger themes about the way we construct and preserve identity both as individuals and as a community.”

Through this work, the cemetery emerges as an analogy for Venice itself, a city that hides the true character of its struggle behind its beautiful façade. One of The House of Life’s central images is of the ancient cemetery where Izzo has carefully retrieved and restored the broken headstones that have been separated from gravesites they were intended to mark. Preserving the memories of those buried there, Izzo carefully hung the stones around the enclosed border of the cemetery, creating what appears to be an ancient installation, but which underscores the way in which the cemetery’s purpose has been undermined by the time and past destruction, and which mirrors the current state of Venice. Through his meticulous, daily caretaking, Izzo has preserved the cemetery and the memory of those buried there, a careful library of past memories.

With the influx of tourism and the replacement of craftsmanship with cheap, readymade imported goods, the city no longer provides a livelihood to its citizens and, as a result. its permanent population has been diminished by half in the past three decades. Today Venice is the only major city in the world that had a larger permanent population during the Middle Ages than it has today. Like the city, the ancient cemetery remains a beautiful and fascinating place, but even the cemetery is hollow, as many of the headstones no longer serve their intended purpose. Throughout the work, Izzo speaks of death—of the cemetery grounds he oversees, of his pet tortoises that he embalms, of the burial plots left for the remaining Jewish population in Venice—effortlessly transporting himself without fear between the worlds of the living and the dead. 

Through the narrative of one small corner of Venice and one man’s life’s work, the exhibition becomes an abstract allegory through which viewers examine the fading historical memory of the city itself. Like Izzo’s work with the cemetery, The House of Life—through its very nature as a work of art that will live on beyond the lives of its character—fights against death, creating a quiet space outside of time to meditate on the life of the individual and his lasting personal effect on place. 

The work will include an original score by Alicia Jo Rabins and will be accompanied by a full color catalogue with essays by Shaul Bassi, Associate Professor of English Literature at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and Amitai Mendelsohn, Senior Curator, Head of the David Orgler Department of Israeli Art.

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Hadassa Goldvicht, The House of Life, 2013-2017. Multi-Channel Video. Image courtesy of Meislin Projects. © Hadassa Goldvicht

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