New Publication: Visual Constructs of Jerusalem, ed. by Kühnel, Noga-Banai and Vorholt

visualVisual Constructs of Jerusalem is a new volume of essays, edited by Bianca Kühnel, Galit Noga-Banai, and one of our network members at York, Hanna Vorholt.

Hanna has sent us some further details about the collection:

‘This volume brings together 44 articles by scholars from 15 different countries and is an outcome of the research project SPECTRUM Visual Translations of Jerusalem.

The special position of Jerusalem among the cities of the world stems from a long history shared by the three Abrahamic religions, and the belief that the city reflected a heavenly counterpart. Because of this unique combination, Jerusalem is generally seen as extending along a vertical axis stretching between past, present, and future. However, through its many ‘earthly’ representations, Jerusalem has an equally important horizontal dimension: it is represented elsewhere in all media, from two-dimensional maps to monumental renderings of the architecture and topography of the city’s loca sancta.

In documenting the increasing emphasis on studying the earthly proliferations of the city, the current book witnesses a shift in theoretical and methodological insights since the publication of The Real and Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Art in 1998. Its main focus is on European translations of Jerusalem in images, objects, places, and spaces that evoke the city through some physical similarity or by denomination and cult – all visual and material aids to commemoration and worship from afar. The book discusses both well-known and long-neglected examples, the forms of cult they generate and the virtual pilgrimages they serve, and calls attention to their written and visual equivalents and companions. In so doing, it opens a whole new vista onto the summa of representations of Jerusalem.’

See the publisher’s website for the full list of essay titles.

 

Sharing the Holy Land: Perceptions of Shared Sacred Space in the Medieval and Early Modern Eastern Mediterranean

sharing

Registration is now open for ‘Sharing the Holy Land: Perceptions of Shared Sacred Space in the Medieval and Early Modern Eastern Mediterranean’, at the Warburg Institute, University of London, 12-13 June.

The symposium includes keynote addresses from Professor Osama Hamdan (Al-Quds University, Jerusalem), Professor Bernard Hamilton (Nottingham) and Professor Benjamin Kedar (Hebrew University Jerusalem).

Our network members Anthony Bale and Michele Campopiano are also presenting.

The event website tells us that:

This symposium seeks to address how both Western pilgrims and the indigenous Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Levantine population perceived the sharing of religious shrines with other faiths. In particular, scholars will look at how this sharing is described and explained in contemporary accounts and how this influenced the knowledge of other faiths among the Semitic religions. The symposium will focus on the period from c.1100 to c.1600, addressing the changing political context in the Levant and its influence on the sharing of sacred space.

The programme can be viewed here.

Please send any questions to Jan Vandeburie: sharingtheholyland2015(at)gmail.com

Zombies in the Old City

Tablet magazine highlights a new film called JeruZalem, which looks like it could be excellent trashy summer viewing for Jerusalem fans.

According to the Bible, Jerusalem has of course seen the resurrection of the dead before, and will do again at the Second Coming (biblical scholars might want to correct me here, my knowledge of this is admittedly a little sketchy).

Explicitly invoking biblical eschatology in its trailer, JeruZalem presents a modern take on this narrative, in the form of (what else?) a zombie horror film. Its premise is as follows:

American tourists visiting Jerusalem arrive just as the mouth of hell opens up and spits out agitated zombies, at which point said tourists take refuge in the world’s greatest hideout, the Old City.

As Tablet points out, Max Brooks’ novel World War Z , made into a film of the same name starring Brad Pitt in 2013, also brought zombies to Jerusalem.

In the film, Israel is one of only two countries (curiously, along with North Korea) to have survived a zombie onslaught, saved by the initiative of the Mossad. The country takes in survivors, of all religions and nationalities, and builds an enormous wall around Jerusalem to keep the zombies out. This section of the film does not have a happy ending.

Who am I to say, but I suspect there might be some political metaphors in here.

Hannah Boast

‘A Clockwork Jerusalem': ‘New Jerusalems’ in Britain, from Blake to Brutalism

A Clockwork Jerusalem. Photo via Architectural Association.

Followers of Jerusalem-related news and trivia may remember that the British Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale was called ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’.

‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’ is now on display a little closer to home, for those of us in the UK. It will be at the Architectural Association Gallery in London until 6th June.

If London isn’t convenient, there is a video of the exhibition in Venice last year on Youtube. You can also view a lecture about the pavilion by one of its creators, Sam Jacobs, on the Architectural Association website.

The pavilion’s name refers to two well-known, and sharply contrasting, visions of Britain’s future: Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange (1971), and William Blake’s poem, ‘Jerusalem’ (c. 1808).

Jerusalem has been invoked in depictions of imagined British and English futures before and since Blake wrote his famous work, so it is not immediately obvious that this is the version of ‘Britain/England as Jerusalem’ invoked in the title.

Our network member Lucy Underwood has discussed here the ambivalent meanings of the Jerusalem metaphor for English Catholics during the Reformation, while in a series of wide-ranging recent posts Laura Sangha examined the ways in which the idea of the ‘New Jerusalem’ has been repurposed by advocates of political change, from Reformation Protestants to the twentieth century.

Blake’s Preface to ‘Milton: a Poem’, where his poem ‘Jerusalem [And did those feet in ancient time] originally appeared. Wikimedia Commons.

Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, however, remains the touchstone for those invoking the city in imagining the future of England and Britain, and the Pavilion’s creators, Jacobs (FAT Architecture) and Wouter Vanstiphout (Crimson Architectural Historians), have specified it as their reference point. They include an image of Blake’s eye in the exhibition, looking down inscrutably on its central installation.

One of the ironies of the reception of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ in England and Britain, which also makes it a productive starting point for an art exhibition, is that the poem’s politically confrontational message has often been lost in its transformation into a nationalist hymn and potential national anthem. As Sangha notes, this is further disguised by the rousing music to which the poem was set in 1916 by the composer Hubert Parry. The poem, Sangha points out, was intended by Blake as a ‘call to arms – not a celebration of what England is, but a vision of what it might be.’

There is perhaps no better evidence of this widespread tendency to read Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ as a glorification of the status quo than UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s backing of the hymn, in July 2012, as the national anthem for England’s sports teams.

This transparently populist remark, made in a speech to young Tory activists and presumably timed to coincide with the national fervour surrounding the London Olympics, which took place just weeks later, indicated Cameron’s interest in sport, underscoring his adherence to norms of masculinity, and countering critics who accuse the Eton and Oxford-educated politician of elitist detachment from ordinary life. At the same time, in its acknowledgement of a distinct ‘English’ identity outside of the Union, Cameron’s call was an appeal to the Conservative Party’s right, who have been typically sceptical of his ‘modernising’ impulses.

Crucially, by limiting his backing of Jerusalem as an anthem to sporting events only, Cameron carefully sidestepped the possibility of his call being interpreted as a criticism of Britain’s existing national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’, and, implicitly, of the Royal Family itself. This move is absolutely off-limits for English politicians, if not Welsh and Scottish ones, while the UK press and public continue to display a fanatical obsession with the Royals.

Prime Minister David Cameron, with daughter Florence, television presenter Jeremy Clarkson, Blur bassist-turned-cheese farmer Alex James, and unknown woman, pictured at James’ ‘Harvest’ Festival in 2011. Photo: The Standard.

Cameron’s enthusiasm for ‘Jerusalem’ is not surprising, given that echoes of the reading of Blake’s poem as a celebration of ‘traditional English (or British) values’ are clearly discernible in the wider nostalgic trends that have developed as a cultural counterpart to the mainstream rise of the Conservative movement in the UK over recent years. This is the topic for another blog post, but a number of thoughtful pieces have appeared online over the past few years on the links between the rehabilitation of the pastoral, ‘folk culture’, and the UK’s shift to the right.

‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’ seems to participate in another form of nostalgia, this time the currently trendy valorisation of the utopian projects of British postwar architects and town planners. The more interesting examples of this reevaluation can be found in Owen Hatherley’s writing, though the genre has spawned many lesser variants, and, of course, legions of Tumblrs (I am partial to the documentation of Sheffield, where I live, on she feld). Hatherley neatly summarises the appeal of these schemes today as a form of ‘nostalgia for the future’, a quote which also resonates with some of the uses to which imagined Jerusalems have been put (Jerusalem-born Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour’s adaptation of sci-fi tropes might be seen in the same vein).

Park Hill children at the official opening, June 16 1961. Image by Peter Tuffrey, via she feld.

The failure of a large proportion of the British postwar housing schemes is a familiar narrative. Planners and architects sought to improve working class lives by constructing vast modernist housing estates featuring light and airy rooms and indoor plumbing, which seemed to promise a dramatic improvement on the old and neglected slums then inhabited by the urban poor. Brutalist structures such as the Hulme Crescents in Manchester, Thamesmead in London (where A Clockwork Orange was filmed), and the Scottish New Town of Cumbernauld were built, and celebrated with wild optimism as a ‘New Jerusalem’. Large scale models of these buildings feature in the exhibition.

The use of Jerusalem rhetoric to describe housing plans reflected a wider hopeful framing of the welfare state at this time, seen for instance in Clement Attlee’s call, in his Labour Leader’s Speech of 1950, for members to ‘go forward and fight in the spirit of William Blake.’ Ken Loach’s documentary Spirit of ’45 (2013) drew on nostalgia for Labour’s ‘New Jerusalem’ period in an attempt to revive the party’s ailing fortunes, while now former Labour leader Ed Miliband invoked the same golden era in speeches last year. As the General Election result this month decisively showed, these didn’t work. Something about this inflection of the ‘New Jerusalem’ is clearly no longer compelling for the British public.

The promised ameliorations of the postwar housing projects ultimately failed to materialise. By the 1980s, with high rates of crime, poverty, and drug use, estates had become a stigmatised emblem of social decay (see Lynsey Hanley’s Estates (2007) for a sympathetic history of a story usually narrated with a large dose of classism). Architectural flaws had become apparent in structures that were often built quickly with poor materials (the collapse of Ronan Point in 1968 is a notorious example), while planners’ love for concrete was never quite shared by a more cautious British public. The recent rehabilitation of Brutalist architecture remains an elite phenomenon, and buildings of this period regularly top lists of ‘Britain’s ugliest buildings’. Our own newly spruced-up Central Hall at the University of York, affectionately known as the ‘spaceship’, still divides opinion.

Many estates were subsequently demolished, like the Crescents. Those which survived, such as Park Hill in Sheffield, were often subjected to the perhaps more ignominious end of ‘regeneration’. In Park Hill, council tenants have been socially cleansed, and their homes turned over to young professionals willing to pay a high price for their own stylish piece of history (maybe this is the ‘New Jerusalem’ Cameron has in mind when he promotes the sale of publicly-owned housing).

In ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’, the story of the estates becomes part of a longer narrative of British modernism, with Blake as the anchor. This takes in, as the blurb notes, ‘traditions of the romantic, sublime and pastoral, as well as interests in technology and science fiction’.

These influences are brought together in the pavilion’s central installation, a seven-metre-wide earth mound, with bright pink stairs on two sides that allow visitors to climb on top. The mound is surrounded by a 360-degree printed panorama. This, as you may notice, features an image of Blake’s eye framed within a stylised cog, which lines up above the mound’s flat summit, in place of a sun.

The mound. Image by James Taylor-Foster.

Jacobs describes the mound as a reference to what he sees as a recurring feature of British architecture:

The mound that we’ve constructed here is a mound which is every mound: the mound of neolithic Britain, the giant earthworks of Silbury Hill, part of the landscape of Stonehenge and Avebury and so on, but it’s also the mound of Arnold Circus in the Boundary Estate (London) – one of the world’s first social housing projects where the ruins of one of the most notorious slums were piled up to create the park. This was the centre for a new idea for how you might be able to house people in London, which is also linked to the famous mound at the centre of Robin Hood Gardens, the project by Alison and Peter Smithson, which is scheduled for demolition sometime in the very near future. In fact, some of the earth in the mound we’ve constructed here, comes from Robin Hood Gardens.

The symmetry of the mound, its relation to the panorama’s images, and its housing at the centre of an equally symmetrical Neoclassical building, reminded me of the masonic temples and esoteric religious imagery that feature in Alan Moore’s From Hell. Moore, of course, is a Blake acolyte himself, and also deals in his work with the intertwining of the modern, mystical and political (Matt Green, who taught me at Nottingham, has examined these themes in his comparative work on the two writers).

Rather appropriately, Moore has been working on an English Jerusalem epic of his own, set in his native Northampton (a city with other unexpected Jerusalem connections, as Laura Slater highlights elsewhere on this blog). Moore’s novel Jerusalem, clocking in at over a million words in draft form and currently undergoing (presumably extensive) editing, is due for publication in spring 2016.

The ‘Clockwork Jerusalem’ pavilion presents a reminder of the many ways in which Jerusalem, and particularly the mission of recreating a New Jerusalem, has figured in narratives of British and English identity. Representations of Jerusalem are rewritten and repurposed to both serve and contest prevailing political arrangements, and are used by political and religious leaders, as well as architects, artists and visionaries. Versions of Jerusalem give us intellectual and ideological concepts to think with, but they also shape our physical environments, whether those are sixties tower blocks or Norman churches.

We might even say, to use an irresistible word, that the frequency with which iterations of Jerusalem reappear in our cultural life is about as regular as clockwork.

Hannah Boast

Palestinian literature and film at Shubbak Festival, London, 11-26 July 2015


‘Wave’, Djerbahood, Tunisia, by French Tunisian ‘calligraffiti’ artist eL Seed.

Shubbak Festival is London’s largest festival of contemporary Arab arts and culture, and takes place this year from 11-26 July. I’ve selected a few events which anyone interested in Palestinian history and culture might like to check out. Let me know if there are others I’ve missed! The festival includes many wonderful-sounding screenings, performances and discussions, so do have a read of the whole site.

One highlight of the festival looks to be Disappearing Cities of the Arab World, on 12 July. The full programme of speakers for this day-long event hasn’t been announced yet, but from the description it looks like there will be a strong Israel/Palestine theme:

In the post-colonial age, Arab urban life has often borne witness to destruction through civil wars, foreign invasion and religious conflict. Old customs and architectures have been erased; in their place, a new landscape of globalization has emerged.

Disappearing Cities of the Arab World explores issues of architecture, post-colonialism, globalisation and psycho-geography. It brings together writers, artists, historians, architects and urbanists to explore the complex space that is the contemporary Arab city. Speakers include Ziauddin Sardar on Mecca, Eyal Weizman on the architecture of occupation, Shadia Touqan on the restoration of Jerusalem’s ancient buildings, as well as writers and artists offering dispatches from cities across the Arab region.

Divided into different sessions, the day explores the theme through a focus on architecture and urban planning, literary reflections on cities with guest authors, and visual representations in still and moving images by artists and activists. Sharon Rotbard, architect and author of White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa will give the keynote talk, focusing on modernist architecture and colonisation in Israel.

The festival also includes a series of film screenings curated by celebrated Palestinian director Michel Khleifi, to mark his 65th birthday. These include all three parts of Khleifi’s own Route 181, co-directed with Eyal Sivan, and a discussion with both directors following the screening of the first part on 21 July. Parts two and three will be screened the following night on 22nd July.

Other examples of Khleifi’s work showing during the festival will be Canticle of the Stones (1990) on 13 July, Fertile Memory (1980), the first full-length film to be shot in Palestine, on 16 July, Wedding in Galilee (1987) on 19 July. and Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land (1990) on 21 July.

On 12 July there will be a three-part screening, as part of Khleifi’s selections, under the heading ‘Visions of Palestine’. I’ve not come across the films before, but they sound fascinating:

Location Hunting in Palestine Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1965 | 55 mins Location Hunting in Palestine is a record of Pasolini’s visit to the Holy Land in 1964 to scout for locations for the Oscar nominated classic The Gospel According to St Matthew (1965) and his explanation of why he decided not to film there.

Description of a Struggle Chris Marker | France | 1960 | 60 mins Using archival material and location footage, the French auteur explores the challenge for Israeli citizens to come to terms with their new identity and the treatment of its Arab minorities. Winner of the 1961 Golden Bear for Best Feature-Length Documentary at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Ma’loul Celebrates its Destruction Michel Khleifi | Palestine/Belgium | 1984 | 30 mins Ma’loul is a Palestinian village in Galilee. In 1948, it was destroyed by the Israeli armed forces and its inhabitants expelled. The former inhabitants are only allowed to visit once a year, on the anniversary of Israel’s independence, and have developed a new tradition: they have a picnic on the very site of the destroyed village.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Khleifi, Tariq Ali, Peter Kosmisky (director of Channel 4 series The Promise) and Ilan Pappe.

The festival ends on 26 July with an event featuring Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, author of many acclaimed works including the Palestinian epic Gate of the Sun, in conversation with Marina Warner.

Many of the panel discussions also sound interesting, such as The Rise of Arabic Literature in English? (note that crucial question mark!) on 25 July, with speakers including British Palestinian novelist Selma Dabbagh, and Marcia Lynx Qualey, owner of the popular blog Arabic Literature (in English). Palestine’s most well-known living poet Mourid Barghouti participates in the discussion at Writing Change: Words in Times of Conflict and Crisis, also on 25 July, while later that day Gazan novelist Atef Abu Saif reads from his latest works, including The Drone Eats With Me, his diary of last summer under siege, as part of an event called Hot Off the Press.

I’m personally curious about the panel discussions on emerging literary forms in the Arab world. Drawing Your Attention, on 26 July, examines the rise of graphic novels, and is well-timed, following the publication of the first Palestinian novel, Baddawi by Leila Abdulrazak, this year. Science Fiction in the Arab World, on 25 July, sounds like it should be a fascinating discussion about the possibilities of this form as a means for imagining alternative futures for the Arab world, whether those be hopeful or dystopian.

Hannah Boast

Archaeology and occupation in NBC’s TV series ‘Dig’

Earlier this year, the American TV network NBC screened Dig, an action series set in Jerusalem. The series focuses on an FBI agent, Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) who is investigating the murder of an American archaeologist.

Mystery and adventure ensue, with the agent uncovering a cult and conspiracy that have seen the series compared (not exactly favourably) to Indiana Jones and the Da Vinci Code.

Dig, co-created by Gideon Raff, creator of the Israeli TV show Prisoners of War and its more internationally well-known American counterpart Homeland, caused controversy before it reached TV screens. Indeed, the levels of debate about the series before it was shown seem greater than the rather muted reception it received when finally aired.

Set and partly filmed in East Jerusalem, notably in the Israeli ‘City of David’ settlement, located in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, Dig prompted widespread protests from Palestinian civil rights organisations over its apparent normalisation of Israeli control and colonisation of a Palestinian area of the city.

The series was scheduled to be filmed in its entirety in East Jerusalem, but production was moved to the rather less authentic location of Albuquerque, New Mexico, following the Israel Defence Force’s launch of Operation Protective Edge in July 2014.

The series provoked further controversy over NBC’s receipt of a multi-million dollar grant from the Jerusalem municipality, designed to encourage filming in the city and to ‘help brand Jerusalem and the State of Israel in a positive light.’

Dig‘s themes, and the troubled process by which it came to our screens, highlight the longer associations between archaeology and colonisation, in Israel and elsewhere. As scholars such as Nadia Abu El-Haj, Nur Masalha and Keith Whitelam have noted, archaeological practice has contributed to the establishment of ‘facts on the ground’ which appear to naturalise contemporary Israel’s ‘ancient’ roots, and serve to strengthen Israeli territorial sovereignty today.

In this light Dig‘s tagline, ‘The deeper you dig, the further you get from the truth’, seems unintentionally apt.

Israeli archaeological interests have facilitated more direct violence against Palestinians, in demolitions, house takeovers and increased surveillance, as well as leading to the destruction of some non-Jewish archaeological sites.

The New Inquiry recently posted an excellent and wide-ranging review of Dig, written by Molly Oringer. Taking in the politics of the series itself and of its production, its televisual context in earlier collaborations between Israeli and U.S. TV stations, and the role played by culture in Israeli ‘soft power’, the review also offers reflections on the wider stakes in representing Jerusalem. As Oringer notes:

In addition to its narrative mystery, Dig’s mass appeal depends on its ability to produce an image of Jerusalem that posits the city as a potential site of social salvation.

Scholars on Twitter offered lighter thoughts on the series with the hashtag #ScholarsDig, calling out some of its archaeological inconsistencies (Assyrian square script on a breastplate, apparently, rather than paleo-Hebrew), the less convincing ways in which it represents modern Jerusalem (could you really walk into the Holy Sepulchre so easily on Holy Saturday?), and, as you might suspect, its rather implausible plot (a bit too much Ark of the Covenant for most).

If you caught the series, do let us know what you made of it.

Hannah Boast

Review of Jerusalem Unbound

Hannah Boast:

Michael Dumper’s ‘Jerusalem Unbound’ (2014) approaches Jerusalem through its ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ borders, as Oren Shlomo discusses in this review:

Originally posted on Society and space:

9780231161961Oren Shlomo reviews Michael Dumper’s book Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History and the Future of the Holy City (Columbia University Press, 2014).

The violent events of the summer of 2014 in Jerusalem were a tangible reminder of the explosive tension that characterizes inter-group relations in the contested city. Those events brought to life the lines between Israeli and Palestinian urban spaces, especially in the northern parts of the city, and highlighted them as rigid internal boundaries between the two communities. Michael Dumper’s book, written prior to those events, offers an outstanding and wide analytical overview of Jerusalem’s inner and external borders. Continue reading Oren’s reviewhere.

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