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Implicit Manifestation

In early 2013, The Shpilman foundation (Tel Aviv), in collaboration with KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the Schir Foundation (Berlin) announced the award of their first joint photography residency. Ilit Azoulay moved into her studio at KW in June, 2013, and used her five-month residency to develop her interest in the archeology of cities.

During her travels throughout Germany, she collected and photographed objects and architectural fragments in Berlin, Weimar, Kulmain, Regensburg, Dessau, Bamberg, Brandenburg, Xanten, Potsdam and Halle, as well as in the KW building itself.In some cases, Azoulay singled out sites undergoing preservation, while in others she examined buildings that were reconstructed precisely, brick for brick, in accordance with Germany’s restoration laws. Fascinated by the special character of German preservation laws, its archives, public and governmental institutions, its mechanisms of memory and history, the artist undertook the collection of all possible information that verifies the origin of each and every one of these objects. This meticulous gathering of information became central to the project and includes correspondence with monasteries, squat residents, taxidermy experts, plant researchers, building constructors and lawyers. The work Shifting Degrees of Certainty, is therefore composed by 85 objects she collected and photographed using a technique similar to scanning.

This technique is characteristic of Azoulay’s practice and allows the juxtaposition of multiple points of view into a single, digitally composed image. The photographs are accompanied by a sound work, making the data and the process of its collection available to the viewer, allowing him insight into the artist’s research process and the historical, personal and idiosyncratic details it uncovered.This element differs this project from previous research based projects, characteristic of Azoulay photographic oeuvre, revealing the meticulous research behind each image. What might seem as an object based work, thus uncovers itself with the audio tracks, bringing to life a process once left behind, neglecting the object and drawing questions regarding history and reality to the center of the images. Showing the story not only shifts the center from the object itself, but it shifts it from that certain perspective, and therefore that certain truth, that is also very much related to the medium. Therefore, the object is shown not in the intention to preserve its own memory, but to ask about memory, to question it, and to start an investigation about it, as Azoulay did herself. The sound tracks are available to the viewer via an audio-guide device, a traditional semi didactic museum tool, often related to the telling of facts, along with a language of research and investigation.

The audio tracks and the given information encourage the visitors to observe, to focus on small details, to stare, to wonder. But the stories told do not give the viewer a linear history line or a clear perspective. This is when they become confused, suspicious, and listen more attentively. The viewer commence their own investigation and inquiry, regarding the images, the audio tracks and even the device itself, the images shown, the transmission of knowledge and the museum. In her show in Herzeliya Museum, the objects becomes props, awaiting a situation, a home, an event. The large scale panoramas hit the viewer with a certain reality, however upon arrival to the work Shifting Degrees of Certainty, they understand that these were a mere option, that the objects created just a certain reality. With an installation which brings the aesthetics of a theater and of behind the scenes, it is to the viewer to decide what he is seeing, and to commence the happening of a reality. Therefore, the facts presented in Shifting Degrees of Certainty juxtaposed with the possibilities it opens in the panoramas Third Option, Fifth Option, Sixth Option and Seventh Option, are setting side by side the fictional and the factual, the reality and the possibility, what is seen and the imaginary. The visitor remains active in this interaction with the work, in an nonhierarchical museum installation, where all is possible. The language of documentation comes as an aid for the sense that his decision can be seen as a truth, as it draws his awareness to the ways history is structured, determined, organized, and perhaps manipulated.

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Panic in Lack of an Event

This series of works, which was created over a period of two years, presents objects and architectural elements photographed in urban sites and at Braverman Gallery in Tel Aviv.

Deepening her reflexive engagement with the nature of the creative act, Ilit Azoulay analyzes its different components, while probing both its historical and contemporary resonances. Using the formal and conceptual repertoire of the collage medium, the objects and reproduced images are catapulted together by a dazzling movement of inner liberation. The white wall texture that serves as the background support in most of Azoulay's earlier series is replaced here by a wrinkled, worn-out silvery-blue curtain previously used as a screen for the projection of slides.

The various ready-made objects in these works appear upon the screen in different opacities, while their mis-en-scène creates dynamic interrelations – as if they are being endlessly re-projected upon the support – thus highlighting its hyper-receptive, material characters.

In this series, the decisive moment of dramatic action captured in a photograph, is replaced by a series of artistic acts. Together they form a kaleidoscope of anticipated events, that are continually being thrust away from an immediate, concrete present.

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Transition

This series has sprung from an ongoing interest and research into Israeli architecture.

Observing Israeli construction, one quickly notices it bares a strong sense of immediacy. An architecture of a community in a turbulent state of mind, that refuses a pause, characterized by an improvised, eclectic style of construction, lacking a clear vision of tomorrow. 'Passage' is the opening image of this series of dioramas; an empty seashore is all that's left from a vanishing community, high cliffs are made small as they are juxtaposed with a seemingly headless man - a printed and cut out image of a photographer looking through a waist-level camera. His gaze will remain forever a secret.

The objects – all found on constructions sites in the southern parts of Tel Aviv city – were put on a table and photographed from a single point of view. Different mirrors lure the light to entangle them - to create a suggestion for a place. A carefully thought out arbitrariness is assembled, where in all objects are redefined by the emptiness they reside by. Although manifesting a singular still moment; all installations are named after crossing zones, both modern and mythical in meaning: 'Passage', 'The Gate', 'Lobby', 'Tunnel', 'Bridge' and 'Transition'. As such, they all express an ambiguous relation to permanence, they do not allow a pause; subjecting the human figures frozen inside them to a nomadic destiny.

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Imaginary Order

Imaginary Order is a series comprised of a soundtrack and photographic panoramic works that followed the seven-year renovation of an emblematic Brutalist building, designed in the 1960s by Yacov Rechter, in the northern Israeli town of Zichron Ya’akov. The overhaul converted a convalescent home for Health Maintenance Organization members into a multidisciplinary art center and luxury hotel. Over the seven years of its renovation, Azoulay frequently visited this historical building and followed its turning from a place built on egalitarian principles for all HMO members into a luxury hotel accessible only to the few who can afford it. Yet along with this turn, reflecting the transformation of Israel from a socialist-based economy into a capitalist one, a darker turn is being explored – from war to postwar.

In 1974, subsequent to the end of the Yom Kippur War, the convalescent home was used momentarily by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Upon their return from Syrian and Egyptian prisons, Israeli soldiers were taken and held by the IDF for interrogation: Did they or did they not talk under torture? Was the state at risk? Was the order of things being threatened? No trace of torture or of this momentary interrogation camp was found in the building. Yet Azoulay was not looking for graphic details. Instead, she was interested in tracing the transformation of one order into an order of a different kind.

Some 40 years later, Azoulay formed a research group comprised of a researcher, a linguist, a curator, a dramaturg and an architect to inquire into the past of the building. With the help of witnesses, the examination resulted in testimonies that were rewritten for reenactment by actors. 

Meticulously scrutinising surfaces with a macro-lens, Azoulay produced thousands of close-up images documenting the walls exposed in the reconstruction process, revealing their past layers. These images she then pasted together digitally, resulting in a large-scale photograph – which she calls a ‘photographic plan’ – of great technical resolution, seemingly presenting a multitude of angles of view. As such, the series portrays a temporality at play, which may echo that of the darker turn reflected in the meticulous collection of the thousands of images of which the ‘photographic plan’ proposed is assembled. Documenting the building’s transition, Azoulay’s images picture an imaginary order – a structure never to be erected which is yet a constitutive part of the final stage of the building. The work Imaginary Order thereby pictures the invisible hand at play while imposing a new “order” or possibly preserving an existing one.

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Room #8

History deposits its sediments on walls like paint on canvas. Once constructed, walls begin to absorb light, sound, humidity, and layered traces that form over time. Functioning as a support and a facade, walls define a place by marking its boundaries, registering what has been accumulated in the spaces they circumscribe. 

Like earlier series created by Ilit Azoulay, Room #8 evolved out of  her visits to buildings scheduled for demolition in southern Tel Aviv. Azoulay begins by studying the surfaces of the walls, as well as the building materials and the traces of objects left in space. After the building is torn down, she scours the demolition site, collecting the objects and specimens she finds in the rubble. Back in her studio, Azoulay cleans and then meticulously photographs these objects in preparation for the final composition, which is staged upon a digital "canvas."

Constructed as a large panorama measuring 10.5 meters in length, Room #8 features eight entrances and exits; some are apparent architectural fixtures such as a window and a sliding door, while others are abstracted metaphors that wait to be deciphered by the viewer. This flat mis-en-scene could hypothetically be "folded" to create a room with four walls – a space whose indeterminate function is imbued with a sense of mystery.  

The absence of a single, linear narrative and the presence of multiple possibilities immerse the viewer in a non-hierarchical perceptual experience in which seemingly familiar artifacts prove to be unidentifiable, while the occasional reference to a well-known work of art, such as Duane Hanson's sculpture Tourists, is given no more prominence than a sliced apple or a row of sticks. Appearing at once realistic and imaginary, Room #8 probes the conventional limitations that govern human perception, while the work's title – a play on the word “roommates” – openly invites the viewers to inhabit it.

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The Keys

Raising questions about the wondrous mechanism of sight and perception, The Keys series was inspired by a prolonged wandering through the city.

Visiting empty buildings marked for demolition and others designated for conservation, Ilit Azoualy studied the textures of different walls and the objects she discovered embedded within them. When she began researching these buildings in depth, Azoulay discovered that during the so-called "austerity period" that followed the foundation of the Israeli state, in the 1950s and 1960s, contractors made use of improvised building materials in order to answer the massive demand for construction caused by the waves of immigration to the country. In almost every building slated for demolition, she found at least one wall made of various discarded materials and objects rather than cement blocks.

Such "fake walls," as Azoulay calls them, suffered more from the effects of humidity, were marked by a larger number of cracks, and were easier to break down. As she returned repeatedly to the same sites, Azoulay started to collect the specimens she found inside these walls: metal, plastic, and aluminum scraps, stones, glass shards, seashells, apple seeds, and broken toys.

These scattered fragments, which no longer served a functional purpose, were taken to her studio, where they were cleaned and then photographed with the same macro lens in the same natural light.

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Unknown Aspects

"The collector destroys the context in which his object once was only part of a greater, living entity, and since only the uniquely genuine will do for him, he must cleanse the chosen object of everything that is typical about it." *

This series was developed during a residency program at Art Farm, Nebraska. In this extraordinary art space, Ilit Azoulay found numerous collections stored in states ranging from total disorder to perfect classificatory order. Working with objects found in these eccentric collections (old letters, wooden wheelchairs, and rusty screws are just a few examples), Azoulay created small installations and then photographed them. This strategy probed a philosophical and visual paradox concerning the state of the collected objects – their coherent "thingness" in their original context, as well as their ability to exist outside of it while remaining whole. By collecting bits and pieces from the «pile of debris»** before her, and repositioning them in a new photographic context, Azoulay both heightens and questions the uniqueness of every object. Displayed for the viewer's investigative gaze, the objects within each photograph incessantly speak of their past, while being assimilated into a new environment.

* Hanna Arendt on Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, p. 45 ** Walter Benjamin, Theses on History, Illuminations, p.257

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Horizontal study

In her autobiographical work Horizontal Study, Ilit Azoulay places objects upon a surface resembling a desk.

Shot separately from a bird’s-eye view, the objects, which are packaged in nine "Pandora boxes," are all somehow related to Azoulay’s personal history. While some of these objects are exposed to the camera's prying gaze, others are sealed away, so that the narrative binding them together remains an unsolved enigma.