Regarding Silences (2008-2016) is the culmination of eight years of research and resulted in a series of nine photographic, panoramic works which focus on the renovation of the emblematic Brutalist building,
designed by the architect Yaakov Rechter in 1968. Situated in the northern Israeli town of Zikhron Ya’akov, the building’s overhaul converted a subsidized convalescent home into a multidisciplinary art center and luxury hotel.
Over the nine years of its renovation, Azoulay frequently visited this historical building, and examined the process of a concept that changed from egalitarian ideologies into capitalist principles – a luxury hotel reserved for the rich.
This process reflects Israel's transformation from a socialist into a capitalist state and it’s transition from wartime to post-war. In 1974, subsequent to the Yom Kippur War, the convalescent home was temporarily used by the Israeli army. Israeli soldiers were interrogated there upon their return from Syria and Egypt, where they had been held captive . They were asked questions such as “Did you talk under torture? Have your actions put the state at risk? Had the general order of things been compromised?” While some interrogations were straightforwardly verbal, about a third of the former
(POWs) were taken to other sites and administered a drug that caused them to mentally relive the moments of trauma they experienced during the war. The drugs not only forcibly made the soldiers re-enact these painful memories, but they had devastating lasting effects on them until today.
Over the course of the renovation, Azoulay meticulously photographed the building’s surfaces with a macro lens and created thousands of close-up images documenting the walls exposed during the reconstruction process, revealing their various past layers. She then digitally stitched these images back together to form a large-scale high resolution photograph, which she calls a “Photographic Plan,” presenting a multitude of angels.
Due to the lack of sufficient documentation of some of the building’s historical events, Azoulay formed a research group composed of an investigator, a linguist, a dramaturg, a psychologist writer, and the artist’s studio manager in order to create a fuller scope of view. They interviewed 43 witnesses and former POWs who had been held in the building in 1974.
Some of those interviews are presented alongside the final works. Materials the former POWs had kept or created, such as photographs, scrapbooks, handmade objects, etc. are featured throughout some of Azoulay’s works. They stand in for an experience that is hard to comprehend, one that is ultimately marked by silence – the silence of captivity, secrecy, and of disengagement.
The exhibition’s walls green color represents a vacant non-space, a way of defining the almost unimaginable repressed memories and mental spheres into which some of the former POWs have sunk over years of silence. It is a parallel reality with no familiar landscape or daily routine, a dense bubble of simulation that can be dressed in any reality or landscape, but never become it. The chroma key green also speaks to the photographic process which isolates details from the whole picture and places them within a new reality that has nothing to do with what the unaided eye would see.
No element is simply found and, in fact, none of Azoulay’s works is photography in any straightforward sense of the term. Each element in these highly constructed images, even the most banal looking piece of concrete or dust, is carefully considered and placed. In the resulting project, the material history of a site intersects with the present in a multifaceted ways.