THE CRYSTAL PALACE & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM

Petach Tikva Museum of Art

Curator: Hila Cohen-Schneiderman

July - October 2015

The main logic of Hajaj’s sculptural works consists of the juxtaposition of materials into an aesthetic and sensual arrangement. However usually, before they even adjusted to one another, she breaks them into raw materials once again, like words poised for syntax. This cycle reoccurs time after time throughout the installation of the exhibition. These are intuitive, in a sense even survivalist, assembling and disassembling, which are always created in real-time in response to emotional situations or the physical conditions that the space summons.
 

In this exhibition, while the space in which Hajaj exhibits is separate and “independent” from the “public” spaces, she attempted to understand in what way it could still function as an organic part of the group show, as though there were no physical and mental walls between them. The huge foam element that stands in the middle of the room is usually used for acoustic insulation. Now, in its raw, almost savage state, it becomes an object of desire, nothing but an interior. The name of the work refers to the mythological half-giant, son of the Greek goddess of earth Gaia, who gains his undefeatable force from the very ground he stands on.

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In 1936 the Crystal Palace had burned to the ground. It was an exhibition venue built for the first Great Exhibition (the 1851 World Fair) held in London, and designed by the gardener Joseph Paxton. The construction was greenhouse-like in nature and boasted cast-iron frame and plate-glass walls, allowing for easy dismantling and reconstruction. Trees surrounded it but were also planted inside it, the inside and the outside were reflected in one another, flowing into each other, and the structure seemed to merge with its surroundings. As light as its construction was, the palatial Victorian style of the structure betrayed the agenda that stood at the heart of the British Empire, which was then at its height. The construction aimed to be all-encompassing, and serve as a small-scale manifestation of the entire Empire and its accomplishments. As the product of the 19th century, the Crystal Palace was considered a tremendous technological achievement. When it was destroyed by fire, Churchill commented that it was the end of an age. The dawn of the 20th century heralded the Modernist era, which introduced a new type of exhibiting – cube shaped and omniscient. Devoid of decorations and the traces of time, its walls stark white, its angles straight and confident – the white cube unequivocally differentiated the inside from the outside, pushing the outdoors away, and in the process also taking itself out of everything. Since the 1960s, this cube is the focus of a love-hate relationship with institutional critique and with its visitors, due to that detachment from what might be referred to as "reality", and so it became a doomed but desirable temple. We could say that the exhibition The Crystal Palace and the Temple of Doom navigates between these two models, as the artists featured in the exhibition turn to reality as their point of departure, and use the museal space in order to isolate and examine elements from it. This move aims to maintain a space of temporary autonomy, which at the same time feeds off of the outside world, is rooted in it, and moves away from it only to return to it. This experiment, which started in September 2012, is the product of a shared learning and working process of 11 artists and a curator, who possess intertwining and conflicting passions, and negotiate the design and perception of space. Naturally, such a period of time allows the dynamics between the participants to grow deeper, shifting between holding on and letting go, and summons friction between one artist and another, between artist and object, and between one object and another.