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Following eight years of research, artist Ilit Azoulay presented her latest solo exhibition titled “Regarding Silences” at the Center of Contemporary Art (CCA) in Tel Aviv. A culmination of thousands of high definition macro photographs, the exhibition documents the renovation of a former Brutalist building and convalescent home into a luxury hotel and art complex, now known as the Elma Hotel in northern Israel. Azoulay’s work uncovers deeply-rooted history, as she painstakingly captures complex layers of the space.
Azoulay reveals the building’s hidden past as an interrogation camp for Israeli soldiers captured in the Yom Kippur War in her work. Her photographs capture the many surfaces and exposed walls during the reconstruction process, unveiling the building’s mysterious history. Due to insufficient remaining evidence of the building’s past, Azoulay worked with a number of individuals to gather her research, including: artist Jonathan Touitou, investigator Renana Mor, linguist Jenny Birger, dramaturg Nir Shaulo, her studio manager at the time Elinore Darzi, psychologist-writer Amia Lieblich, and dozens of former prisoners of war.
WHITEWALL: “Regarding Silences” is a very moving documentation of the transformation of the now-Elma hotel over the course of seven years. How did you feel about documenting the building’s renovation?
ILIT AZOULAY: Although it’s not easy for me to talk about it because it’s still so fresh, it’s a very particular project because it took so many years–almost nine years. The reason it took so long was because it was so hard to get the information behind those walls. So when I started to photograph the renovation of the building it was in 2008, and I followed the renovation of the building without knowing where it would lead. I knew nothing about the past of the building, I just thought maybe there’s something there that I went to “listen” to it with my camera.
WW: Before being the Elma Arts Complex Luxury Hotel, the space was a convalescent home. How do you feel about this particular transition?
IA: I think it’s part of a movement that happened in all aspects of Israel back then. The country was super socialist and transitioned to being capitalist.
WW: What sparked your interest in creating this body of work?
IA: I think in the beginning it was just pure curiosity of it being such big structure that was abandoned for so many years. It was, I think, sitting for 20 years as an unsuccessful hotel. And whatever they tried to do or open there, never worked. I thought the place was haunted and I didn’t know why or what. It was an opportunity. I would go there and “listen” to the walls, touch them, and photograph them. And nothing would unearth. But I always listened to this fragile intuition that whispered in my ear, “come an photograph me.” So I went with this intuition without knowing more than that. So I photographed the building for over six years. The renovation [of the hotel] took seven years to finish.
WW: You stitched thousands of photographs together to create a large-scale high-resolution image. What was the process in creating this exhibition?
IA: I work with macro lenses, meaning with a specific lens that sees inch by inch. I use the camera as a scanner in a way, standing always parallel to the object next to the walls that I’m documenting and photographing inch by inch and centimeter by centimeter. In a way, I need a lot of patience for that. When a site is being renovated or demolished, it’s a really specific moment and things start to unearth from the walls. I feel that I have a kind of sensibility for that. I can really read the walls.
“Regarding Silences” is now on view through April 18 at the CCA.