By Ian Sternthal
The Huleh Project is a political picture book that pairs disparate images from Israeli visual culture in order to yield a new understanding of Zionism; one that privileges the potential of
At the turn of the 20th Century, a group of disenfranchised Eastern European Jews began to dream of creating a new society in Palestine. Through art and fiction they initiated political processes that would radically transform both their own identites, and the course of Jewish history.
Lake Huleh and its northern swamps were drained in the early 1950′s as part of a massive government-led project designed to transform the swamps into a valley. The project was celebrated as one of the chief wonders of the Zionist project. In the 1930′s, a young German immigrant named Peter Merom arrived in Israel and settled near Lake Huleh. Merom spent many years fishing the waters, eventually marrying and starting a family. When the state announced its ambitious draining plans, he documented the effort, publishing a book of black and white photographs titled “Song Of A Dying Lake.” The book became a Zionist icon that celebrated the movement’s might and prowess.
In 1994 the project was declared an environmental disaster, and parts of the valley were re-flooded. This coincided with rising post-Zionist sentiments that were busy re-evaluating the movement’s core views on settlement, nature, and Israeli-Arab relations. In the context of the area’s re-flooding, a young artist named Gal Weinstein created an installation at The Tel Aviv Museum of Art based on Merom’s photographs. He exploded Merom’s tiny photographs onto large wall pieces, realistically represented with metal shavings applied onto board. His exhibit nostalgically revived, for a brief moment, some of the beauty that ‘progress’ had destroyed.
This book examines artistic representations of the Huleh draining project in order to expose the political importance that art, as a conduit for collective storytelling, bears upon contemporary politics. Memory is a creative construction, and each time we remember something, we remember it differently. Since our memories define our sense of self, changing our understanding of the past is sometimes the first step towards changing the way our actions write the future.
‘The Huleh Project’ features the work of over a 20 contemporary Israeli artists. In many ways, the images in this book are my own collection. As an allegorical device, the book is organized so as to wrestle the featured works from the intentions and desires of their various creators and contexts. Their choreography transforms the disparate pieces into a visual allegory, one that unravels as it searches for new meaning.