Jerusalem House of panes

Window Stories is an alluring and highly likable work that, indeed, offers a microcosm of this ancient city by day and by night.

July 26, 2019 05:12
Jerusalem House of panes

WINDOW STORIES, Jerusalem’s Summer Palace has pride of place in downtown Jerusalem.. (photo credit: LIOR ‘LILI’ PELEG)

Many civilizations have passed this way over the millennia, some bearing gifts, but more shouldering arms in an effort to grab a piece of the Holy Land, in particular, Jerusalem. The upside of that invasive mind-set has been the detritus left behind by the likes of Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Mameluks, Turks and even the British.
For a former archaeologist, like myself, that makes for fascinating stuff, and while Yoram Amir was not a trained historian or an officially qualified researcher of bygone times, he managed to accrue an impressive hoard of treasure from Jerusalem’s past. Then again, most people would not consider stocking up thousands of window frames from across the city and from numerous junctures of its meandering annals as a “treasure” per se. However, pop along to Gan Hasus (the Horse Park) near the corner of King George and Ben Yehuda streets and you will, no doubt, be impressed by what one can do with hundreds of such disused household artifacts.
To be precise, the eye-catching "Window Stories," Jerusalem’s summer palace ad hoc installation comprises a total of 550 window frames that – and this isn’t putting too fine a point on the creation – reflect the narrative of this fair city over the past century or so. The work is on display as part of this year’s Mekudeshet Festival, with the support of the Municipality of Jerusalem, and Eden, a subsidiary of the Jerusalem Center Development Authority.
Amir was a true-blue Jerusalemite who adored his hometown and would do practically anything to preserve what he felt was its beauty. Twelve years ago, appalled at the sight of the String Bridge nearing its finishing touches at the western entrance to the city, he went so far as to distribute flyers in which he threatened to climb the towering white spine of the enormous cabled structure and jump off. While he had no intention of committing suicide, even to prevent the completion of what he viewed as an eyesore, he made sure the media were focused on something that he considered of extreme importance.
Sadly, Amir died earlier this year at the age of just 56. However, one of his many projects aimed at trying to keep Jerusalem beautiful came to fruition a week ago when Leor “Lili” Peleg and Itamar “Faluja” Palogi put together a fascinating structure that draws the eye and the heart in equal measures.
A few years back, Amir said, “A home has to have a soul, and in Jerusalem, since the dawn of Zionism, they have been destroying it all. It is vanishing.” That may or may not be the case, but the late photographer and activist, with the help of family, friends and Peleg and Palogi have done their best to make sure – at least until September 22 – that Jerusalemites and out-of-towners have an opportunity to get up close to some of the physical remains of the city’s recent aesthetic ebb and flow.

WINDOW STORIES offers the public all sorts of intriguing vantage points. (Credit: LIOR ‘LILI’ PELEG)

IT HAS been a labor of love for all concerned. “I got to know Yoram during the last six months of his life,” recalls Peleg, who says he got very close to Amir very quickly. “It is rare to get to know someone so well in such a short space of time and being aware that he isn’t going to be around for long.” While trying not to slip into maudlin mode, he says Window Stories is a kind of memorial to Amir’s lifework, and a paean to his beloved city.
Peleg says he jumped in at the deep end. “Itamar and I went to meet Yoram at his storage facility. He talked to us about his philosophy and thoughts about the collection, and how he sees buildings as the jewels of Jerusalem and how the windows are the diamonds. He related to them as the most beautiful ornamentation that a king can allow himself.” Amir was clearly a romantic. “He told us that, historically, it was like a man wants to pamper his wife on their wedding night. He said that the windows were the buildings’ indulgence.”
According to Amir, there was a certain amount of flaunting involved, too. “He said such and such a hotel would show off its windows to another hotel nearby, and one public building would try to get the best windows it could, to show them off to another public building.” That is a neat take on the city’s structural dynamics and that spirit comes across in the Gan Hasus exhibit.
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. For Amir, they were the portal to the soul of the city that was so dear to him. “When we met Yoram, he constantly said that they were destroying the city, that they weren’t preserving it and maintaining Jerusalem’s authentic beauty,” Peleg recalls. “He showed us his storeroom near Beit Shemesh with over 2,000 windows. That was an amazing sight.”
Peleg says the three of them did their homework before he and Palogi got down and dirty at the park. “We looked at all sorts of structural configurations in Jerusalem. We went to Nahlaot to look at the dense patchwork of buildings there.” There were other research sources as well. “If you look at the souvenirs of Jerusalem they sell, you get all sorts of Judaica mementos, of the city with a kippah, with a square or a wall, or with a round window or a different shape.
On the other hand, you also have these vast monasteries and palaces, and all these houses of prayer all around the city. They also have magnificent windows and great arches and impressive entrances. All of the above came into the mix as Window Stories began to take shape.
Amir and his new pals wanted to let it all hang out, to display the aesthetic subtexts in all their glory. “This work was never meant to be hidden away,” Peleg continues. “The windows were kept under wraps for many years.” Many came from demolished structures. “They had been discarded and no one could appreciate their beauty.” But Peleg understood that straightaway. “As soon as Yoram showed us what he had stored away, I began thinking about them. My brain started racing. I realized we had some amazing gems in there. It was like finding pure gold.”
PELEG ALSO sensed the passage of time and what the windows had witnessed during their stint as architectural features. “This was material with history that had been worked and processed a lot. Just the wood of the frames, you touch it and smell it, you smell 100 year old wood, cedar wood and fir. That’s wood you don’t find today, especially from a tree that grew 80 years or 100 years or even more. We’re talking about wood trees with long roots. It’s amazing.”
It may sound as if Peleg got carried away by the construction venture, but he says he and Palogi always kept things in check, literally. “We have made some really big things, like at last year’s Midburn Festival, although there is power in size. This structure was designed to suit Gan Hasus. If it had been a little larger you would have felt it. And if it had been a little smaller it would have lost all its significance.”
The topography of the little urban garden also came into play. Shmuel HaNagid Street, behind the park, is several meters higher than King George Street, so as you see the work from each thoroughfare, you get completely different visual and emotional perspectives on the end product. Contours notwithstanding and whatever your vantage point, Window Stories makes for impressive viewing. “It’s like with churches and houses of prayer and architecture in general – that’s my natural inclination – the aesthetics relate to the human soul. When a person encounters something of a particular scale, it affects him in certain way,” Peleg notes. “A lot of the way we respond to structures comes from that. It’s the same with sculpture. A lot of thought goes into that. If you see a window at a height of 12 meters and it catches a ray of sun perfectly, that mimics nature but also relates to the human soul and man’s proportion within his own world.”
While Peleg and Palogi were enchanted by the chronological and experiential backdrop to the raw materials, they eventually shifted their attention to other aspects of the job in hand. “We realized that it would be less interesting to relate to this on an historical level,” Peleg explains. “We understood we needed to relate to the value of the windows in visual and emotional terms rather than getting into something very didactic. Basically, it was a matter of it achieving the right fusions of windows in the right places.” Peleg draw on his architectural acumen. “We needed to examine the interior space of the structure, what was at the rear, at the sides and all of that. It was more a matter of planning a person’s journey as they come into the space you create for them.”
Peleg and Palogi were naturally keen to do justice to Amir. “He loved Jerusalem so much. I got to know Jerusalem mostly through Yoram. At the end of the day, he curated all the things he loved about Jerusalem in this work – the Jerusalem he grew up in and loved.”
Window Stories is an alluring and highly likable work that, indeed, offers a microcosm of this ancient city by day and by night.
The Mekudeshet Festival runs September 4 to 21 in various venues throughout Jerusalem. For more information:

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