On July 19, 2018, the International Center for Contemporary Art in the restored Wadi Salib, which consists of a park area, historical structures undergoing restoration and new residential development, threw its inaugural party, to celebrate the moment in which this historical district of Haifa seeks to reimagine its cultural identity through a multi-sited series of exhibitions.
“The Pyramid Platform,” a kick-off event for the Pyramida Art Center spanned not only July 19–21, 2018, but also went beyond the newly opened, multi-storied structure, where the main exhibition was housed, to include the Dagon Grain Silo Museum and the Railway Museum of Haifa. In parallel to this opening event, the unique architectural heritage of Haifa’s downtown area was showcased via a series of guided tours of representative residential interiors. The timeliness of this event is testified to by the reported 40,000 local and out of town visitors that have descended upon gallery halls, art installations in museum spaces and multidisciplinary exhibitions that comprised this effort to take an aesthetic stock of Haifa’s positioning as a port city in cultural terms.
Not too far from the old Turkish market area, the regularly-held flea market quarters and a historical railway terminal, the new art centre of Haifa not only looks back to the local urban history, but also revisits architectural structures, such as the Dagon Silo Museum designed by Ossip (Yosef) Klarwein, also responsible for planning other iconic modernist landmarks, e.g., the Knesset building in Jerusalem, and built in 1953. The opening of this modern-times cathedral of a building to visitors after a quarter-century hiatus signifies the revitalization of Haifa’s dispersed downtown area that the multi-sited cultural event of Pyramida’s inaugural cluster of art exhibitions traces. Thus, in this site Mali De-Kalo addresses in her photographic series the chronology of local development, whereas Irina Karkavi engages with Palestinian pottery and imagery, Harel Luz entwines floral motifs into fashion accessory-like works, Rami Maimon casts a reflective look at artistic and archaeological practices from the 1950s and Roy Mordechai created sculptures represent fictitious archaeology dig finds.
By contrast, the works presented at the Railway Museum position Haifa in the context of modern-era geographical interrelations, as this city used to be a transportation junction that connected three continents. In the early twentieth century, trans departing from Haifa could reach terminals in Cairo, Damascus and Istanbul as gateways to Africa, Asia and Europe respectively. Opened in 1905, the presently-defunct historical train station reflects the previous wave of globalization on the map of which Haifa served as one of its connecting points, where the East and West met. The nearby train station also owes its centrality to the still operating port of Haifa, constructed in 1937, and the downtown revitalization, as it gathers speed.
Thus, the art installation of Aya Ben Ron in a historical train car represents a utopian journey to Cythera, where Aphrodite was born according to Hesiod. Eden Efrat’s video projection follows a platform precariously floating in river waters, whereas Oded Hirsh further develops the nautical journey motif into a dream-like representation of a sea voyage. Similarly, in his wall projection, Jonathan Goldman traces sea shores from a sailing raft, whereas Alina Rom-Kohen have explored the themes of displacement and migration in her video footage from a Russian fisher’s town. Likewise, Francis Alÿs has documented his performance piece that imagines a floating bridge between Europe and Asia.
Across four floors, the group show of over 40 local and international artists at the main venue of the contemporary art center neighboured with a traveling poster exhibition dealing with utopia curated by the Goethe Institute. As this exhibition indicates that this art centre, supported by Haifa’s municipality, aims to transform the Wadi Salib area into a cultural district, it also casts an ironic glance at past utopian efforts to transform this formerly forlorn inner city into a vibrant district in previous decades.