Heterotopia; the promised land
Literally speaking Heterotopia is defined as the ‘other’ space: the reflection mirroring of an authentic, at the same time existent and fictional. It is an underlying layer beyond reality –an ultimate space of meaning behind the world of appearances and definitions. Fouceault’s Heterotopia is the point where Utopia meets reality and does not necessarily refer to (is not confined to) a specific physical geographical space, but rather to a space of underlying relationships of culture and power, which regulate contemporary societies. In an epoch of juxtaposition Heteropias provide a sort of mixed and joint experience, which geographer Edward Soya has defined as the ‘third space’. A state of experience and meaning, beyond the physical –visual- and the conceptual –mental- space. It is what Italo Kalvino described as a world of interactions and allegoric interwoven threads, which “…mark relationships of blood, trade, authority, agency etc…” and sustain a city's life.
The archetypical Garden of Eden in ancient Persia was at the same time an actual physical space –a microcosm of all species- providing shade and coolness to the visitor, as well as a sanctuary; a Paradise on earth which symbolised eternal life, euphoria and ultimately catharsis and salvation. Perhaps as a consequence of this mythical connotation it appears that in the course of history the garden has evolved to represent the fiction of an idealistic and utopian landscape.
The creation of primeval –archetypical- artificial settlements into the harsh and ancient desert of Palestine wasn’t just an architectural and landscaping achievement -a technical challenge, which was superbly and ingeniously accomplished throughout time. Desert settlements –the Kibbutz- symbolize the ultimate and absolute dominance over the barren and hostile environment of the desert, while at the same time they epitomize faith, determination and stamina of the first Kibbutzim. Thus, the social gathering around a fireplace more than anything else manifests/signifies the type of relations in this prototype community. If an empty table’s connotation is about the relationships which are implied between the participants of a metaphoric and imaginary symposium/banquet, then interaction around a primitive hearth cannot be confined to the identity of those sitting around it forming a fundamental community; It also represents an unbroken, interconnecting circle (the fundamental shape in the history of civilization) relating the sitters equally between themselves and also coequally/equitably to the fireplace; to the nucleus.
However, social and economic development in Israel is not only incident to major technical accomplishments. The establishment and the entrenchment/consolidation of contemporary Israel has primarily been a philosophical and a political attainment, where memory, history and religion, as well as the institutions which sustain them [like Museums, Synagogues, Cemeteries, Schools, Universities, Army camps, Public -national and religious- Feasts etc] have been playing a major role in the creation, the consolidation and the reproduction of national and political identity, in a system/model/organism where Israel is the mirror imaging of the Land of Promise –or vice versa.
In the same frame of reference, museums constitute a characteristic/typical example of very important and influential Heterotopias as they represent/epitomize those sacred places where knowledge is institutionally exposed, cultivated and reproduced. They are the temples of culture, where civilization, knowledge and tradition are accumulated and exist beyond time. Famous architects have been employed, in order to create ‘shelters’ for these ‘monuments of all time’, which praise and glorify the content. Collections have been carefully and meticulously gathered from all around the world; “…museums are heterotopias in which time never stops; they are places of all times which in themselves are outside of time…”
But also the people of Heterotopia are not ‘common people’ as they represent more than they physically are. (Having gained –almost- an iconic status), their role and their duty is to support and preserve the political, the social and the cultural environment of Heterotopia. They are the citizens who command, control and reproduce knowledge, memory, history and religion.
Focusing at the environment of Heterotopias allows the viewer to reveal the imprint of contemporary Israel especially in connection to the mechanisms through which the notions of power and identity are incubated and reproduced. Through a process of deconstruction and a projection at a spatial level, my project attempts to re-address those fundamental elements, which determine the identity of contemporary Israel: religion, history and memory.
Demetris Koilalous September 2017