Eliko Ner Gaon | Ha’neviim Street
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, Set me as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, for jealousy is cruel as the grave. The power of love is a burning flame of God.“
Song of Solomon 8:6
Flame of God. “Shalhevetya”.
“Shalhevetya” center- Jerusalem in the 1950’s. Standing on the broad foundation of the Song of Solomon, The Finnish Institute began its activity at the center. Between 1956-1967, the mission operated a school and boarding school for Jewish children. The compound, located to this day on Shivte-Israel Street, also included the Bishop’s House at 25 Hanevi’im Street. “Felm center, 1859” is fixed on a plate near the stone house’s iron gate. Between the walls made of Jerusalem stone, beneath arched windows and evangelical Christian iconography, a chapter in Eliko’s mother’s life story, along with his older brother and sister, opens and closes. Accompanied by a nun, they walked together down Hanevi’im Street, to the mission where the children spent years of their childhood.
Beit HaShita, fifty years later. Over months of work with a team of people and children, a photography set is constructed in an abandoned building destined for demolition. It fills up with objects collected over the years. Doors are built, paintings are hung and walls are painted. Until the mission in which his family’s history was embodied so many years ago is reconstructed, not necessarily faithful to reality. The valley’s heavy blanket of heat dissipates when entering the space, with its green and impersonal coolness of the walls and plastic plates. The hard labor assembles at his family’s memorial museum in Jerusalem.
Every photograph taken on this set is a dreamy fantasy of something that occured, even if not exactly as depicted. A memory, or wound that Eliko dresses mercifully. Processes of exposure, revelation, and concealment within Nordic landscapes. The question of what is truth and what is fiction, hovers over the surface of the photograph. But memory itself is a fiction that changes from moment to moment, being erased and re-created every time we conjure it, shaking off the dust accumulated over time. Photograph after photograph pile into a mound of intricate events, inaccurate reconstructions, winding paths between the dimly lit memorial rooms for his mother, brother and sister. One should tread carefully and quietly between the corridors of the rooms. As not to wake up the tenants or disturb their peace. They hide complex and charged relationships, wounds, and pains, secrets. Many secrets are embodied in body positions and stares. What compassion and gentleness are laid here, one on top of the other. Patiently, Eliko breathes life into the scenes, not as one who wishes to discover them, but as one who wishes to let them remain unresolved until their time comes. Eventually an awe-inspiring silence accumulates. Be it the God present in all, or the substances weight into which he breathes life.
The spaces are full of contradictions. Bathing in holy golden light or lurking in the shadows. The scenes flow with underground currents of discomfort. Stolen, contemplative, intimate moments unfold under quizzical eyes and meticulousely organized body movements. They all lack incidental contact, or comfort. For a brief moment they flicker only to disappear again into the purposefulness of institutionalized relationships. Home / Not home. The objects are those of a home, the actions seem to be those you can find between family members, but there’s an open rift between the words of love on which this place was built, with its contents and people, and love itself. Everything is orchestrated. On the wall hangs a black and white picture of Le Saint Cœur de Marie, with a deep crack running down the middle. Maria’s pure heart,a mother’s love and her broken heart, her heart that loves her son. All the mothers here are missing, along with their love. This house built on declarations of love, lacks its most primal embodiment.
Eliko progresses from the hard work and labor invested in setting up, directing, and shooting this body of work, to the complex emotional expression of conversing and stitching together. Because, as the walls fill up inside, Eliko is also outside, walking again with his 92 years old mother down Hanevi’im Street.