Dir Kadis - Pavel Wolberg
"Dir Kadis, 2004", chromogenic print, Israel Museum collection Photo by Pavel Wolberg
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Museums are abodes of spirits. Museums need spirits, because without them there is no past. No memory. In the refurbished Israel Museum, the spirits have been preserved and new corridors opened. Its renovation glistens in its simplicity, sincere in its intentions, saturated with its genteel national pride, with its sense of mission, with restraint. The collections seem pleased on their walls, huddled together. A large group of visitors straggles after a guide wearing a black skirt and a kerchief around her neck, the older ones holding metal folding chairs so they can rest in front of the works she will talk about.

One can understand the halls, yet still go astray: Israeli collection, modern art, European, period rooms. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is a pleasant place. And then, on an inner wall in a side room, you encounter a spirit. The ghost of this photograph.

Thousands of photographs of stone-throwing have been taken in the occupied territories, but precisely this photograph, taken from behind, captures the unquantifiable thing, the essence of "the situation" here in its deepest sense. Pavel Wolberg is a rare photographer. He has a rare talent. He achieves a rare depth. This is a very cold photograph. A chill of equanimity toward what is depicted wafts from the photograph. No position seems to be taken. No attempt is being made to place a portrait or a face at the center: the composition of the frame clearly works against that. No attempt is being made to illustrate something or to set in motion any discussion for or against what is seen. There is no polarization, in the simplistic sense of the word.

Yet the viewer gasps. Because there is a hole in this picture. A stone flies toward the clouds, and below lies something unseen. And looking at that hole, one sees the suffering, the essence of a primal complaint to the sky, to what's there and is not listening, to empty space. It is absolute protest. This is a photograph of women throwing stones; its title is "Dir Kadis, 2004" and it now hangs on a side wall in a side room in the Israel Museum. New acquisitions in photography.

Much has been written about the art of Pavel Wolberg. The masterful artist's book published by Dvir Gallery three years ago, with an illuminating introduction by Erez Schweitzer, should be distributed in every school just before a trip to Hebron for ritual purposes. Because Pavel Wolberg captures the meaning of the hold on the territories from a position external to the ideological state apparatuses, but also outside the image's world of pathos. In his work, what there is is what there is, and it's insupportable. Without uglifying, without prettifying, without indulging in interplays of the two. Possibly that coldness, and the devouring quality of the situation here, prompted Wolberg to undertake a new project - photographing African tribes. As though he decided to go back to anthropology, to Margaret Mead, to that primordial place where a photograph steals the soul of its subjects.

In the museum, a group of bearers of folding chairs will soon leave the archaeology section. They are moving ahead according to the order of things. First Temple, Second Temple, Greeks, Romans, Islam. Those who want to encounter the spirit have to come from the opposite direction, against the current, from the other side of the Israel Museum.