The Pit: Artifacts raised up from the belly of the earth

Curators and exhibition design: Avihai Mizrahi and Neil Nenner

It can happen by chance, following a night of heavy rain, after laying a new irrigation pipe in a field, or during an orderly archaeological dig – artifacts from the past rise up to emerge from the belly of the earth, reaching ground level. Tools, remains of food, clothing, weapons, fragments of buildings. Crumbled pieces of culture, broken fragments of one thing mixed in with something else, clinging to roots or to the bones of rodents, alongside of each other.

Other human beings discarded them in another era. They rid themselves of the objects, removed them from their living space and led them to their burial site. Underneath the earth the objects began their other life. It was there that they sought to decay, disappear, merge with the earth and its contents.

The objects reveal themselves to us here and now, chaotically, after chance or intention raised them up from the pit. They were filtered, cleansed, classified, and examined. At times they were restored, glued, attached, or reconstructed. They beg us to decode them, locate them in a logical order, extract information from them to tell us about the past.

Ancient garbage dumps, like contemporary landfills, are important sites for research, as they contain objects that have not had a chance to disappear. Can they narrate their stories for us?

The current exhibition attempts to lend an ear to the findings from the archaeological dig in the Mikveh Israel landfill – Tel Aviv’s first garbage dump during the British Mandate era, in operation from the mid-1920s until the early 1950s.

The exhibition is an attempt to “dig out” the material mass from the artifacts unearthed in the dig, and their embodied design content, with the hope that these finds will tell us something new and unexpected. The first sight of the object interrogates it: What were you? When were you made? What did they do with you? Why did they throw you out? Are there objects like you being made now? What was life like in your era? The exhibition tour proposes a different type of dialogue with the objects removed from the mound of trash.

This is a three-part dialogue: the first engages in the syntax of the buried design languages; the second offers an opportunity to observe simulated reality of life conducted underneath the earth’s surface. The third part reinforces the encounter with evocative objects collected and traded by virtue of the stories attributed to them.

 

The research/work team at the landfill: Prof. Tamar Elor, Dr. Assaf Nativ, Arbel Levy.

Historical research: Dr. Yaron Balslev

 

The historical research is supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, our partners in sponsoring this exhibition.