Extending her investigation of the metaphysical and organic substrate that infuses and shapes human action, Susanne Kessler’s stunning, riotous, and intricately complex installation, Jerusalem, brings a prophetic voice to consideration of this sacred and troubled city. Kessler’s fascination with human culture over time and the myriad forms of its visual expression has been shaped and cultivated by her experience of living in the ancient city of Rome for the past 30 years. In Rome, layers of time are ever-present and visible, and for centuries, historians, scholars, and artists have flocked there to track its transformations and to learn from them.
Like Rome, Jerusalem is a city of layers that has experienced continual transformation. A geographical gateway between East and West, it is home to the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – the source of both its greatest gifts and its most intractable challenges. Yet, the wrenching, violent conflict that permeates contemporary Jerusalem is not a given. Even as recently as the 19th century, Jews, Muslims, and Christians coexisted peacefully and collaboratively in the city. Today, worshippers of many religions consider this city to be the “Eye of the Universe” — the very center of creation and civilization — and the locus of ultimate revelation. Kessler is particularly drawn to archaeological maps, which bear witness to this dialectic between creative minds and the layers of time made visible through the rise and fall of cities. Consequently, when she gave herself the task of communicating the essence of the city of Jerusalem, she began by redrawing its city map from a 19th century original. As she followed the map’s lines, she came to sense the city as a living plant that has continuously grown and changed over centuries. She was drawn to trace these lines, which so exquisitely expressed the merging of organic natural form with more rigid, rectilinear urban structures. Following this impulse, Kessler created a tracing technique by stretching a yarn made of twisted plastic bags, tape, cables and wire over the delicate, mapped lines of the city. Above the left-brained view of the city evident in the aerial basemap rose a new, organic form birthed from the alchemical mix of hope-bearing precious silver and gold with the charred black remains of violence and strife. As if chanting a mantra or prayer, I repetitively traced the lines over and over, pulling the abstract rhythm of the two-dimensional city to the surface, birthing it into three dimensions as I distilled its essence. When complete, the “skin” of the wire layers were peeled from the underlying wall drawing, much as a snake sheds its skin when moving from one phase of growth to the next. The final construction, Jerusalem, forms a netted web of oscillating, rhythmic lines of gold, silvery-grey, and black floating freely in space. [Encircling? Beyond?] the hanging net of ribbony line, 21 triangular boxes carry parchment book casings, symbolizing the vast archive of knowledge and transcendental thought [generated by the profound cultures which have arisen in this place, and accumulated over centuries.] The number 21 points to the three religions and seven hills of the city. In order to find the fine points of balance Retaining the balance of the installation by dissecting and re–composing the various elements is like keeping (the?) strength of confidence alive—that peace ultimately will prevail. Jerusalem, claimed and worshiped by the three monotheistic religions, has a world soul and peace in its grounds. In its three -dimensionality, three-deity Jerusalem transcends borders.
Text by Sarah Bliss for the exhibition “Susanne Kessler – Jerusalem“, American University Museum, The Katzen Art Center, Washington DC , 2015