In an ancient, abandoned house in a side street of Jerusalem, unseen from the main road you bump into „HaMiffal“ (The Factory/ The Endeavor), a project of the artist collective „Bait Rek“ (Empty House). When entering this old building you can’t really define what place this is. In some way it looks private while at the same time it seems to be a communal working place…
Worker shoes hang in front of a yellow marked door which leads into a workshop. On the other side a newly arranged kitchen with wood branches hanging from the ceiling and always someone seems busy cooking. Beside the kitchen, a colorful, bright bar/cafeteria with a self built bar, tables and chairs. The bar/cafeteria is open to the main hall of the building, a hall that reminds us of rich people’s villa with a curious fresco on the ceiling and an unconventional fountain standing in the middle. Another room looks like an assembly room that was just left. Note papers lie around, architectural plans and posters hang on the wall and a big screen displays the divers meetings that took place there… In addition to that every corner is filled with art works: starting from the elevator that got transformed into a seemingly passage to a forest, the ceramics and photographs on the wall, the glass pile in the bathroom…
All of this is constantly in movement, changing, so that every time you come something new catches your attention, like an old public wall phone which instead of asking you to put money or to wait, sends sexual messages.
The „Bait Rek“ group explores with its projects the possibility of co-creation of culture. A place left unused is transformed for a short time into a creative environment. A whole new infrastructure is built inside the city.
Weekly concerts (f.ex.„The Djamchid Sisters“) , 15 min parties, performances (f.ex.„8 hours of Demolition Sound“) and workshops (pottery, cooking, assembling objects…) rhythm the month. The intimate atmosphere of the place makes it easy to meet people and to exchange with them. There is no distance between the artists, performers, creators and the public.
But how did it all start? What are the other projects of „Bait Rek“? Is there financial support and if yes, from where? How does it work inside of the „Miffal“? What is going to happen after the project with this empty house and what was it before?
The following is an interview with Itamar an Tal, both long-term active members of the group.
Did all of you study in the „Bezalel School of Arts“ in Jerusalem?
I: Not all of the group. We yes, but in different departments. I studied in the Fine Arts Department and Tal at the Visual Communication Department.
But how did the whole group meet?
I: We know each other from before Bezalel, through mutual friends, musicians… We were a group of friends from all sort of places, mostly from Bezalel because we have the same interest in art but not only.
What pushed you to start the group Bait Rek (Empty House)? From what I heard, it started with the demonstrations 2011 in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem concerning the high prices of houses and the lack of possibilities for living for young people.
I: Yes, it was a period of time: summer, everybody was with the spirit of changing…
What is exactly the problem with the high prices of the houses? There are empty houses, but they are not for sale or they are just too expensive?
T: It was not about the prices of empty houses, it was in general.
I: Houses was just an example…
T: …of how expensive it is to live here. And I think that our generation if they don’t have support from their family they can’t buy a house. It’s almost impossible. But the conversation that happened then is that it is not enough to walk around with signs „let’s change this, let’s change that“, but it’s about what you do and they wanted to do something. To decide about what kind of life they wanted to have.
And how did they find a place that was empty if there is so much need for houses?
I: There are lot of empty places in Jerusalem. Cause of bureaucratic stuff, high prices, political issues…
T: I think there was a map that was made of empty places. Ghost houses and others…
I: That was after Bait Rek, or at the same time, in the same will of demonstration… The empty house projects started for showing that it is possible to do something in those places.
What projects did you all do with Bait Rek? I know the Miffal, but this is already your 6th project. So what were the others?
T: The first one was in an abandoned hotel. It was called Empty House. As it was the first one. The second one was Empty House 2 and took place in an ancient Templar building in the German Colony.
I: The 3rd project it was longer. The first project stayed 1 day, the 2nd one 3 days. The 3rd project took took more time for building, 3 months and the theme was The Kibbutz. It was a wide area (more than 70 dunam), with small ruined structures and it stayed for a week.
(So the duration increased! The Miffal project is staying 2 months!)
The 4th project was a moving one. It was called “Shayara“. We did a convoy across the city…
And the 5th?
I: The 5th project was more established. We got a bit of money for it and it was in an old train station. They gave us a train wagon and we made an exhibition. I think the most Fine Art exhibition we had. We’ve been there a year. Not all through the year, but with 2 exhibitions and each time 5 artists. This project was the most concentrated on Fine Arts.
Yes, in your group you are not all from Bezalel. So here in the Miffal a lot of people joined from outside and they are not necessarily doing art in their daily life, no?
I: No, you don’t need to be an artist to join us. The people come from many disciplines, but when they come here they do art.
And when they come they propose a concrete idea of what to do? I remember I meet two physicians here who said they were building a recycling machine. So they propose something artistic, inventive in whatever they know?
And there is also a carpenter…?
I: There are few people who do carpentry. We try to have as many people as we can get so we can have more possibilities to make. Then we have more knowledge, more point of views.
You said for the 5th project you got for the first time financial support. For the Miffal I read that you are supported by the Eden JDA (Jerusalem Development Authority) and Bar-Kayma (an NGO providing support for artistic and cultural projects)?
I: We got financial support trough Bar-Kayma. As individuals we can’t get money from the municipality, because we are not officially a group, we are not an official structure. And Bar-Kayma that’s what they do: They help projects with guiding. Most artists don’t know how to deal with money, so they help with the logistic.
And concerning both of you. You have a specific role in the group?
I: Kind of… it should be more organized. I am here in charge of the manufacture department. We discuss about projects we need to do here and how to do it.
It’s more the building part of the project.
T: It’s not only the building, not just execution, it’s a lot of thinking too. What to do and why.
I: And how people can join in to be a part of the Factory, of the Miffal…
So people can present themselves to you and say „I’m interested in building something can I join“?
I: Yes, they can present themselves to me and Shaul.
So they can come and use the workshop?
I: Not simply use the workshop. The workshop is the tool but the point is to build the place. It’s not for doing stuff for your own.
T: Everything here was made in the manufacture. The table, the chairs… it was empty, so we did everything.
You are also working in the manufacture?
T: I did, but I am not signed in. I am a graphic designer, so there is always something to do.
So you are doing the publicity for the Miffal and the site?
T: The design of it, but not necessarily the function. The decision was taken that everything for the design would be shot from above, so everything had to be done on the table. For example you see it here on the last poster from the Miffal… From what it says there the project ends…today!
But actually the project is going on. You decided to keep it going, no?
T: Not exactly to keep it going because we take one month to think over it and see what’s interesting to keep doing and what new things should happen.
Because now the rhythm was really intense in activities, workshops and events and I suppose that that rhythm you will not be able to hold on… I heard, now the Miffal is going to stay for a year?
I: Yes, till June next year.
More as an open space with a bar and some concerts from time to time…?
T: We are taking the month of September to think of it. I think this break is very important for everyone. All the constant activities were sucking all the men-power from everybody who was around.
You are not living from this, it’s financed at the moment but it might not be financed for a year. So you are also having side activities I suppose and you need to be able to deal with it together, no?
T: I do.
I: I don’t. But I don’t because I am here all the time. It is my only income, but it can’t be the income for all of the people because it would be a lot of money. We have around 50 people who get actually paid.
This place was bought by someone now, no? By whom?
I: The municipality.
And what do they want to do with it?
T: They have to do something cultural. They want to make it a center for dance, but they need too much money to start building it, to restore it. So, until they have the money, they called us for the place not to be abandoned.
And what was this building before?
T: It has been abandoned for 10 years. And the last time, until 2006 it was a house for children with disabilities and before, it was an elementary school.
When we came here we didn’t know for what exactly it had been build and through historical research, by accident we found out that a Christian Arab Family lived here. They left the building in 1948. The women, Claire, she was here, we invited her, she is 96.
And where does she live now?
T: I think in the eastern side…
I: Somewhere in Jerusalem…
Ok, we are at the end of our interview. Thank you very much Itamar and Tal for taking time for this conversation!