ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism is a far-out exhibit at an architecture center NAIM /Bureau Europa in the city of Maastricht, The Netherlands . It’s also an adventure, an exploration into an unexpected world of architecture in conflict.
First conceived by Israeli architect Malkit Shoshan, the founder and director of the Amsterdam based architectural thinktank FAST (the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory), “ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism” was an extension of her award winning book Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine.
The venue is NAIM/Bureau Europa, and after I started exploring this exhibit, I entered a mental and visual tunnel I’ve been in for days. It is an interpretation of architecture under destruction but on the surface it tells a story about construction and adaptation beginning with a donkey turning into a zebra at a zoo in Gaza; an adaptation under conflict.
Shoshan has turned Bureau Europa into an interactive zoo, from their website:
“The installation is a hybrid of a house, a cage, a UN shelter, a zoo…
“The archive, inspired by ‘A for Animal’ by Gilles Deleuze and by the lexicon of ‘The Atlas of the Conflict’, can be seen as a search engine, rather than an academic research. It consists of snapshots of realities, stories, anecdotes, and statistics on a variety of terms concerning the zoo and the Gaza Strip, such as modernism, behavioral sink, proximities, donkeys, pigeons, rats, the exotic, classification, walls and paradise.”
There’s an element of confinement viewing these adaptations of Gaza’s beach.
In Mapping the disappearance of a nation, Adri Nieuwhof interviews Malkit Shoshan for EI in March of last year, from the introduction:
Malkit Shoshan’s The Atlas of the Conflict — Israel-Palestine won the annual book design competition in the “Best Books from all over the World” category at the Leipzig Book Fair in Germany on 18 March. To produce the book, Shoshan, an Israeli architect and designer who was brought up in a Zionist context, painstakingly mapped the creation of Israel, which erased Palestine in the process. The atlas is the result of her determination to understand the full scale of the creation of one nation and the disappearance of another.
The Atlas of the Conflict offers insights into the development of regional and state planning. An international jury at the Leipzig fair selected the atlas out of almost 600 books, and praised the book’s design which “brings structure and light to the chaos.” The jury considers the book to constitute “visual communication of the highest order. An instrument to facilitate understanding, discussion and reflection. Not a gratuitous design book but one which is both essential and eminently usable.”
Shoshan mentions in the interview she would like to see her book as a public space. It’s fascinating to me this exhibit materialized. There’s an unease in recognizing ourselves, or others, in these urban settings. It all started with a donkey, and a creative mind looking for solutions.
Régine Debatty at We make money not art.com calls it an “approachable and moving extension of the book”:
The first animals you meet in the gallery –if you visit it during the weekend– are donkeys. Unpainted and peacefully eating their hay. They symbolize the daily struggle to lead an almost ‘normal’ life in the Gaza Strip where regular trade continues to be prohibited, where almost no construction materials or raw materials is allowed to enter, where the population is isolated and subject to electricity cuts of 4 to 8 hours per day, where there is no longer access to regular, clean water and where, according to the World Food Programme, “The evidence shows that the population is being sustained at the most basic or minimum humanitarian standard.”
Apart from the donkeys, Bureau Europa also hosts rats. Nested in tunnels, running around or playing on a wooden wheel. The lovely rats evoke human beings living in an area, the Gaza Strip, that is running out of space…..Fortunately, Gazans manage to keep a remarkable sense of humour and many still hope that peace might one day prevail. Hence the third group of animal present in the gallery: doves.
The walls and windows around the installations are covered in posters that illustrate and provide facts and figures about the history of zoos around the world, the human zoos of the 15th to 18th century, how most of the animals of the Gaza zoo had died of starvation or because of bombing during the Israeli war on Gaza, how wild animals are smuggled through the tunnels, the movement for animal rights, the black market, architecture in Gaza, living conditions in the Gaza Strip, etc.
For more information about the Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory check out:
Through the use of media F.A.S.T. hopes to mobilize public opinion regarding this situation and to create an international pressure toward the State of Israel in order to first stop the next transfer that is planned for the Bedouin population in the Negev and second recognize their existence.
“[A]rchitects and architecture were not just instruments used to execute certain agendas. They can undertake an reclaim the instruments that create spaces in which society exist, and bring it back to basic human values, like designing a good space where different groups can co exist. I think it’s very much in the line of unsolicited architecture, about asking the questions yourself rather than reacting on a straight-forward commission. The first engagement starts with an experiment, to see as service givers if we can position ourselves in a position to change reality.”
More photos of the exhibit at NAIM /Bureau Europa.
(Hat tip MW commenter justicewillprevail )