6 June - 15 July 2012
It is said that in an aesthetic conception of art, the language used
must be universal. The different videos presented in the exhibition
entitled "Là-bas" (Over There) show us that this is far from the case.
The Other, whom we think we know, can actually be a perfect stranger,
and the words he speaks can be nothing but incomprehensible noise. The
anthropological function of contemporary art takes visitors into a
far-off realm that they have heard of but never actually seen. "Là-bas"
(Over There) gives us the opportunity to see with our own eyes, to
experience participative observation, and to "pitch our tent in the
middle of the village", to paraphrase the beautiful words of the father
of anthropology, Bronislaw Malinowski.
"Pitching their tents" was indeed what thousands of Tel-Aviv residents
did in the summer of 2011 to show their indignation vis-a-vis their
leaders, and to state their desire to change the social system of their
country. The nine artists presented in "Là-bas" come from a diverse
society that is the focus of much discussion, and where everyone can
express their own point of view of a common culture. Our aim in this
exhibition is also to show this other aspect of Israel.
The exhibition takes us 'Over There'. It offers us the opportunity to
experience what it feels like to be strangers, to come into contact with
this 'other place', and to gain an insight into the complexity of its
Enter the "village" to the sound of pistols and discover Nira Pereg's
67 flamingos in a glass cage ("67 Bows, 2006"). The sound of the gun
sets of a Pavlovian reflex, and they bow their heads. Soon, the gun is
no longer necessary to set off the reflex. Nira Pereg offers a metaphor
of human behaviour, which is sometimes conditioned to act without
critical thought. But "67 Bows" also refers to the Six Day War in 1967.
More than just showing the ridiculous behaviour of the flamingos, the
video denounces the absurdity of human behaviour: men and women who,
through lack of courage, engage in the folly of weapons.
During the Six Day War, Gaza ("Azza" in Hebrew) was annexed by Egypt. Sigalit Landau,
who represented Israel at the Venice Biennale in 2011, has combined the
names of Azza (Gaza in Hebrew) and Asheklon, an Israeli town. The towns
both stand on the shores of the Mediterranean, and both shelter
refugees: Muslims in Azza, North African Jews in Ashkelon. Sigalit
Landau has chosen to bring together these two populations, brothers in
terms of both their culture and their situation. He shows them playing a
"knife game"; each player throws a knife into the sand and draws a new
frontier based on where it falls.
The game becomes a symbol for a dialogue that the artist would like to
make possible between the two peoples. The game seems to have no end,
like the ever-chenging borders. The video appeals to all our senses: the
sound of the sea, the texture of the sand dug up by the knives. The
aesthetic appeal of the images makes us forget the reality of human
conflict and takes us into the world of happy summer games played by
young people whose one desire is to live together.
Tel-el-Full, near Jerusalem, also stands in the sand. The palace filmed by Nir Evron in A Free Moment
(2011) used to belong to the Jordanians; it was intended to be the
summer residence of King Hussein. The concrete structure had only just
been completed when the Six Day War broke out in 1967. Work on the
building was halted and it fell into ruin, a ghostly remnant of a human
project that would never be realized. Nir Evron's work clearly focuses
on history: through genealogy or archaeology, the artist explores the
many strata of a history that links generations together. In A Free Moment,
he breathes new life into this magnificent monument overlooking the
entire region, from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean. To do this, he
developed a complex image capture system where a robot equipped with a
365° mobile camera moved along rails filming from every possible angle.
This POV movie takes us into to bowels of the building itself. The
simplicity and emptiness of the place contrast sharply with the
sophistication of the filming device.
Concrete also forms part of Rona Yefman's work, but her aim is to
move walls in order, literally, to push her way through the society in
which she lives. She believes that all dividing lines must be moved. In
her video "Pippi Longstocking" (2008), Rona Yefman revisits the famous
children's book of the same name by Danish author Astrid Lindgren by
dressing up in the eccentric guise of Pippi Longstocking. Like
Lindgren's fictional character, who has superhuman strength, she
attempts to move the "Separation Wall" with touching naivety. She
deliberately approaches the political and controversial reality of the
Wall in a light-hearted way.
The artist seems to refuse to grow up and accept reality, and the viewer
becomes a powerless witness to a desire for change that has turned into
a childish utopia.
Yael Bartana belongs to a generation of artists who have lived
through several wars and spates of suicide bombings. Since 1953, the
State of Israel has organized an annual two-minute silence during which
the country comes to a standstill in memory of the soldiers killed in
the fighting. The tradition of "Yom Hazikaron" (day of memory in Hebrew)
is still alive today, and it is this special moment that Yael Bartana
focuses on in "Trembling Time" (2001). The artist, standing on a bridge
overlooking a motorway to the north of Tel-Aviv, films the dense
traffic. When the Yom Hazikaron siren sounds, all the card stop for two
minutes of silent communion. Tel Aviv, reputed to be "the city that
never stops", grinds to a halt. Repeated every year, this commemoration
decreed by the authorities has gradually spread throughout Israel. In
Yael Bartana's video, thanks to her subtle treatment of shadow and
light, sound and silence, and motion and stillness, this moment of
collective memory is invested with great emotional power, dramatic force
and, ultimately, solemnity.
Night and suspended time are also themes in "Last Watch" (2010) by Talya Keinan.
The black mountain that she has painted on the wall of the museum is as
much about darkness impinging on light as about tiredness overcoming
the body. At the summit, just before sleep, there is a special, almost
sweet interlude. In this place and at this precise instant, Taylia
Keinan has chosen to insert a video of an open-air concert that did
actually take place at the top of a mountain. Time is suspended. The
singers disappear and reappear in the darkness, as if to signify the
magic or the extreme fragility of this special moment where dreams and
reality can mix.
Tom Pnini's mountain is volcanic. He draws inspiration from his
own history; the son of a famous actor, he has decided to focus on the
theatre in this work. He plays with the idea of illusion, and sets out
to show all the facets of the theatre at once: stage and wings, audience
and actors, costumes and sets. For Volcano Demo, as for other
works, he has built a model from papier mâché, using a theatre set he
filmed before destroying it. He placed this giant erupting volcano on
the roof of his parents' apartment in Tel Aviv.
This work is all about mixing things together: professional and private
life, reality and staging, and so on. The entire work, filmed from four
different angles, adds to the dramatic, even apocalyptic nature of the
Volcano Demo works as a metaphor for the Israeli spirit, where
unconscious drama blends with conscious drama, and where everyone feels a
deep-seated sense of anxiety about both past and impending disaster.
Daniel Landau is also interested in the social aspects of Israeli life. In his video Not Very Nice People,
he transgresses the taboo of integration and the way immigrants are
treated, and more generally addresses the subject of how others are
rejected. The country has been built from successive waves of
immigration, and each time the same scenario has been played out. The
last to arrive are considered as foreigners and are despised and
sometimes violently rejected by those who have been in the country for
longer. The same goes for people whose differences are held up to
ridicule. Not Very Nice People is a fictional documentary on four
people living in a building in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Each
represents a stereotype forming part of the Israeli mosaic. Each tells
us about his or her daily life and talks about how they feel about the
social conditions and crazy things that can happen in contemporary
Israeli society. They also talk about how they have been rejected, and
how hard it is to find a place in that society.
Beyond the complexity of political reality and social issues, everyone dreams of helping to create a better world. Gaza Canal (2010) by Tamir Zadok
is the story of just such a utopian dream. It is a futuristic fictional
documentary where a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict
is made possible thanks to a gigantic engineering project making Gaza
into an island by digging a huge canal between the two territories.
Tamir Zadok plays with the genre of propagandist documentary, and his
film takes the form of an advertisement for the "Canal Visitor Center",
proudly showing off the benefits of the project. He imagines all the
future advantages of building the Gaza Canal in terms of employment and
Gaza Canal demonstrates an alternative to the tragedy of Gaza,
showing how all the energy that has been invested in the conflict or its
resolution might be used in a shared project that would give everyone a
sense of pride in shaping their history, instead of a feeling that they
are its sad victims.
This exhibition tries to show another reality that is Israel. "Là-bas"
refers to a population to which these artists belong and which
challenges and calls into question the society they live in. The videos
presented here seek neither to apportion blame nor to provide excuses;
instead they place us face-to-face with our responsibility for our own
lives. The Israeli writer Amos Oz suggested "divorce" and the creation
of two states side by side: a situation where there would be no
obligation to love each other, just an obligation to coexist and to
respect all aspects of the Other, including his inaccessible
Wherever "Over There" happens to be, the "Others" who live there know
things that we can never know. Contemporary art, in its anthropological
role, reflects society in the most direct, sensitive way possible. Are
artists not artisans who dare to fashion their works based on the
secrets of our lives?
What we find "over there" is certainly not an illusory understanding of
others, but the opportunity to draw the energy we need to resume our own
journey from the inspiration of the artist.
We can then take down our tent and return "home"; but our spirits will have been transformed by the experience.
Curator: Marie Shek
Organized with support from the Cultural Service of the Israeli Embassy in France.