Kader Attia (France), Boaz Arad (Israel), Mircea Cantor (Romania), Jiri Cernicky (Czech Republic), Jordi Colomer (Spain), Hanna Farah-Kufer Birim (Palestine/Israel), Tsibi Geva (Israel), Miki Kratsman (Israel), Nicole Six and Paul Petritsch (Austria), Ilana Salma Ortar (Israel), Dina Shoham (Israel), Wang Wei (China)
The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon
September – November 2007
The exhibition Temporally seeks to explore how the preoccupation with real or imagined architecture – in life and in art – offers a prism through which to investigate the contemporary preoccupation with themes of identity and culture. In doing so, this exhibition attempts to probe the relationship between reality and its representations; between concrete existence and its manipulation; and between strategies of action, resistance, documentation, examination and acceptance. Operating in different manners and in different contexts, the artists participating in this exhibition create situations that investigate and challenge habitually unquestioned, concrete aspects of reality; these aspects are the platform upon which they operate, and in relation to which their works evolve. The works thus contain various and at times even strange actions, which are performed before the camera. These actions revolve around carefully constructed and reconstructed acts of representation, which dramatize or rearrange reality in order to document, manipulate, examine, read and criticize it.
Many of the works in this exhibition transcend circumscribed spheres of discourse and meaning, and make sophisticated use of the gaps between them. The first sphere of discourse is that of reality – the sphere of the "origin" or of the (imagined) truth that is thematically – albeit not always visually – evoked in these works. A second sphere of discourse is the art field – the sphere of "reproduction" or of "fabrication," which assumes a different form in every work. Yet these two spheres are paralleled – and perhaps even superceded in terms of importance – by a third sphere, the sphere of reception, in which the works are examined and where their meanings are constantly renegotiated. This sphere – which allows for a conceptual gap, or tension, between the original and concrete performance of an action (such as the explosion of a project building in Ilana Salma Ortar 's work) and between the performative reenactment of an action (such as in the work of Wang Wei) – is the sphere in which the exhibition unfolds . In this context, various forms of architecture and processes of construction and destruction – which appear to be a central theme in the works included in this exhibition – acquire a meaning that exceeds the context of the immediate architectural discourse they signify.
Indeed, the complex concept of "identity," which may perhaps even be replaced at times by the concept of "belonging," is broken down in this exhibition into small and constantly mutating fragments that cannot be fixed and defined. Different temporal contexts and places, personal experiences and national affinities, chance occurrences and states of consciousness all cast flickering shadows upon the meaning of this term, preventing us from grasping onto it in a definitive manner and from fixing our gaze upon it – and thus paradoxically enabling us to contemplate it in a more profound manner.
Ilana Salma Ortar 's work Chicago Bar , 2006, opens with an image of a large project building that appears to be either under construction or in the process of being destroyed. The text moving across the screen clarifies the context of this image; and then, without any prior warning, the building suddenly explodes and collapses onto itself. The work continues with a series of interviews with the building's former residents – an eclectic group of individuals who hail from different origins and who belong to different age groups and cultural contexts. The work was photographed in the La Duch?re quarter in Lyon, France – which was built in 1962 in order to house French citizens who were forced to return to France following the declaration of Algerian independence. This building was one of a series of large-scale project buildings designed to house large numbers of people. Initially, the quarter absorbed repatriated Frenchmen; later on, the buildings came to be inhabited by a more heterogeneous group of residents – locals, immigrants, refugees, single-parent families and illegal aliens. Over time, due to continuous neglect on the part of the authorities, serious social problems developed in this area – including unemployment, violence and drug abuse. Several years ago, the city of Lyon decided to destroy the quarter, allegedly in order to rehabilitate the area and its residents. In reality, the fact that future plans for this area focus on buildings that are no more than three or four stories high – and that the area's population was evicted and scattered against its will – seem to indicate that the city of Lyon is actually interested in rezoning and gentrifying the area.
Following its appearance in the opening scene of the video work, the project building itself remains invisible. Yet although the focus is not on the architecture itself, an understanding of modern architecture – and of the ideological and political forces that shape it – is decisive for interpreting this complex work. The architectural utopia presented by Le Corbusier in the first half of the 20 th century was based on the notion of egalitarian living conditions that would supposedly cater to the needs of all urban residents. Le Corbusier coined the term "a machine for living" to describe these residential units – which would each function as a separate and autonomous complex connected to similar complexes by means of a network of highways.
There is no doubt that Salma Ortar's work functions as a kind of test case for examining housing projects, unemployment, immigration and poverty. Moreover, the destruction of the building featured in this work alludes to a destruction of the modernist ideal itself – of both its architectural and moral dimensions as defined by Le Corbusier; it amounts to an admission of modernism's mistakes, or even of its total failure. The building, which is swallowed into itself; the residents who have been scattered among other similar project buildings; the absence of a plan for socially rehabilitating this area; and the allusion to various commercial projects – all these create a harsh feeling of helplessness, indifference and arbitrary power, and a morbid feeling of destruction and annihilation – of the architectural utopia's collapse into itself.
In Hanna Farah -Kufer Birim and Dina Shoham 's work Block , 2002, the two artists – dressed in white t-shirts and red work overalls – stand in front of a pile of gray bricks. They face each other in silence, and immediately begin to work. Picking up one brick after the other, they each build a kind of fence or square wall around themselves. The two walls grow taller and taller, finally rising above their heads. These fortified structures seem to become two buildings, which in turn are transformed into two erect tombs that imprison the artists within them. The voiceover accompanying the work features the two artists engaged in a relaxed social discussion about the existential Jewish/Arab and Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Despite the conversation's relaxed tone, the two separating walls rise further and further up, so that the artists seem to be burying themselves alive. One of the questions that arises in the course of their conversation is why the houses in refugee camps are not plastered. Is this, they wonder, the result of existential exigencies, or perhaps a subversive aesthetic stance? Interestingly, it is precisely this poignant question that brings our awareness to the fact that the two artists are laying the bricks one upon the other with great precision, yet are using no mortar to bind them together. This fact implies that, not unlike walls built in the course of a children's game, these walls may eventually be dismantled and give way to other, joint construction projects.
Hanna Farah-Kufer Birim 's works bring together what is found at random with what was intentionally produced. In The Shelter, 1-5 , 2007, for instance, Farah was employed to clean out a bomb shelter that was being converted for another use. After clearing out the shelter, while he was cleaning and washing it, he discovered that the word "Palestine" had been inscribed on one of the walls – probably by one of the Palestinian workers who once slept clandestinely in the space.
In accordance with the task he was commissioned to carry out – that of cleaning out and renovating the shelter – Farah replastered and whitewashed the wall, while documenting this process step by step. In the context of preparing the work for this exhibition, the same work process was reversed, and Farah went back to re-expose the writing on the wall. The exhibition of The Shelter, 1-5 in proximity to Farah and Dina Shoham's joint work ( Block , 2002) further underscores its meaning; it turns our attention once again to issues surrounding the labor force employed in Israeli construction projects, and to the fact that the political cannot be repressed or detached from the public sphere.
Nicole Six and Paul Petritsch 's work Space , 2004, opens with a view of an empty, square room. This space is entered by a figure that performs a series of actions that seem to examine the internal rules that govern it, and the limits imposed on whoever occupies it and moves through it. The figure enters, takes a couple of somewhat hesitant steps, tilts its body one way and the other, and then unexpectedly leaps onto the wall and stands perpendicular to it. A step in one direction, two steps in another direction, another leap; it seems as if the figure is examining, challenging and fighting the various forces that facilitate or obstruct its movement. The work appears to stretch the limits of Western logic, since the action it depicts does not comply in any way with the familiar laws of gravity. Even though a permanent shadow follows the figure from wall to wall and from one dimension to another, it does not reveal the source of the manipulation upon which this work is based. The combination of different discursive fields – including architecture and psychology, physics and philosophy – within the context of one work creates a sense of simultaneous mental and physical disorientation that raises the question of whether the viewer's emotional reactions should be compatible with the actions taken by the figure, or whether he should occupy an external position that would neutralize the dimension of fear or danger.
Jordi Colomer 's work, Anarchitekton , 2002–2004, introduces the viewer into a hermetic space that is entirely painted red. The space is illuminated by four video works projected onto diagonally positioned screens, which cut off the four corners of the room. These works each feature a figure carrying an architectural model against a different urban landscape (the models are of buildings in Barcelona, Bucharest, Brasilia and Osaka, and the works were filmed, respectively, in these cities). Each model is composed of roughly hewn cardboard, and is displayed in relation to the architectural original it represents. Due to the changing camera angles, the relational scale between the building and the model changes continuously, so that at times the model appears larger than the building it represents. The figure carrying the model marches, speeds up, runs, stops, displays itself and the model it is holding – all of this without any clear or visible purpose.
In normative building processes, the building of a model precedes the construction of the actual building. In the situations captured in Colomer's work, by contrast, it is unclear what preceded what, and what represents what: the model or the building? Reality or the work of art? Is this a statement about the precedence of the simulacrum over the real? Or is this a strange one-person demonstration against something? What is the context of this action?
The performative action undertaken in each of these video works amounts to a protest against accepted social norms, which is given expression through the fact that some of the models depict intermediate construction states compatible with the incomplete state of the actual buildings. This act of protest is also expressed through the strange, senseless behavior of the figure – which seems to be darting back and forth according to an inner rhythm, possibly attempting to say something. The title of the work – which combines the terms "anarchy" and "architecture" – echoes its subversive quality.
Colmer's work seems to efface the fundamental difference between officially celebrated buildings of the kind created by Richard Niemeyer in Brasilia (the first city ever to be entirely built according to a preexisting architectural plan), and between project buildings of the kind that typically appear on the margins of cities. In doing so, it poses a fundamental question concerning the nature of the relations between buildings and the people that surround and inhabit them.
The examination of the relationship between reality and its representation – one of the central axes of this exhibition – is given expression in this work both formally and thematically: architecture is transformed into a kind of sculpture, which in turn becomes a video work integrated into an installation -- in which the viewers lower themselves into children's chairs. They view a work that challenges – and to a certain degree undermines – the laws of perspective, of logic and of generally accepted forms of behavior.
Jiri Cernicky 's work ABS Video, Tower Block , 2006, opens with a frontal view of a gray gray, crowded apartment building; its multiple windows fill the entire frame, and are distinguished by no decorative or personal details. Gradually, different texts begin emerging with increasing speed from the windows of various apartments; detached, fragmented and not truly legible, they seem to acquire a living, breathing presence.
This work was created by positioning microphones in front of different doors in the building, and recording the random conversations emanating from within the apartments. Just as the real/architectural sphere represented by the building fa?ade is spread out before the viewer's gaze, so the various human spheres that inhabit it are spread out by means of the words and lines that erupt out of the apartments. Yet the texts – which function like mental subtitles that reveal the harsh banality of everyday life – are unimportant to the point of being simultaneously surprising, disappointing and fascinating. The seemingly private mental space exposed in this work is gradually revealed to be a public, dialogic sphere occupied by multiple participants, and devoid of any personal attributes. The everyday reality captured in this work is characterized by no particular contents or identifying details. Instead, it uncovers a Le Corbusier-style living machine, and makes audible the creaking of the complex mechanisms that sustain it.
Tsibi Geva , Miki Kratsman and Boaz Arad 's video work Lattice , 2002, is the product of a long work process composed of numerous stages. To begin with, this work documents the installation Lattice , which Geva built at Hagar Gallery in Jaffa in 2002 (curator: Tal Ben Zvi). For this work, Geva installed a series of decorative grilles in the gallery's windows and on the terraces overlooking the street. The designs of these grilles ranged from modernist to Orientalist, without clearly distinguishing between them, and were directly related – both formally and methodologically – to the accumulating series of paintings that Geva has created over the years (such as Kaffiyeh and Terrazzo ).
Beyond the formal and material qualities of the grilles, this work allowed for the construction of additional registers of meaning – which were related to the act of gazing through them and observing the neighborhood below. The joint video work created by these three artists thus documents the everyday routines of neighborhood residents as seen through the various grilles – beginning in the early morning and ending after sunset. This cinematic gaze is characterized by an insistent clinging to quotidian details, and the work's internal rhythm is slow and monotonous. The camera is stationary, and only the viewing angle changes from time to time; the only movement is provided by the life unfolding in the street below and by the movement of the passersby.
The act of gazing at the neighborhood buildings seen through the grilles sheds a different light on their architectural designs, and on the ideals they embody. One building has square modernist windows, while another's windows are arched. One features colonial-style columns, while another features typically Israeli plastic shutters and water tanks. Moreover, this work fuses the private and public spheres, the position of the viewer and of the one being observed, the modernist grid and the softened variations of it, the wandering gaze and the fixed and controlled one. The viewer looking through the grille is in fact the one who is imprisoned, while the person being gazed at retains his freedom of action and movement. This dynamic subverts historical conventions of photography and display that conceived of an autonomous, self-conscious and active subject in the position of the viewer, and of a passive unconscious object in the position of the one being viewed.
Lattice thus involves an act of estrangement and conversion that undermines even the simple analogy of the zoo, where a viewer positioned on the exterior observes a circumscribed space containing an imprisoned animal.
Miki Kratsman and Boaz Arad 's work Untitled , 2003, was photographed at the Erez crossing, and documents the flow of people streaming into Israel in the early morning hours. The static camera captures a growing number of men pouring out of the crossing after long hours of waiting in impossible conditions. Surprisingly, one might say that they look almost happy. The dissonance between their joyful expressions and the knowledge that they are headed towards another day of grueling work, at whose end they will remain illegally in Israel or return to Gaza only to repeat the same process the following day, is at once difficult and elusive.
This work faces Miki Kratsman 's Untitled , 2007, which features a continuum of still images photographed at Abu Dis – at a provisory point of passage created in the separation wall. The point of intersection between the wall and the yard of a private home that was not destroyed or evacuated has come to function as a nonofficial and unsurveyed passageway. Men, women and children climb over the fence one after the other, carrying their belongings with them. The fragmented and broken manner in which the work is displayed serves to highlight the ridiculous dimension of this horrible situation. Gaza and Abu Dis, the Erez crossing and the separation wall , are situated across from one another; the absurd nature of both scenes grows increasingly clearer, as does the feeling of shame they provoke.
Mircea Cantor 's work The Landscape is Changing , 2003, opens with a routine street scene. Gradually, it becomes apparent that a group of young men and women has gathered on the street, each holding a reflective panel up to his or her face. Orientated in the same direction, as if demonstrating against or facing an invisible presence, they start marching down the street as a single block composed of numerous individuals. Cars keep driving by, the passersby go about their business, and the demonstrators continue to alternate between marching and standing still.
This is a silent protest, and the urban and human reality reflected in the demonstrator's mirror-like panels becomes the poignant, fluid and flickering content of their protest. The character of this procession – which is simultaneously active and subdued – endows the work with a spectacular, fateful dimension. Like the street noises underscoring the pain and horror in the course of a formal, silently advancing funeral procession, the reflective panels stand in for the absent sounds of protest; suffice it to put a mirror up to reality in order to clearly articulate one's position.
Similarly to Kader Attia 's work Holly Land , 2007, this work clearly points to the dissonance between reality and its reflection, between the realm of the concrete and its representation. The demonstrators' movement and the camera's continuous motion create a dynamic situation of constant change, while the pervasive sense of dissonance is rendered both more powerful and more extreme by the work's hybrid logic.
Like other works in the exhibition, this work underlines the importance of the artistic act's performative dimension – of the actual action that takes place in front of the camera and which reproduces, responds to and diverts various elements of a given reality.
The creation of Wang Wei 's work Temporary Space , 2003, was composed of multiple stages. This work, which is characterized by a range of different and complementary patterns of thought and action, began as a concrete action in a given space: Wei began by engaging a dozen or so mingong workers, * who build and sell used bricks. They were asked to gather up red bricks that were produced several decades ago, and which are used in poor areas of Beijing for the construction of Hutong-style buildings. The workers gathered 20,000 bricks, and brought them to the entrance of an empty gallery. They then used these bricks to create a square structure inside the gallery; rising four meters high and measuring a total of 100 square meters, it filled up the entire gallery space. This structure undermined the concept of the white cube – both by precluding the possibility of "viewing from a distance" and by "painting" the white cube with the grid of red bricks. Several days after the construction process was completed, the workers returned to dismantle the structure they had built. They cleaned the space, gathered up the bricks and went off to sell them. The entire process lasted 20 days; the video work and still photographs included in this exhibition are both a documentation of this process, and a work in itself.
Temporary Space raises questions and thoughts about space in general, and about exhibition spaces in particular; about purposefulness and goals; about cheap labor; about cyclical processes of construction and destruction; and about reality and its simulation. Moreover, it requires us to consider the acute question of context. Examining this work alongside the joint work by Dina Shoham and Hanna Farah-Kufer Birim, for instance, serves to underscore the importance of the following issue: when two Israeli/Palestinian artists touch upon the question of construction, it is associated in an instinctive, acute and immediate manner with the local political context, and with the power relations that shape it. The question of these power relations is rendered more extreme through the use of concrete imagery involving bricks and construction work. An initial examination of Wei's work may remain within the realm of modernist interpretation, and focus on the action and on the work's structure and form. Yet an additional viewing of this work, especially in Israel, raises the issue of illegal workers without any civil status – not only in the countries they immigrate to, but also in their countries of origin. In both cases, this issue concerns the definition and legitimization of norms on both a human and a political level – and the conditions of possibility produced by the seemingly simple and taken-for-granted concept of "citizenship."
Kader Attia's work Holly Land , 2007, was originally created as a large-scale installation for an open area by the sea. This work – which was first exhibited in the Canary Islands and later in St. Tropez – was composed of about 90 mirrors shaped like gothic or Oriental arches, which Attia installed along the coast. Facing in the direction of the sea, the mirrors situated throughout the somewhat mountainous landscape resembled a sporadic scattering of tombstones and signs in an old cemetery devoid of formal pathways. The reflection of the sea in the mirrors creates a strange and majestic image – while producing a spatial illusion that blurs the distinctions between sea and dry land, front and rear ends, reality and simulation. Yet the illusion Attia is concerned with exceeds this initial and clearly understood context, and touches in a profound and surprising manner upon one of the central experiences of immigration.
The Holly Land alluded to in the title of this work is the land to which the crusaders and various other groups and individuals journeyed over the centuries, motivated by religious longing. Yet from the perspective of the uprooted immigrant, the destination – whatever it might be – appears as a new, secular holly land holding a sacred promise of social, cultural or economic – rather than religious – salvation.
One may imagine such an immigrant looking from the sea at this landscape of scintillating mirrors, which – like a lighthouse – seems to guide the traveler towards his destination. Yet one may also imagine the immigrant arriving on shore and approaching the mirror-studded field – only in order to discover in it the reflection of the open sea form which he just arrived.
Attia's work thus confronts the immigrant with the reflection of the place he came from – with his own reflection and with himself. Indeed, it seems that no matter where and when we arrive, we never really feel like we have reached the promised land. Even our longest journeys finally lead us back to ourselves; to the places we have come from, to the placed we thought we had deserted; to our past, our memories, our hopes and our desires.
As far as we journey, we can go no further than our point of departure and than our own selves. And so, perhaps, one may end up concluding – and this is a politically radical conclusion – that the true holly land is actually within us; that this internal land is the true land we must strive to inhabit, the one we must struggle to protect.
* The mingong are Chinese farmers who left their villages in search of alternative ways of supporting their families, and who work as illegal construction workers in large cities. Lacking work permits and other necessary documents, they have become floating citizens that are registered neither in the city nor in the countryside; as such, they receive none of the civilian benefits they are legally entitled too. The term "mingong" surfaced in global awareness in 2003, with the outbreak of the SARS epidemic – when it was feared that these unsurveyed migrant workers would cause the virus to spread uncontrollably.