Object of Desire: Yael Kanarek’s World of Awe

October 30, 2007 - February 24, 2008

Yael Kanarek presents digital prints and online art from the third chapter of her World of Awe integrated media project. Focusing on languages, alphabets, and Near Eastern themes, she weaves English, Arabic, and Hebrew into rich narratives and dazzling visuals.

Object of Desire is the third and newest installment of Yael Kanarek’s World of Awe project, an online travelogue chronicling the search for a lost treasure in a virtual desert landscape. Featuring fifteen richly animated scenes that integrate English, Arabic, and Hebrew, Object of Desire draws from ancient Near Eastern themes as well as contemporary popular culture in a trilingual story space. As an activist for cultural exchange beyond borders and nationalities, Kanarek invites those who experience Object of Desire to imagine an alternative existence.

In seeking to loosen cultural and national borders, Kanarek has distributed Web site files to four different servers in Izmir (Turkey), New York, Ramallah, and Tel Aviv. In addition, visitors can access Object of Desire using one of four corresponding Web addresses and a link from the Jewish Museum’s Web site. Object of Desire’s interface design reveals information about the geographical location of files usually hidden from Internet users.

The protagonist of Object of Desire—whose gender identity and nationality remain ambiguous—is informed by historical figures such as Marco Polo, Mark Twain, the twelfth-century Sephardic merchant Benjamin of Tudela, and Isabelle Eberhardt, a Swiss-born convert to Islam who traveled throughout North Africa in the late nineteenth century dressed as a man. While traveling through Sunset/Sunrise, the protagonist composes journal entries and writes passionate letters to the lover left behind. Despite challenges posed by the grammar of Semitic languages, Kanarek frees the text from gender specificity by substituting an animated pictograph of an “eye” for Arabic and Hebrew letters.

Yael Kanarek (b. 1967, United States) has developed a unique vocabulary of networked interfaces using photography, text, sculpture, and performance. She was the recipient of the Netizens Webprize and the CNRS/UNESCO Lewis Carroll Prix Argos in France. Kanarek is the founder of Upgrade! International, a network of gatherings concerning art, technology and culture (www.theupgrade.net). Her work has been shown at the Whitney Biennial, The Kitchen, The Drawing Center, American Museum of the Moving Image, and Ronald Feldman Gallery. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art commissioned Destruction & Mending, the second chapter of World of Awe. She is currently an honorary senior fellow at Eyebeam Atelier and represented by bitforms gallery.