Sights and Sounds: Israel

August 1 - 28, 2014

Sights and Sounds: Israel features new work by Guy Ben-Ner, Tali Keren, Mika Rottenberg, and Gilad Ratman, selected by Chen Tamir.

Installation view of Sights and Sounds: Global Film and Video in the Goodkind Media Center. Photo by David Heald.

Next to high technology, weapons, and produce, video art seems to be one of Israel’s major exports. Israeli video art did not develop in the late 1960s, as in North America and Europe, but rather emerged as a serious medium in the mid-1990s, largely influenced by mass media. In the early nineties, following the shift to a free-market economy, Israel went virtually overnight from having one black-and-white state-run television station to piping hundreds of cable channels to almost every household. The sudden mass exposure to networks from the United States, such as CNN and MTV, coincided with the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf, the first Palestinian Intifada, and the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Israelis began to see themselves from a new perspective: as filtered through the international news.

During this time, and not coincidentally, the hi-tech sector in Israel flourished and video cameras and VCRs started to become accessible. Against this backdrop, artists working today were coming of age and negotiating their social and political environment. Naturally, their work has often focused on the intersection of the personal and the political within Israeli society.

The four works gathered here do not directly document conflict; instead, they take a more fanciful approach, using highly constructed scenarios that may be read as allegories. Each takes a banal, everyday situation and infuses it with a fantastical narrative. All share underlying motifs of transformation and metamorphosis.

Chen Tamir
Curator

Chen Tamir (b. Tel Aviv, 1979) is the curator of the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv and associate director of Artis. She was previously executive director of Flux Factory, New York. She holds a Master’s degree from the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, and has organized shows across Canada, the United States, and Israel. 

Video

Spies refers to the biblical story of the twelve spies who were sent to scout the Land of Canaan and returned with a bunch of grapes so large two men had to carry it. An image of this is now used as the logo of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. The video zooms out from this logo, hung on a shabby building, while a voiceover recounts parts of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist plays Waiting for Godot and Endgame and Jonathan Swift’s parodic novel Gulliver’s Travels. The work focuses on origins as “proof” of ownership and toys with the idea of Israelis as both tourists and spies.

In this staged scenario, Palestinian car mechanics gut the engine of an old car at their shop. A group of Israeli mechanics enter. They cut open the top of the car and pose triumphantly on its carcass, basking in front of a painted sunset to a jazz version of the theme song from the movie Exodus. This surreal scene – at once aestheticized and mundane – makes a statement about concepts of ownership and historical notions of the Zionist worker. The piece can also be read as a meditation on the transformative value of sculpture and theatrical gestures in everyday life.

This video draws for inspiration on Segundo de Chomón’s 1907 movie Les Kiriki (Acrobates Japonais). As in the original silent film, gravity-defying human pyramids are achieved through cinematic tricks: the performers, shot from above, are actually lying safely on the floor. The illusory gymnastics make reference to several modes of physical performance (dance, theater, wrestling, yoga) while alluding to family trees, the importance of achieving balance within a social structure, and our interconnectedness with one another.

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