Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Public Movement is an Israeli performance group. The action you see below was made by them in Łódź, Poland.
A short explanation: before WW2, Łódź used to have a very large Jewish minority. The Jews were, among others, the owners of a significant part of the textile industry thriving in the city. Today, there are practically no more Jews there - and no more industry as well (although the industry did go on until the 70's, I believe). It is a poor and degraded city, with a lot of social problems, and where antisemitism is still present (although the vast majority of the inhabitants have never seen a Jew).
It is one of the very few places I know where one can still find antisemitic slogans on the walls.
So here you have it: the Israelis arrive and correct the Star of David. They basically make a grafitti of how it should look like, and put the correct form over the incorrect one.
And a few little ideas:
- The grafitti they choose to work with are not openly antisemitic. They simply replace one of the letters of the name of a soccer club (ŁKS) with a Star of David. So this is a "neutral" correction on a "neutral" sign.
- The ritual. Ah, the ritual. Turns it all into an action of purity. Precious.
- Notice one other, much more hidden, interpretation: the Jews are back in town. They are here, after our land. They put their stamp on the walls. They claim what is theirs (the club, the building). They are tagging their city.
- But one idea I think is crucial, and might be overlooked in all this will to interpret every single aspect of the work. Public Movement seems to be saying "Yes, this is who we are. We see no reason to be ashamed of it. Do you? Are you not embarrassed to have thought this was inappropriate or even silly, in any way?"
This is some brilliant playing with street art, semiotics, identity and politics.
The one question that I find problematic is - yes, this is on the spot. But for whom? Who is the audience? Is it public art, or just private art in public space? Or maybe it is public art, only for the audience that is reading about it now? So where does that leave the people who walk by this daily? Do we expect them to have a surge of initiative and paint over the whole signs? Or are we, deep inside, enjoying the fact that it's still there, everything is just the same, while we, the smart ones, know and watch?
I really do not know. I do not have better solutions. This, of course, is not a solution either - it is highliting the question(s). But what are we to make of this insistent neutrality right in the middle of a political issue? Is it a curse, the curse of constant distance? Or the blessing of a delicately balanced gesture, for once?
Monday, January 26, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
This is not the largest exhibition, and fans of his complex multi-media installations might be disappointed - few of those are present here.
But if the budget did not allow to bring the lasers, projections, and intricate video circuits, the taste and knowledge of the organizers allows for a fascinating and multi-faceted look into Paik's creation.
Here is an example - Self-Portrait-Head, created in 1982.
On the TV screen, a young Nam June Paik stands facing the camera. His eyes are closed. Very slowly, his hand moves through the surface of his face, up and down. He is feeling his own face. The movement is slow and delicate, and after a while we realize he is not touching the face. The hand seems to know the face so well, this becomes a movement of recognition, as in, re-calling one's face. This is me. This heat emanating from the surface of my face, this is my boundary.
Facing the TV set is another face.
This one is a sculpture. A metal cast of the artist's face, made many years later. He is an older man now, and it takes some imagination to become convinced this is the same person. His eyes are closed, and the gesture is similar to the one on the recording.
They are looking at each other with their eyes shut. They are feeling each other - as they are the very same. Time has gone by, and yet stands still, trapped in the matter, the reproduction, the loop.
They/he are/is having a conversation with them/him selves/self.
The young man is moving, as if unable to realize his movement is still. The old man is cast, he is immobile, he is the return of the sculpture, the mimetic power of art, the noble texture of statue. He is the deathmask of the other, his self. And yet, he is life-size, he is freed of the flatness and squareness, he is a real fragment, as if ripped away off the face, a witness. And yet, he is facing the TV, as if watching it, or feeling it with his unmoving gesture.
It is clear, here, that the Narcissus' myth got it all wrong. The reflection is not a risk - it is a reality we may wish to ignore, but that will remain nonetheless, echoing our past in a loop that designs the warm and uncertain borders of identity.
Watching this installation reminds me of a curious definition of art: art works, to the extent to which it is the opening of poetry.
Zbigniew Herbert, I Would Like to Describe (fragment)
I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
About a year ago, I wrote about a project called Face2Face, by two artists who go by the pseudonyms JR and Marco. The simple idea was: bring people to see how similar they are, and how funny. Show the two sides their faces. A charming, courageous project that meant to show the urgency of seeing the other.
That was one year ago.
A few days ago, on December 25th, I visited Bethlehem, the capital of the Palestinian Autonomy.
When entering the city, I discovered street art I had written about.
And the site was sad.
It is true, the works survived on the walls for quite a while. But especially in the case of some of the portraits, the damage was more than just a random act of destruction.
It made me feel like that particular project failed.
Possibly, someone still got influenced by it. But the statement it was making now was much stronger, and seemed to correspond better to the tension. And to increase it.
Among the many question that arose, one came back often: isn't this ridiculous, to think you can just put some funny faces on both sides of the wall, and people will feel closer to each other? You know, We Are The World... Here is what the artists were saying in 2007:
In a very sensitive context, we need to be clear.
We are in favor of a solution for which two countries, Israel and Palestine would live peacefully within safe and internationally recognized borders.
All the bilateral peace projects (Clinton/Taba, Ayalon/Nussibeh, Geneva Accords) are converging in the same direction. We can be optimistic.
We hope that this project will contribute to a better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.
Today, "Face to face" is necessary.
Within a few years, we will come back for "Hand in hand".
Hand in hand? Today it's tempting to ask, so what does each hand hold?
What is left for the artist? This cute idea of the artist being a social engineer can look ridiculous in the face of the violent tragedy we're witnessing. The Greek tragedy appears in all its seemingly unsolvable power.
But what made this particular artistic project end up like this?
1. It felt like it was a declaration: we don't think you're funny.
2. Maybe it said: your language is not ours. You have no clue about us (but implying: and we - about you).
3. But let us go back to the face. The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said that
the face says to me: you shall not kill.Is that why the work was torn? In a way... I would be tempted to say that Levinas gives a reason a little further in that interview:
Accordingly, my duty to respond to the other [because of being confronted with his face] suspends my natural right to self-survival, le droit vitale.Ergo, a work showing the faces of others can somehow take away my power to consider myself ahead of the other, leaving me at their mercy. They are facing me. In front of me. (Laughing at me?)(Mocking my way of life? My seriousness and attachment to my culture? My people's suffering, maybe?) By looking at me, constantly, they demand recognition that goes beyond any recognition they can give me.
Yes, this seems like a dead-lock. And a sad time, also for art.
One desperate attempt at a positive note.
Not all ancient Greek tragedies ended badly. For instance, The Eumenides, the third part of Aeschilus' trilogy Oresteia, ends well. It is Athena who comes and convinces the goddesses of vengeance - the Furies - to accept a judgement democratically made by a jury. Athena renames the Furies (Erinyes) the Kindly Ones - Eumenides. (And everyone lives happily ever after.)
Can we paint ourselves into being Athenas? We'll keep on trying. But we could certainly use some of those sound democratic judgements to defend.
Selected fragments of Levinas on the face:
The face resists possession, resists my powers.
The face opens the primordial discourse whose first word is obligation.
The Other faces me and puts me in question and obliges me.
The face is exposed, menaced, as if inviting us to an act of violence. At the same time, the face is what forbids us to kill.
The manifestation of the face is already discourse.
Monday, January 05, 2009
One of my points of interest recently has been the social identity and its various levels (going from such a broad thing as being a citizen to being a "part of a relation").
This is what the author, cirka, says about the work, on the Wooster Collective site where I discovered the work:
"I've been thinking a lot about public information vs. private information and why it's so fascinating to read about the mundane details of someone else's private life (like finding their grocery list that they dropped in the parking lot, for example). So, I decided to reverse this by choosing "declassify" some of my own personal documents: letters that, at a different time in my life, I would have been mortified for anyone else to see. All are letters that were written to me (except for one, which shows a short email correspondence). They span from a letter written by my pen pal when I was about 10 to a letter that I received last summer. I silk-screened all the letters in the original color that they were written in. The only things that I altered were the names of people mentioned in the letters, which I censored in black ink."
I love when an artist plays with the idea of a genuine self, flirts with exhibitionism, and yet the work remains a presentation, a mise-en-scene.