Shorts program, running time 96 min.
Image Credit: Michael Druks, Play-Box London, 1975, video. 22:41 minutes.
The first section of Staring Back at the Sun focuses on experimental film and video of the 1970s, when artists began to explore the formal aspects of the moving image. Some of these artists worked primarily in other mediums, particularly painting, and their videos can be seen as extensions of these material-based practices. Others were interested in the nature of the moving image, from its production to its reception, and several of these works accordingly feature television screens. Although several of the works in this program were based on experimentation with the materials of film and video and are largely abstract, they were also informed by seismic shifts that were taking place in Israeli society at the time, particularly as a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and the elections in 1977.
Curated by Ilana Tenenbaum
Total running time: 66 minutes
Michael Druks (b. 1940, Jerusalem, Israel; based in London, U.K.) , 1975, 23 min. (8 min. excerpt)
Play-Box London documents the artist as he removes his clothes and places them atop a television. He then attempts to obscure or interact with the images on the screen by means of various strategies: sitting on the television, placing a potted plant in front of it, obscuring the faces of the on-screen figures with various parts of his body, and so on. His prosaic actions playfully interact with the on-screen figures who seem to "react" to his actions. By thus interfering with and obscuring one mode of representation in the production of another, Druks exaggerates the incoherent and fragmented nature of television programming and critiques the impact of mass media on social patterns and the construction of the self. One of his most iconic early pieces, this work continues and extends the preoccupations of his earlier videos, in which he worked with television footage of local politicians, made before he moved to London in 1972.
Buky Schwartz (b. 1932, Jerusalem, Israel; d. 2009, Tel Aviv, Israel), 1978-80, 30 min. (10 min. excerpt)
In Videoconstructions, Schwartz addressed the discrepancy between reality and its representation on-screen. Using a stationary camera, Schwartz created optical illusions by shooting footage of himself constructing and disassembling a variety of geometric structures, some of which were three-dimensional objects and others merely pieces of tape on a sheet of glass in front of the camera’s lens. His movement within the geometric structure of the frame highlights the work’s use of a two-dimensional medium to present an illusion of three-dimensional space in order to confound and complicate the perception of both. In this ambiguous zone, Schwartz explores, and literally embodies, the tension between reality and what purports to be its straightforward representation but is, rather, a construction.
Benni Efrat (b. 1936, Beirut, Lebanon; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 1974, 4 min.
Relay was originally projected on two screens placed side by side. On the left-hand screen, Efrat, appearing to have just turned on the camera, looks directly into the lens. He then turns and runs towards an open field, disappearing into the horizon. When, about a kilometer away, he becomes almost invisible in the distance, he suddenly appears in close-up on the right-hand screen. He then turns and runs back towards the first camera. As his figure dwindles into the distance on the right-hand screen, it grows larger on the left. When he reaches the first camera, he turns it off and the left-hand screen goes dark. He then returns to the second camera and turns it off, and the right-hand screen goes dark as well. In this piece, Efrat foregrounds the presence of the camera, which, in conventional cinema, is rendered invisible — an invisibility that allows cinematic representation to masquerade as reality.
Avraham Eilat (b. 1939, Tel Aviv, Israel; based in Ein Hod, Israel and Dusseldorf, Germany), 1971, 3 ½ min.
Run is based on the painstaking and meticulous editing together of very short shots of a person running towards the camera. Eilat sliced the black-and-white footage into tiny segments and laid them over their corresponding negatives. In the printing process, he incorporated another film whose frames were saturated with different colors, which gave to the finished work a changing color palette. The result of this laborious process was a six-minute sequence of action that, in real time, originally took fifteen seconds. As a result of this expansion of time, the image disintegrates into its smallest components, highlighting the minute details of the simple act of running. Moreover, the prolongation of motion and its combination with the painterly quality of the images generates tension between the desire for narrative resolution (the act of running) and the experience of pure aesthetic pleasure.
Yair Garbuz, (b. 1945, Givatayim, Israel; based in Ramat Gan, Israel), 1974, 20 min. (2 min. excerpt)
In Lists, the painter Yair Garbuz ruptures cinematic narrative by assembling brief shots — sketches for paintings, doodles, grids, checkerboards, fences, balconies, display windows, etc. — one after another, producing a kind of visual pulse. The iteration of multiple and various surfaces in the film serves to underscore the flatness of the screen itself. In the midst of this visual torrent, Garbuz incorporated images of handwritten lists of words associated with the mechanics of filmmaking and editing such as "focus," "shot," etc. The film’s soundtrack, featuring romantic melodies, stands in contrast to the hectic stream of images. The viewer's natural desire to create a narrative is challenged by its constant disintegration, and the concentration demanded by the rapid editing draws attention to the act of filming and the viewing process, both of which are also emphasized by the words that intermittently appear on the screen.
Gideon Gechtman (b. 1942, Alexandria, Egypt; d. 2008, Rishon LeZion, Israel), 1975, 4 min.
Working at the intersection of body modification and conceptual art, Gideon Gechtman’s oeuvre focuses on illness and Gechtman’s personal history of disease. For Exposure, Gechtman videotaped himself shaving off all of his body hair, including his eyebrows and eyelashes. Playing back the tape, he then shot, at 30-second intervals, still photographs off the screen. Unfortunately, the original videotape was lost, so he recreated it with the still photographs. Created shortly after Gechtman underwent open-heart surgery, the video extends the original act — the shaving of the chest in preparation for surgery — to the artist's entire body. This act, which exposes the surface of the body and strips away personal identity, transforms Gechtman’s sickness into an expanded metaphor. The video was originally presented alongside specimens of bodily substances — for example, jars filled with urine and hair — as well as medical documents and photographs of Gechtman in hospital. This ritualistic amplification of the elements of illness, anxiety, and death can be read, further, as alluding to the Holocaust and the Yom Kippur War.
Tamar Getter (b. 1953, Tel Aviv, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 1974-75, 6 min. (3 ½ min. excerpt)
In Golem, a woman draws a circle on a wall with her left hand, using her outstretched right arm to indicate and maintain the circle’s center as she does so. She then affixes a rope to the center of the circle and writes the word "Golem" there. (In the Jewish legend of the Golem of Prague, a rabbi brings a lump of clay to life in order to protect the Jewish people.) Covering her head with a white cloth, she wraps the rope around her neck until its loose end is the same length as her arm. Standing next to the drawing, she appears to be tethered to the circle by the rope around her neck. This video is an early example of Getter’s interest in the mystic dimension of creation, which became a central theme in her later work. Here, however, the figure evokes an association with someone condemned to death. Of course, the image of this confined and tightly tethered figure can also be read as signifying the social repression of the female body.
Michal Naaman (b. 1951, Kvutzat Kinneret, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 1974, 4 ½ min.
An early example of Naaman’s interest in materials and in acts of covering and uncovering, Peeling simply documents the artist as she peels dried glue off her hands. Known primarily as a painter, Naaman has been preoccupied with the investigation of skin since her early work in the 1970s. The removal of glue in Peeling parallels Naaman's use of masking tape in her many paintings, in which she applied layers of paint both on top of and underneath grids of overlapping tape.
Raffi Lavie (b. 1937, Tel Aviv, Mandate Palestine; d. 2007, Tel Aviv, Israel), 1974, 10 min. (4 min. excerpt)
In Geranium, Lavie, best known as a painter, explores the abstract qualities of film. Using overexposed film footage of Tel Aviv on an overcast day, he distressed the film by treating it with bleach, effectively abstracting the view of the city and drawing attention to the material qualities of the film itself. The soundtrack — always a key element in his work — begins with a composition by Paganini and includes a conversation in which John Cage, intermittently interrupted by noise, music, and even gunshots, recounts several stories. We also hear Lavie himself, in a recorded radio program, discussing public sculpture in Tel Aviv. At times, the film produces surprising pairings — as, for example, when two black-clad ultra-Orthodox Jews appear on the screen just as Cage mentions two monks.
Dov Or Ner (b. 1927, Paris, France; based in Kibbutz Hatzor, Israel), 1980, 6 min. (2 min. excerpt)
Pharavizia follows the journey of Or Ner and a cow from their home in Kibbutz Hatzor to the Kibbutz Gallery in Tel Aviv. Or Ner and the cow spent two weeks in the gallery, where viewers were able to observe the artist as he fed and milked the cow. On a television set placed next to Or Ner and the cow, regular programming was broadcast continuously. The event was documented in still photographs that were then incorporated into the film. At the time, the kibbutz was a meaningful symbol of the ideal of Zionist socialism. Pharavizia’s juxtaposition of kibbutz culture — collective and agricultural — with the television — a symbol of individualism and capitalism — illustrated their incompatibility and suggested open-ended questions about their respective futures.
Henry Shelesnyak ((b. 1938, New York, U.S.; d. 1980, Tel Aviv, Israel), 1979, 14 min. (5 min. excerpt)
In Circus, Shelesnyak juxtaposed television footage of bodies in motion — figure skating, skiing, playing football, etc. — with images of planes taking off and footage filmed from fast-moving vehicles. These images were intercut with calm, domestic scenes: a view of a serene bay, the home of the artist's parents in Maryland, a few people drinking tea in a garden, and so on. The result is a video in which movement itself becomes the subject — a kind of visual score, reiterated in different arrangements, at different tempos, with swift transitions between them. This visual cacophony amplifies the discontinuous experience of television viewing, which, for Shelesnyak, who grew up in the U.S. and later studied in London, shifted not only between films, television programs, and commercials, but from one channel to another.
Joshua Neustein (b. 1940, Danzig, Poland; based in New York, U.S.), 1972, 20 min. (3 ½ min. excerpt)
Progression Succession features two pairs of hands. The first writes and the second erases what has been written. Neustein attempts to create an alphabetically ordered list of concepts, but as his text is constantly being erased, he is unable to complete it. This perpetual alternation between writing and its erasure suggests a fissure between intention and language.
Micha Ullman (b. 1939, Tel Aviv, Israel; based in Ramat Hasharon, Israel), 1975, 20 min. (10 min. excerpt)
An early video, Place investigates the material with which Ullman, a sculptor, is most associated: sand. The video features Ullman shaping and reshaping a pile of sand; sweeping, pushing, and throwing it, he created brief, ephemeral landscapes that continually collapsed, again and again becoming merely a pile of sand. The ephemerality and precariousness of Ullman’s sand constructions produce an oscillation between creation and destruction, fulfillment and emptiness — a constant flux. And Ullman’s decision to use an amount of sand equal in mass to his own lent a somewhat morbid dimension to the work, as if he were sweeping away and recomposing his own corpse.
Moshe Gershuni (b.1936, Tel Aviv, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 1970, 30 sec.
In Crawling, the artist, dressed in an Israeli army uniform, crawls down a sand dune. Conceived to exploit the shape of the television screen, this image was then doubled and inverted, creating an X whose diagonals bisect the screen. This doubling and inversion serves to negate the forward motion of the figure and can thus be interpreted as a critique of Israeli militarism.
The second part of Staring Back at the Sun showcases the impact of developments in image processing and post-production on experimental video in the 1980s and early 1990s. In Israel, the media and the communications sector as a whole expanded rapidly during this period. Although most art at the time took the form of drawing and painting, visual culture became much more variegated. The few artists who chose to work with video in these years posed questions about video production by means of the expanded technological possibilities of the medium, often by expressly depicting the video camera and the television monitor, employing them as symbols of the processes of production and reception.
Curated by Ilana Tenenbaum
Total running time: 30 minutes
Miri Nishri (b. 1950, Bogotá, Colombia; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 1980, 19 min. (6 ½ min. excerpt)
Using the television monitor itself as a sculptural framework for her work, Nishri intercut a series of scenes and images for Blue Blue: rolling vertical and horizontal bars, hands that attempt to push the frame downward, and clenched fists that seem to press against the edges of the screen, as if struggling to break through the frame. Echoing the early work of Joan Jonas, especially Vertical Roll (1972), the rolling bars appear as typical “glitches” of that period’s television broadcasts. Both the bars and the fists also echo the omnipresent violence in much televised programming. In a self-referential gesture, the camera moves in different directions, as if inspecting the physicality of the screen itself. Other sequences depict strange activities that recall eerie movie scenes and evoke a menacing atmosphere: A man makes a mousetrap, slices a sausage, and strokes himself. The soundtrack features excerpts from various musical compositions and from recordings of Raffi Lavie’s classroom discussions of painting and video art at the Midrasha School of Art, as well as a variety of sound effects. Referencing television, cinema, and performance art of the 1970s and early 1980s, Nishri’s images quote from and consciously reflect upon each medium’s materials and potential while pointing to the addictive power of the mass media.
The Roman Wars 1983
Irit Batsry (b. 1957, Ramat Gan, Israel; based in New York, U.S.), 1983, 6 min.
The Roman Wars: 1983 combines footage from television broadcasts such as news and weather forecasts, Tel Aviv street scenes, the local rock-music scene, the Penguin nightclub, a sing-along, as well as segments of a Hollywood film on the Roman wars. Interspersed throughout these scenes are shots of Batsry, draped in a shawl similar to the Roman commander’s cape, who can be seen editing all of this material, which is visible on three monitors in the Bezalel School of Art’s video studio. She rapidly intercuts the footage as a DJ would, combining disparate materials into a live set. Her movements and gestures mimic those of the Roman commander; swinging and waving her outstretched and draped arm to and fro, she appears to “conduct” or direct the editing, and the images shift and intensify accordingly. In some shots, Batsry’s reflection can be seen in the monitors, further layering the dense montage, and the sound of fingers tapping on the sound mixer’s keys enhance the drama. Mimicking the epic dimensions of the Hollywood film, Batsry’s simple performance serves to critique the glory of war, in particular the Lebanon War, which erupted not long before this work was made. Addressing the sense of imminent disintegration in Israel at the time, the work’s reference to the fall of the Roman Empire can, of course, be read as a warning.
The Babel Party: A Fictitious Political Party
Dan Zakhem (b. 1958, Tel Aviv, Israel; d. 1994, Tel Aviv, Israel), 1984, 3 ½ min.
For The Babel Party, Dan Zakhem collaborated with his sister, Esther Zakhem, to create a fictitious election campaign in which they both ran as candidates during the 1984 elections. The Zahkems’ campaign was replete with a variety of propagandistic elements: logos, television commercials, street posters, a public “speech,” and a promenade along the street in an open car before a cheering crowd. Filmed on Tel Aviv’s Shenkin Street, at that time a hub of experimental artistic activity, the work highlights the power of advertising and propaganda to create and inflate the importance of political discourse, even when the message is meaningless. The “Babel” Party, whose name means “Babylon” in Hebrew, harks back to the biblical myth of the Tower of Babel, and thus stands as a critique of Israel’s “meaningless” political parties and the fragmentation of Israeli politics at the time. Speaking directly to the arrogance displayed by too many Israeli leaders, the work also suggests that social, political and economic collapse could result from Israel’s fractured condition.
Motti Mizrachi (b. 1946, Tel Aviv, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 1980, 20 min. (4 ½ min. excerpt)
Healing (1980) comprises a series of "ritualistic" actions and gestures that engage with masculine and feminine bodies in therapeutic ways. Incorporating symbolically charged images — the naked body, urination, the covering of the body with sand, the repeated parting and spreading of hands, etc. — Mizrachi’s work is ritualistic, provocative, and evocative of ancient healing rituals. Densely layering sound and image and unexpectedly interrupting the continuity of a sequence, Mizrachi was intent on exploring the therapeutic and liberating potential of video art.
No More Tears
Hila Lulu Lin Farah Kufr Birim (b. 1964, Afula, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 1994, 3 min.
In No More Tears, the artist slowly rolls an egg yolk along her arm and into her mouth; then, gently easing it out of her mouth, she rolls it onto her other arm and back again. A provocative challenge to the limited notion of women as childbearers, mothers, and nurturers — a notion symbolized by the egg yolk — this sensuous back-and-forth demonstrated an embodied continuity between inside and outside, linking the passions and pleasures of food with those of sex.
Ran Slavin (b. 1967, Jerusalem, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 1995/1997, 8 ½ min. (3 min. excerpt)
Omni Presence consists of multiple images of the artist superimposed over images of the ceiling of an airport. In this sterile environment, the human and natural is stripped of its vitality and becomes, instead, a mechanical mark in a sinister space of glaring neon light. Filling the perspectival depth of the terminal ceiling are multiple images of Slavin himself; the figures are identical, but each spins on its own axis in a different direction, at a different speed and for a different length of time. The soundtrack intersperses sounds of nature — birdsong and raindrops — with the sound of neon lights being switched on and off. Slavin’s work exposes the enchantment of Western consumer societies by the aseptic, surreal aesthetic of corporate capitalism in which our humanity and individuality are in peril of being subsumed into a digital nightmare.
Nana Zonshine (b. 1962, Beer Sheva, Israel; based in Clil, Israel) & Boaz Zonshine (b.1963, Beer Sheva, Israel; based in Clil, Israel), 1996, 1 ½ min.
In Untitled, footage of Tel Aviv’s beach is superimposed onto a shot of the ground at the Western Wall. People praying at the wall appear to line the beach so that the water seems to lap at their feet. The erasure of the geographical distance between the Tel Aviv coast and the heart of Jerusalem, effected through the editing process, serves to metaphorically condense the ideological distance between religion and nature, as well as between religion and secularism. At the same time, the work can be read as foreboding an ominous future in which the country is engulfed by water or in which Judaism is driven into the sea.
Staring Back at the Sun: Video Art from Israel, 1970-2012 is produced by Artis and made possible with lead support from The Andy Warhol Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the Russell Berrie Foundation, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, Rivka Saker and Uzi Zucker, and Donald Sussman.