Staring Back at the Sun: Part III & Part IV

Shorts program, running time 125 min.

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Image Credit: Rona Yefman [and Tanja Schlander], still from Pippi L. Strongest Girl in the World! at Abu Dis, 2006/2008, video. 3:43 minutes.

Part III ​1997–2005: The Rise of the Medium

By the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, a group of young artists, including Guy Ben-Ner, Doron Solomons, Boaz Arad, Yael Bartana, Sigalit Landau, Roee Rosen, and others had catapulted video art to prominence in Israel. These artists came of age just as visual culture in Israel was undergoing radical change. The liberalization of the economy in the mid-1980s brought with it a slew of consumer goods, made travel abroad more accessible, and expanded Israeli television from a single state-run black-and-white channel to hundreds of international channels, from CNN to MTV, and introduced an Israeli commercial channel — the first to broadcast advertisements. The economic expansion that took place in the late 1980s and 1990s coincided with the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, which was followed by the Oslo peace process. Peace negotiations came to an abrupt end, however, with the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and further political precariousness ensued. In their respective artistic practices, most of the leading artists of this generation engaged early on with the day-to-day political realities of living in the Middle East. When the second Intifada broke out in 2000, these artists were formally and conceptually well-positioned to react to a period of acute social unrest. This third section of the program demonstrates the maturation of video as an artistic medium in Israel, and illustrates the imperative that video artists felt — and the suitability of video as a medium — to reckon with the violent, tumultuous reality that was playing out in the Middle East and on televisions around the world.

Curated by Sergio Edelsztein

Total running time: 64 minutes

Moby Dick
Guy Ben-Ner (b. 1969, Ramat Gan, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2000, 12 ½ min.
Inspired by Buster Keaton, Ben-Ner’s early work aimed to create a seamless continuity between the stage and family life. Keaton’s pared-down style of production suited Ben-Ner, who found himself simultaneously director, cameraman, lead actor, and stuntman. Ben-Ner’s interest in early film originally stemmed from his curiosity about slapstick comedy, a curiosity that, in turn, originated from his interest in body art and the work of artists such as Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, and Dennis Oppenheim — all of whom he “quotes” visually. In Moby Dick, all of these interests and strategies crystallized into a unique visual language: re-enacting Melville’s famous saga in his kitchen, Ben-Ner and his family, using basic home appliances as props, played all of the characters. The work frequently and playfully alludes to other artists as well as to classical films.

Doron Solomons (b. 1969, London, U.K.; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2002, 13 ½ min.
In the mid-1990s, Solomons worked as an editor in the news department of Israel's first commercial television station. As the second Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000, more and more raw footage of carnage and violence appeared in his editing suite, and he became increasingly concerned about the pervasiveness of this material in the media and his role in disseminating it to the public. In addition, as a father, he felt anxious and impotent with respect to his daughter’s safety. These concerns are taken up in Father, a work in which the artist expresses the existential fears of parents on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here, "reality" is represented through selected images from the news and excerpts from vehicle-safety advertisements, the latter a metaphor for a father's protective instinct. Interspersed throughout this material is a series of vignettes in which the artist-father, in a futile attempt to save his daughter from becoming either a victim or a victimizer, assumes the character of a magician, who, despite performing a variety of “tricks” — including the use of force, concealment, and lying — is revealed to be nothing more than a pathetic and powerless trickster.

Beyond Guilt #1
Ruti Sela (b. 1974, Jerusalem, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel) & Maayan Amir (b. 1978, Hadera, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2003, 9 min.
For their video trilogy Beyond Guilt (2003-2005), Ruti Sela and Maayan Amir used the allure of the camera to elicit political comments from people approached at random and set up risqué and intimate situations in various venues in which they interviewed their subjects. In part one, shown here, they interviewed a number of young Israelis in a nightclub restroom. The resulting conversations reveal the effects of growing up in an aggressive society, in which military service radically shapes the character and behavior — in even the closest relationships as well as the sex lives — of each generation.

Kings of the Hill
Yael Bartana (b. 1970, Kfar-Yehezkel, Israel; based in Berlin, Germany and Tel Aviv, Israel), 2003, 8 min.
In Kings of the Hill, 4x4 Jeeps and SUVs careen across small sand dunes. Tire treads crisscross the worn hills as men in big cars attempt to mount them. As the title suggests, these are small conquests of slight hills, heaps of sand meaningful only to those for whom they constitute an object of desire. A rumination on colonialism, the work suggests that Israel may yet be the desolate wasteland that early Zionists struggled to make fertile — just a heap of ever-shifting sand, an unforgiving terrain that serves as a playground for men with fancy cars

Gefilte Fish
Boaz Arad (1956-2018, b. Afula, Israel; d. Tel Aviv, Israel), 2005, 11 min.
In Gefilte Fish, the artist’s mother teaches the viewer how to prepare gefilte fish, the quintessential Ashkenazi dish. At the same time, the video comments on prejudice. Arad filmed his mother’s hands in close-up as she cooked, and then intercut this footage with shots of himself in which he appears to be speaking the words that were actually spoken by his mother. The effect is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Norman Bates, who talks to himself in his mother’s voice in Psycho. Gefilte Fish presents a beloved family tradition in order to explore the deep historical roots of national stereotypes and the ways in which prejudice is passed from one generation to the next.

Che Che the Gorgeous
Gilad Ratman (b. 1975, Haifa, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2005, 9 min.
Che Che the Gorgeous
is composed of three narratives intercut together: one features creatures with human heads that struggle to break free of their cocoons in an arid desert landscape; another depicts a group of people in a flat-cum-sound studio recording what seem to be the grunts and moans of these creatures; and in the third scenario, a young man performs a cover version of the pop song “Forever Young.” Drawing parallels between the idea of youth and the process of coming-of-age and the creation of art and music, the work suggests that artistic creation, like youth, is an artificial construct.

Followed by:

Part IV ​2005–2012: State of Amnesia

Radical innovation in recent Israeli video art has made the early years of the 21st century the most significant creative period in Israel’s artistic history. While painting serves as the standard-bearer for the artistic tradition of most countries, Israel could claim the same status for the moving image. The final section of this program highlights works made about Israel’s current social and political situation and demonstrates how contemporary Israeli artists grapple with the realities of a nation in perpetual conflict.

Curated by Yael Bartana and Avi Feldman

Total running time: 61 minutes

Mrs. Goldstein
Avi Mograbi (b. 1956, Tel Aviv, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2006, 9 min.
Mrs. Goldstein
opens abruptly with a shot of a clapperboard that reads: “Massacre in Hebron – Testimony of Miriam Goldstein, Wife of Baruch Goldstein, the Hebron Mass Murderer.” Three actresses play the wife of the infamous fundamentalist who killed and wounded Muslim worshippers in the Massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994. Avoiding documentary material and explicit images, the video examines the banal cruelty of Miriam Goldstein, positioning her as a symbol of the moral deterioration of a wide sector of Israeli society. By asking three actresses to portray Mrs. Goldstein, Mograbi suggests that she could be anyone, and that the essence of evil, indifference, and what lies beneath the performance of the self is part of each of us and of society as a whole.

Pippi L. The Strongest Girl in the World! at Abu Dis
Rona Yefman (b. 1972, Haifa, Israel; based in New York, U.S.), 2006/2008, 4 min.
In this work, the beloved character of Pippi Longstocking, played by Tanja Schlander, strains and pushes against the Separation Wall that divides Israel from Palestine, attempting to tear it down with her superhuman strength. Recognizing the character’s iconic red braids and freckles, and her futile, childish desire to change the seemingly immutable, the women play along, encouraging her with a smile.

The State of Judeo-Arabia
Yossi Atia (b. 1979, Jerusalem, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel) & Itamar Rose (b.1979, Tel Aviv, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2007, 4 ½ min.
For The State of Judeo-Arabia, Yossi Atia and Itamar Rose interviewed residents of the Palestinian town of Tayibe, which sits on the Israeli side of the Green Line. These people were presented with a hypothetical scenario in which, by the year 2020, an Arab majority would prevail in the State of Israel. In this scenario, the participants are told, Arabs and Jews engage in relations of mutual exchange. However, this set-up is, in fact, a subversive experiment meant to illustrate the absurdities of ethnic segregation. By playing with the conventional emblems of the nation-state, Atia and Rose suggest that such idyllic collaboration between Arabs and Jews in a united and fully democratic Israel holds little chance of success. While the participants are optimistically encouraged to draw a new flag for this hypothetical state — half Palestinian and half Israeli — the children’s song in the background tells a different story. The lyrics of this cheery song begin with “In the country of the midgets… the army is dressed for war.” With a bellicose song in the background, the video’s scenario, in which Arabs and Jews come together to face a new, common enemy, seems ridiculous. By means of prodding, controversial role-play, and improvisation, Atia and Rose manipulate their subjects into participating in a performance that bears a striking similarity to the current state of affairs.

Confessions Coming Soon
Roee Rosen (b. 1963, Rehovot, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2007, 9 min.
In Confessions Coming Soon, the artist’s son, standing in front of a green screen and reading an English passage from a teleprompter, promises a scandalous exposé of his father’s evil, perversion, sacrilege, and deception. His choppy speech and earnest but confused expression make it clear that he does not speak English and does not understand the words that he struggles to sound out phonetically. His misarticulated and distorted words result in a systematic disconnection between meaning and linguistic forms. The humor here arises from language, or more specifically, from the gap between language and its purpose — that is, communication. The work also incorporates references from Jewish mysticism, such as dybbuk, into a confession format (a practice more typical of Christianity than Judaism). The boy, for example, is directed to perform the Nazi salute as part of his exploitation by his father. Rosen uses humor in this work to tackle multiple issues: the disconnection between language and communication, the responsibility of parents towards their children, and, of course, the manipulative capacity of cinema and popular culture as a whole. The work suggests that Israel’s younger generation, haunted by the past, has limited resources with which to break away from the ideologies of its predecessors.

Dor Guez (b. 1980, Jerusalem, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2009, 13 ½ min.
features an interview with a young psychology student who was working as a waitress in a Jerusalem restaurant. Casually dressed, she speaks Hebrew and appears to be a typical Israeli. Yet Samira describes an experience that highlights her oppression as an Arab. The restaurant manager asks her to Hebracize her name because her real name makes the customers uncomfortable. This request echoes a practice common in the last two centuries around the world; many immigrants changed their names in order to assimilate more easily into their adoptive societies. In Israel, this practice was deeply entrenched, from the first wave of Jewish immigration in 1882 until a few decades ago. Today, the practice has mostly faded, yet Guez’s work suggests that, rather than dying out, it has shifted from a Zionist gesture to a racist imposition on non-Jews.

A Free Moment
Nir Evron (b. 1974, Herzliya, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2011, 4 min.
Nir Evron’s A Free Moment consists of a single pre-programmed robotic shot. Mounted on a unique motion-control head, a 35mm film camera performs three simultaneous rotations that pan across a fascinating structure: the Tell el-Ful palace. Located on a hill in northeast Jerusalem, the palace was commissioned by King Hussein of Jordan in 1966, but its construction was halted by the Six-Day War in 1967, during which Israeli forces battled Jordanians on the hill. Abandoned on the deserted hilltop, the neglected ruin is a monument to its unrealized glory. Evron intensifies the duality embedded in the structure — regal palace and derelict ruin — as he cinematically turns it upside down, shifting perception in an effort to reveal what has been repressed, abandoned, left out of sight, or simply forgotten. In a more hopeful reading, the work might be seen as an invitation to consider the possibility of reviving and restoring the building, perhaps in a future shared by all peoples of the region.

Abraham Abraham and Sarah Sarah
Nira Pereg (b. 1969, Tel Aviv, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2012, 4 min.
Originally presented on two screens facing one another, the diptych Abraham Abraham and Sarah Sarah (both 2012) focuses on Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, a site holy for both Jews and Muslims. Since the massacre perpetrated by far-right fundamentalist Baruch Goldstein in 1994, which killed 29 Palestinian Muslims and wounded many others, the cave has been strictly divided between Jewish and Muslim worshippers. Each year, use of the restricted chambers is granted to Jews on special holidays. Pereg documents the handing over of the cave, drawing our attention to the mundane acts of clearing the space of all signs of either Jewish or Muslim worship. In Abraham Abraham, plastic chairs are piled atop one another, banners are rolled up, and carpets are laid out, marking the Jewish handover to the Muslims. Sarah Sarah offers a mirror image of packing up and preparation for the handover from the Muslims to the Jews. In both videos, these images are interspersed with shots of Israeli soldiers, whose presence, with its own choreographed regularity, signals the fragility of the separation between Jews and Muslims.

Sigalit Landau (b. 1969, Jerusalem, Israel; based in Tel Aviv, Israel), 2005, 11 ½ min.
In DeadSee, Landau juxtaposes the Dead Sea, known in Hebrew and Arabic as the Sea of Death, with its opposite — a living human body nestled among five hundred sweet watermelons. It is in this seam that connects Israel, Jordan, and Palestine that balance and coexistence must be found, not only for the Jewish and Arab communities of the region, but also for the sustainability of the Dead Sea itself, which has already been severely damaged by climate change and commercial exploitation by both Israeli and Jordanian industries.


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.