Ran Slavin

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Writer and curator Gideon Efrat on Ursulimum. Link.

On Ran Slavin / by Naomi Aviv

A gaze spins slowly in a gradually penetrated gilded architectonic space. A sequence of geometric models self-replicates and expands, like a sunny supernova, into an ornamental spectacle of a temple or a spiritual site.
Images solidify into heavy, spiritual, medieval, gothic symbols. A soft soundtrack emerges from afar and gradually intensifies. A thin ding-dong of bells merges with the calls of a muezzin, absorbing growls that echo in spaces whose size is difficult to estimate. A gleaming colliery of objects that burn in the light like a hidden treasure of jewels and gems. “Ursulimum”.

Since the 1980s, Ran Slavin’s visual-musical bent has been gradually honed into what can be called “tourism in the third domain”. A semi-scientific semi-religious crusade to what may be either a futuristic reality or a primeval dream. A journey aimed at exploring the secrets of the collective memory of a place which is at once site and space, consciousness and time, sound and image, reality and fiction. The intended, though always breathtaking vagueness, results from a work of digital composition that stitches together the mythic and the magical, the historical and the esoteric, the factual and the speculative, the archaic and the science-fictional.

Most of Slavin’s projects suggest a kind of intuitive hovering that simultaneously records and broadcasts, receives and transmits sights and signs and a sea of signals seemingly sent from stars whose light continues to shine millions of light years after having been extinguished. What is revealed in his works is often mediated for us by a heavenly creature – a bird, a pilot, an astronaut, an alien or a seraph, a kind of angel or winged cherub who plays the role of a reflexive flaneur – a kind of intergalactic Walter Benjamin. Slavin – an active musician, a thriving artist and a skilled video editor – also comes across as a conspiratorial narrator who is no older than the alien who invades his latest work, “Ursulimum”. As a narrator he also seems to have long been filling the shoes of the Swiss writer Erich von Däniken (“Chariots of the Gods”), who in the name of modesty claims that human civilization began in the wake of a visit to Earth by aliens more intelligent than us.

About a decade ago we became acquainted with a new definition for art that is being made today, in the age of surfing in virtual spaces. Relation Art is the name given by the French curator and critic Nicolas Bourriaud to the new aesthetic with which Slavin can also be associated; an aesthetic which takes form under the influence of the technological frenzy attached to the ever-more-advanced means of communication. These contemporary technologies are capable of launching us at the stroke of an application into anonymous spaces, summoning for us all kinds of organic yet bodyless encounters that hold the potential of a relationship or a relatedness. Bourriaud insists that what is common to these artists is the desire to communicate through the artificiality of the traditional channels of time and space – be they physical or institutional. Whether the internet reports to us about activities related to this trend, or whether the internet is used as a form of “plotting” or plot-creating act – speaking about this art is as elusive as its products, which are mostly inspired by photography and cinema, and are based on a screenplay, on writing and language, on various models for weaving a plot or telling a story which is, primarily, a material with wonderful plastic visual potential.

Exhibitions that deal with what is called Relation Art and artists who are called Relationists (to relate – etymologically to recount, to tell) use computers and cameras in order to rummage disorientedly in a past buried in the depths of the cybernetic archives. Twenty-first century Aporia. These artists tame ancient storytelling practices, reviving legends and strewing them with findings from inquiries into events that occurred or did not, sailing on their elusive backs towards a sublime utopia. Slavin joins these romantic storytellers’ return to the adventure novel, while being aware of and amused by the stereotypes which form an inseparable part of the narrative process.

Beyond the plot, which often tends towards the exotic, the nostalgic and the picturesque, it seems that what motivates Slavin is the search for the new or renewed sublime, or the attempt to establish a post-colonial cosmic justice before which we shall all stand agape with amazement: “the step towards the beyond” as a political, social, aesthetic, longed-for and unifying experience.

In “Ursulimum”, his latest work, Slavin’s style soars to an aesthetic peak. His favorite topics are combined into a dense and glowing recital. Visual and auditory landscapes carry the viewer to speculative regions of history-archaeology and science-fiction. Detective puzzles gape open in the depths, panoramic labyrinths peer out from among gilded architectonic structures, canals and corridors are organized into elusive ornamental patterns of an unknown tribe and are caught by an electronic eye launched from somewhere in space and somewhere in the pre-biblical past. It is a breathtaking vision that was apparently buried under the Old City of Jerusalem and is exposed here for the first time.

The vision is ascribed by Slavin to a curious 7-year old boy, perhaps a robot, who lands on the Temple Mount wrapped up and insulated in an astronaut’s suit. There, under the site sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the gaze of the angelic boy scans vast and bizarre underground structures, and he starts moving among sacred relics and altars of an unknown civilization, architectonic machines and mutated futuristic sites. “Ursulimum” refers to the first mention in Egyptian scriptures of the Old City, which was perhaps built more than 3,000 years ago, but who can count the number of times it has been besieged, attacked, conquered and laid to waste. For the sake of this film Slavin, equipped with a video camera and a sonar sensitivity, made several nocturnal visits to the dark city, based on the assumption that every ruler who conquered Jerusalem built new streets on top of the old ones, and that every excavation reveals another layer.
The film’s plot introduces the cherubic astronaut to a breach near the Well of Souls under the Dome of the Rock – through which he reaches kaleidoscopic sights and electrifying patterns hundreds of meters below ground, wandering in magnetic fields which are none other than machines or nano-particles captured by a huge particle accelerator which turns out to be the secretly built Third Temple.

When the boy arrives at the flickering centre of the Temple, which is none other than the vast accelerator, he opens his helmet for the first time and reveals that he is blindfolded and is now doomed to walk in the dark and carefully feel his way around a foreign reality and in soundscapes of growling machines.

The soundtrack also functions as a temple, a space that allows audio surprises to break through, background rustles of large undefined spaces to reverberate, and as yet unmarked territories to appear. The layered sound acquiesces to Slavin’s defamiliarisation of the steam- and heat-stricken visual data, tying them together; they too undergo countless processing measures that expropriate and distance them from the origin, simulating a planetary, alternative, experimental journey. A journey designed to place reality within different proportions and enable a new and beautiful view of the “temple” situated in a place as contentious and as hallucinatory as Jerusalem.

October 2011

The Insomniac City Cycles / by Gabi Scardi

An altered map, an imaginary island, like some sort of superfetation along the coasts of Israel: against the backdrop of this scenery, the digital trance of Ran Slavin’s The Insomniac City Cycles takes its course. There is a man in a deserted garage, behaving as in a catatonic world, he realizes he is hurt; from deep down in his psyche, a voice within seems to appear, the man reflects on what has happened, on his own identity. With the very first images of the video, a sense of painful alienation, of psychological vulnerability makes itself felt. The protagonist’s search takes place inside and outside of urban places, on streets blinking with neon signs, in rooms and in halls, representing the convolutions of the mind. Other characters appear from time to time, one after another; reference points intertwine to form a narration, which completely abandons linear story-telling and progresses by means of repeated flash-backs at a dense, tense and unsteady rhythm, carrying everything away with it. A crime brings the story to an end; the video leaves us only with a few hints, but won’t allow us to uncover the secret completely.
In the character’s perception distorted by hallucinations, the boundary between day and night becomes blurred; time and space combine into a sensation of dynamic tension. The city – the actual protagonist – shakes, the buildings bend, lift and lower again, penetrate each other. The urban space of the modern megalopolis – seen through the deformed lens of a desperate emotionality – lives as in symbiosis with the protagonist; his instability reflects and reinforces the impression of alienation. The sense of disorientation is conveyed by the fragmentation and the multiplication of viewpoints: we’re in Shanghai, we’re in Tel Aviv, or in any other place not clearly indicated, everything is always in a state of flux.
The organic relationship between sound and image contributes to creating an atmosphere in which the habitual patterns of perception, as well as the usual acoustic and visual orientation loose their basis and matter itself seems to continually evolve from one phase to another.
Ran Slavin’s images reference crime and fantasy movies but they also exhibit a visionary quality which calls Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or David Lynch’s Inland Empire to mind.
The Insomniac City Cycles can be understood as an unreal thriller; a journey through altered levels of consciousness, which allow to transcend everyday life, to access spheres of the subconscious, even though our body and mind guard it as something inalienable, and even though it constitutes unconscious memory.
Past and present, the awareness of time and death, worlds which break up into pieces, overlap, and weave into a kaleidoscopic, unreal journey, inwards, inside the many rooms, which exist inside of us; underneath all of this, there lies the difficulty of daily life and the instability, which nests behind conventions and stereotypes. But there is also the habit of a visible continuity, which replaces the overlapping in space, as well as the proper grasp of place, experience and personal identity, which have undergone a transformation: a transformation in the sense of giving up any kind of complacent posture in favor of a direct and emotional perception, of the stretching of one’s own boundaries, of a connection to a wider context: this is about a new approach to understand man’s existence in the world.
In Ran Slavin’s piece of work, all of this becomes a psychedelic narration, a creation of anxiety, reflecting the complexity and growing instability which characterize the era we live in.

Insomniac City / by Achim Szepanski

The city works like a machine. It is a social mega-machine, writes Guattari. Machine-like transmissions crisscross a city, economic, social, legal, sexual, and cultural functions determine its input and output and bring about unexpected effects, by producing a world created by outside forces. The city never sleeps, it is crisscrossed by currents, imagery, and bodies, it is a conglomerate of many machines, which turn it into a perpetual, functioning interface and intersection. The city is continuously alive, in an animalistic-inorganic way, as Guattari puts it. This is documented by the film Insomniac City by Ran Slavin in an extraordinary manner.
Towers strive towards a sky that leads into nothingness, or collapse like phallic columns and sink into the earth. Buildings surge from the sea, chimneys surge from concrete. Slavin puts together a city of porous surfaces, of cuts and folds, of turns and crashes. The traversing of the city is similar to a series of sexual acts engendering sentient landscapes, created from, and permanently aroused by, the displacements of the plastic and architectonic bodies.
Slavin assembled phantasmagoric images that perpetuate themselves in the movements of the city, and these movements determine the thinking of his protagonist. Is it real or a dream? The city filters the dream, which is not the waterfall-like inner state of a person removed from reality, but rather the flow of the outer, perceivable city. The entire city acts crazy, even if one would like to assume that this is the inner life of a dreaming or hallucinating person. The dream is not dreamt – the dream dreams. Slavin’s film plays with the limits of the dream, with the displacements from inside to outside and vice-versa. All bodies are extended bodies.
Slavin presents the city as object of a displaced perception, he assembles unstable images in perpetual change, the images are cut, associated, displaced, their direction changes. Each image is already another, and one can hardly distinguish whether the image is just considered to be actual or is still about to emerge virtually. Each actual image is due to a specific camera perspective, and the virtual image could turn at any moment into an actual image.
We talk with Deleuze of an idea of the virtual that actualizes itself as real at a specific time, in a specific place, in a specific environment. The virtual, however, does not include all that is possible, but only what is possible, was possible, and will be possible at a specific time and in a specific place. The virtual seems rather to emerge from actualization’s; it is the association capacity in which the images reveal themselves to us at intervals, in this manner or that. Is it real or a dream? Like Slavin’s protagonist, we can never be sure whether something has happened or will happen, how and when it happens. Slavin’s plot is a fake plot, which implies the deconstruction of the narrative.
Nothing is true, the virtual image coexists with the real image, and one can hardly grasp how this can be possible for images other than the virtual image par excellence, the mirror image. Is it real or a dream? This question, enclosed in the subtitle, which Slavin’s protagonist repeats again and again, results of his own analysis of the images. The actual images drill themselves into our conscious perception, while the vision turned towards our unconscious is the world of virtual images. Yet it is only a posteriori that we see, through the association of the many images, through the succession capacity of the images, and this, precisely, is what exceeds human attention. Slavin plays consistently with this precarious situation, with the simultaneity and succession of images. When he presents the city as a flood of images, he creates an image totally set free from time and space coordinates. When the protagonist, whom he, significantly, drives into the water, plunges quietly and soundlessly. In these close-ups, Slavin shows the helplessness of a victim, who, sleepless, in a kind of intoxication, errs through the city by day and by night and lives in the twilight world of crime, addiction, sex, and phantasms. The victim confirms his victim role by his very incapacity of distinguishing whether he is the author or the victim of an imaginary happening.
The city accelerates transversal movements and arousal’s, which can deviate into one direction or another and get mixed up with the things. It intensifies the hyper-figuration of persons as addition and aggregation, and, concomitantly, as dispersion of fragments and things, utterly exterior, a flutter of events and virtuality’s. In sexuality, the ontological state of things is transcended, because things proliferate, because, in the nothingness in which things exist, an endless separation and association takes place: linking, adding, becoming successive, the girl, whom Slavin films surrealistically, is a prostitute, yet she could also be a lover, call girl, dancer, sister, a dominatrix… Like Mario Perniola, Slavin sees the body in its exteriority, in an aroused and arousing here-and-now, as a porous conglomerate of holes and folds that interpenetrate, and are interpenetrated by, each other. The city is displaced music…

Insomniac City / by Massimo Causo (for the catalogue for the 25th Torino Film Festival)
To be lost in the city, to be the city…. profoundly metropolitan, viscerally architectonic, the cinema of Ran Slavin is the embodiment of radical recognition and sentient bewilderment in the urban fabric of a human reality that is dominated by forms and deprived of communication. A video artist who lets the signs and meanings of his works emerge from a symbiotic and convulsive relationship between sound and image, Ran Slavin searches for order in the chaos of the senses, produces a rational dysfunction of reality in digital form, elaborates a theory of audio visions in his films that views reality like an organic structure which forms and figures incessantly overlap.
Stressing the concept of interference as an element that both absorbs and rejects the worlds signals, Ran Slavin searches for a framework that can decode the organized and unsystematic chaos it encounters. In this sense, Insomniac City [2004-2008] is the finish line of a path that begins with the insistent dysfunction of the relationship between imaginary and real and finds its concluding formula in a dream like narrative in which the relationship between individual and the real world is revealed for what it is: a convulsive overlapping and invasive mutation between biological and inorganic elements. The dystonic relationship with reality that characterizes Slavins work is, in short, an elaboration of the reciprocal intrusion between city and individual. An intense city, like an organic body, a pneumatic structure that breathes through its buildings, whose forms expand and contract. But it is also an arterial structure, in which the spectator flows and dissolves, vaporizes like a point of view that defines the nature of the elements their unfocussed state. Ran Slavin intercepts sounds and forms and uses them like units of measure to calculate the distance between the individual and the world and effectively being in the world. The specularity of the geometric forms that he uses in his visions comes to life with sudden inversions, with the slippage of the forms upon themselves, with continuos confusion of perspectives between the universal and the detail. The figures are just as silhouetted in the dematerialization of their molecular structure as the forms are manipulated in their architectonic nature, producing a changing skyline [above all in Insomniac City] that seems almost a dysfunction of the post 9/11 imagery. The musicality that resounds throughout ran Slavins films is an almost existential rumble of a reality that is loaded down with signals, of perceptions that twist over upon themselves in an organic/inorganic weaving of the world. This stratification [visual but also audio] is one of the dynamics with which Slavin structures his films, producing a superimposition of horizontal, vertical and perspective levels that keep his visions suspended in oppositions of high / low, right/left. inside/outside. A weaving in which the spectator finds himself enchanted/enchained, a witness to and a prisoner of a landscape that doesn’t belong to us but to which we belong, out of sensorial elements in a dystopian scenario…

Insomniac City / by Yonatan Amir

The sum of all of Insomniac Citys elements could have easily been transferred into a typical American thriller. There is a gun, there is a body, there is a night drive through the empty streets of a city and there is a naked woman in a hotel room.
There is a plot and there is a script. There are a lot of hints and small innuendoes of New York, and even 9/11 is mentioned, as two twin high rises crash, while the main character mumbles to himself ?Is it real or a dream?”. If Insomniac City wasn’t the thought provoking film that it is, it might have easily been presented as a thriller for adults. This isnt the first time Ran slavin, the artist, deals with surreal urban materials. His former film ‘Organic Urbanic’ also took place in the streets of Tel Aviv, and was also made with many digital manipulations. In Insomniac City, Slavin takes another step forward and creates a video art which is an entire film that also includes actors and a plot, on top of the video and the soundtrack. The movie portrays its name well, being a film taking place in Tel Aviv and telling the story of a character who was shot and is now in a state of insomnia. The film evolves around the camera, which represents the instability of the character, through a fragmented array of surreal scenes. In these scenes, the character tries to understand how he has reached his present state of being ? a body laying outside a car in a deserted underground parking lot. This sort of reminds us of ‘Memento’, but unlike Memento, where confusion is under control thanks to virtuosi editing, in Insomniac City, it is the mess which leads the story. It is all about the blurring of things, not their deleting.
Most of the shots are taken from unbalanced angles. Some of them are low, taken in the underground parking lot or under water, while others are high and taken from roof tops and towers, or from satellite photographs.
The few shots which are taken at eye level or from the ground, are unstable, jumpy and blurry. As a whole, it seems like Slavin did not miss any opportunity for a video manipulation to portray the character?s confused state of being.
It begins with the photography, which is done by a set of more or less conventional lenses. Then, the image processing and the video editing that can make the buildings dance and the waves move backwards. To top it all off, Slavin creates a unique color scheme, blurs the soundtrack and makes the character?s sentences sound like mumbling. They too, like his face, come out very confused. Highly recommended hardcore.

Insomniac City / by Jack Faber
Sunday night, Jerusalem cinematheque. As the blue light dims over he valley of Ben Hinom, we slowly step out of the terrace and enter the dark hall of the Jerusalem cinematheque.
Slavin’s total masterpiece raps us instinctively. Insomniac City, a 40-minute long experimental video work was created completely by Slavin’s own masterful hands (photography, editing, production and soundtrack).
This is one of most intriguing experimental, non-documentary works, which were done here lately.
Insomniac City portrays the fragmented city, with the sum of all its components, as a disturbed, restless, state of being. The city is a crawling brain, with self-inflicted hallucinations, portraying all the information it generates as a violent monster-like architecture of bodies, machines and buildings.
Slavin presents the city as a complex living organism, which reinvents itself all the time creating a solid, intricate choreography in the metropolitan scenery. This choreography is a deep investigation into the minds and souls of the people living here and the layers hidden underneath the white plaster and electric the wiring of its buildings. Slavin’s camera maneuvers around, exposing the city’s exposed fabric of supply and demand, its growing alienation and search of the inner self and encounters faceless demons in the dead fields of the public panorama. Slavin shows us that brutality is part of human nature, oppression is entailed in the constructions he makes to protect himself from it and the desire to penetrate through the familiar reality is as pornographic as the will for destruction and as religious as the passion for resurrection.
The city is the artificial paradise of mankind, as well as a chaotic hell realizing itself with a scary velocity for those seeking their origin. The interest lies in the wide spectrum between those extreme attitudes, in the moments where the mind recreates them in varied combinations. This is not an unrecognizable futuristic metropolis. Tel Aviv is described exactly as it is, with its grandeur and pitifulness, from its high rises all the way to peep show halls. Its contrasting elements mix and intertwine, reflecting the exciting collage it is in reality. Almost all the shots are taken in a unique, non conventional way – streets getting slowly flooded, artificial islands in front of the sea shore, bridges connecting roofs of tall buildings, looking like hyper-technical sculptures. All these happen in a lyric tenderness, growing into an intense violence, in an ecstatic rhythm, so that even the crushing of several well known high rises, seems harmonic and unavoidable, as part of the natural development of the city motion.
The presence of the human, who is passing down the halls of an unanimous hotel, sets the tone for the identity of the rich, futuristic urban fabric surrounding it. This forbidden investigation beyond the limits of the familiar, presents Tel Aviv as an organic feature, which is continuously evolving from within itself and human life in it as a constant state of dispute and reconstruction of emotions and senses.

Irit Tal / Analysis : Digital Landscapes /
(Taken from the catalogue of the exhibition : Digital Landscapes, at the University gallery, Tel Aviv 2008)

Exploring expeditions is a-priori not devoid of technological raisons d’etre. According to Anne Friedberg, it was made possible when the new 19th century technologies of representation, namely photography and reproduction, merged with the mobilized gaze of mass tourism and the phenomenon of urban shopping.
Today too, two social phenomena merge in a single technological space. Instead of strolling in the streets of Paris, the virtual flâneur moves on the highways of data consumption in an imaginary flânerie through an imaginary elsewhere and an imaginary else-when».
In this spirit, Dream Zone 537 is a space for surfing and navigation, a landscape created by the one passing through and wandering in it along a route measured in time, 5:23 minutes, as indicated by the title of the work. The space is a time capsule: it is contained in and defined by time. Slavin’s mediated observation is thus representation in motion, a gaze made possible in a space trapped in the time of surfing in the air, vision that naturally incarnates into the condition of space-time in virtual space. And since this space is a « non-place » (non-lieu), as maintained by Mark Augé, a « super-modern » product of technological progress which has vastly increased mobility, compressed spaces, and compacted the dimensions of the Earth while generating an excess of time and an excess of individualized
Slavin merely crosses it and passes through it, without appropriating it. Such a place negates the modernist anthropological notion of « place » : no longer a common place, familiar and knowable to its residents, wherefrom they derive their identity, their social relations and their sense of time – but a place devoid of history, identity, and social relations, « a world thus surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary and ephemeral ». In the « non-place » there is « no singular identity nor relations; only solitude and similitude ».The individual in it is not different from any other individual, and emerges only when he is required to present an identification card or a magnetic card, a code or a password upon entering «non-place» sites to which he is attached via contractual engagement, a users’ contract.
Nevertheless, while the « non-place » indicates loss of identity, at the same time it offers a unique experience, a different identity experience underlain by a traveler’s consciousness – one that is constructed concurrently and through the route which the cybernetic surfer creates for himself, a trajectory which is not predetermined in a space which is not predetermined. In this route there is no representative tracing of the subconscious, for it is all consciousness created individually « in passing ». This route is the image of consciousness, the image of the subjective.
The chain of landscapes, photographed by Ran Slavin with a digital video camera from the window of an airplane flying from Krakow to Zurich, were assimilated into the virtual space of the computer to create Dream Zone 523. The landscapes were digitally manipulated with Jitter, editing software that allows for simultaneous processing of image and sound data in immediate interaction that comes as close as possible to painterly practice and musical improvisation.
The work process is based on digital compositing and combination of layers via conversion, adaptation,and « alteration » of colors and special effects. According to Mitchell, such computer tools for image processing are essential to the digital artist as brushes and pigments are to a painter. Lev Manovich expands the analogy to more comprehensive artistic strategies, arguing that computer software continues the techniques developed by European avant-garde artists:
thus, for example, the « cut and paste » command is the extension of the collage technique, the work with overlapping windows is akin to the techniques of cinematic and photographic montage, and so on. These strategies, adopted by computer software, are nowadays « further developed, formalized in algorithms, codified in software, made more efficient and effective ».
The landscape images have, thus, become fertile ground for acts of synthesis and modification, simulation of the mediated landscape. The linear continuity of the landscape is thereby interrupted, as a continuous narrative line, into series of abstract landscape images, emptied of their physical dimensions, in a constant movement of deconstruction and reconstruction. Selection and concentration on an image or a part thereof – mountains, sky, airplane wing – mark the beginning of the processing whereby the image is deconstructed into flat, either lit or shaded layers of color, which are recombined in a single superimposed frame. The image is subsequently stretched to the lateral and longitudinal axes of the pixel grid, dissolving under skylines that withdraw in all directions, setting in motion different points of view simultaneously. In the meantime the hues and rhythm of movement change from soft cruising in mid-air to an accelerated frenzy of appearances and disappearances accompanied by signs of difficulties in reception and other rhythms of electronic communication – wavy, jumpy, flickering. The electronic landscape is always dependent on projection on a flat, transparent screen devoid of depth and mass, detached from time and place; it depends on the fast flow of digital representation, where, according to Virilio, « the retinal persistence succeeds the material.

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