critically correct

The Belated Interval: In the Wake of Critically Correct

Ory Dessau

The title of the show, Critically Correct, attests to the dimension of commentary made by the works comprising it with regard to the possible setting, the very plausibility of the setting, of their crystallization. Whether this concerns a mirroring of the artistic process or subordination of that process to the historical constellation in which it takes place, identification of the works’ commentarial facets facilitates exposure of the two hidden poles of the one-way dialogue between Israeli art and its circumstances. It is a pattern of occurrence that draws, inter alia, on the achievements of pop art, on the realization that effective criticism must not be delivered as such, namely – at either the place or time in which it is expected. A new critical standard that goes beyond the self-evident, that does not reproduce the performances of the system generating and containing it as an opposing force, may be found only in a non-political, namely critically-correct climate. Hence, the title of the show, Critically Correct, marks the absence of a critical climate as a pre-condition for the existence of a subversive critical event.

The critical vacuum in which Critically Correct emerges promotes a confrontation with the participating artists’ diverse attitudes. Known prior to show, these standpoints are juxtaposed with various modes of reading the works. Raffi Lavie’s assertions – that “there is no political art,” and that even if art “may deal with a political theme, just as it may address any other theme,” the political quality of that theme does not necessarily stem from its participation in the discussion about the Israel-Palestine relationship – are examined in light of the primacy of the Israeli Occupation as a problem (Avi Mograbi’s film). Moshe Gershuni’s Jewish particularity and the victim-victimizer axis evolving as a result are examined vis-?-vis Erez Israeli’s Christian universalism and its affinity with the universalism formulated by Jumana Emil Abboud in her recent work. The show is concerned precisely with this collision; with the differentiation of the political from the apolitical, namely – with preserving the critical effect of the subversive gazes and worldviews introduced by the works comprising the show.

In Raffi Lavie’s Balcony Movie, a video piece whose soundtrack consists of the voice of David Avidan reading his poem “Yipui Ko’ach” (power of attorney, authorization), the object of interpretation is obvious (Avidan’s poem), and the interpretive act in its reference to that object is ostensibly obvious as well. Lavie subordinates the visual frame of his film to Avidan’s poem, and the latter is re-enacted in the film. Lavie authorizes himself to realize the poem “Yipui Ko’ach” (authorization) as a soundtrack. The dedication “To whom it may concern” at the beginning of the poem/film becomes concrete – henceforth the poem is dedicated to Raffi Lavie, to the audio/visual collision he orchestrates, but at the same time, it remains abstract, hovering over an anonymous, blurred audience. From another angle, the heads illustrating the recited poem throughout the movie, consisting of photographs of the audience and the mute orchestra, are the imagined multiplicity of a headless voice, a headless speech, an apparition devoid of a portrait that splits into a sequence of substitutes in the figure of the audience’s and musicians’ heads. The drama of the unveiled event is deconstructed and reconstructed by means of the camera’s oscillation between the concert hall and the balcony (as both a porch and a gallery in a theater), resulting in a negative consecration of the existent (“In point of fact, we have nowhere to go”).*

A different type of plural form from Lavie’s, another multiplication of simultaneous absence, is articulated by Moshe Gershuni. The question put forth by his works: “and where are all the Jews,” the trace of its presence in an object stained by contemplation about the space in which it is embedded, is the beginning of a dual route. One spatial transformation of the question presents the crowded absence of the Jewish place that draws in and drives away a multiplicity of viewers whose identity is unknown (“and where are all the Jews?”). Another spatial transformation pertains to environmental reconstruction based on communal criteria that may not have been found yet (“and where are all the Jews?”).

Avi Mograbi’s film Detail presents a slice of the brutal routine of the Israeli occupation, distinguishing the inter-communal Jewish-Palestinian encounter in Israel. An elderly woman, her face and awkward motion revealing unmistakable pain, is carried by her husband and another woman (possibly the husband’s second wife and the mother of the three children accompanying them) toward a military checkpoint at the outskirts of Nablus. Writhing in pain to the point that she can barely walk and hardly even stand, the woman and her family encounter a manned and bullet-proof IDF jeep. The calls of the armed soldier inside the jeep, amplified by a loudspeaker, implore her to return home. The soldier is also a subordinate, mummified in his prostheses: jeep, army uniform, bullet-proof vest, helmet, public address system, rifles, field-glasses, a quasi-legal validity of operation. Although she is bleeding, the woman’s transfer to hospital is delayed. A Palestinian family under closure is unable to call an ambulance, and must come to a collection point where the wounded woman will finally get an ambulance, and, if lucky, will arrive at a hospital in time (highly uncertain). Public discourse in Israel subordinate such manifestations of evil and hard-heartedness to a set of justifications and rejections (the Palestinian ambulance that carried means of warfare, the false pregnancy of suicide bombers, and other tricks and schemes), that are deciphered in this film not only by the key of the visible, but also according to that of the photographer/director’s conduct and his decision to present himself in the film as someone who does not interfere, despite the fact that he was the only Hebrew speaker besides the soldiers during the depicted moments.

A different presence of representative militancy is found in Avner Ben-Gal’s work. His figures in the current show – blacker than ever, eroded, beaten, sooty, penetrated by the violence that consumes them – seem to be under a fluid cease-fire in the midst of an ongoing cross-system war; their diffusive coagulation flickers from the enclaves of the expansion of a cosmic/Middle Eastern calamity under laboratory conditions. The state of emergency emerging from the scene of suicide in Gil Shani’s work acquires an ostensibly explicit status by the context of the exhibition, yet it retraces the mute re-enactment of the image, the dosing of the restraints applied to the line and abstraction. The suicidal realization proposed by Shani in the image of the suicide is reinforced when the gaze is turned to its formal embodiment, with its range of stylistic affiliations, and is charged with a quasi-documentary validity by duplication of the suicide’s figure. The latter analogizes the manifestation of the painterly image with the production of a photographic image from negative to positive. The form of the eyelash in Doron Rabina’s work and its function as part of a compositional array reminiscent of a group of flags indicates that there are those who watch over the events; there is law, but no enforcement.

Despite the profound differences between them, the works in the show mark the moments of their observation as products of a delayed calamity which has already begun breaking out on the scale between anxiety and nightmare, between pushing the end and hiding from it: the drops of blood in Gil Shani’s work; the woman bleeding under her clothes in Avi Mograbi’s film; the loss assumed by Moshe Gershuni’s question and the loss of which it warns; the masked apparition in Raffi Lavie’s film; the paranoid militancy in Avner Ben-Gal’s work; the stretching of time in Guy Bar-Amotz’s Timeout; Shai Zurim’s quandary: “Are we under?”, and the additional question it implies: “Is it time?”.

Efrat Natan’s current undershirt piece (Untitled, 2002) is tantamount to an icon that anchors ethical awareness once it is confronted. It is a confrontation which is a meeting point between several types of reading-experience, the most dominant among them draws on the material manipulation and the modes of self-reporting she introduces. The horizontal felt rectangle functions as the boundary demarcation of a landscape picture, but also as a format reminiscent of a miniaturized cinematic screen, where the side netting represents the image’s disintegration into pixels. Michal Bachi’s paintings become charged with the very contents they reject through the context of the exhibition. The painting in gloss paint (Superlac) enables contents that are external to the painting slip in without clinging to it. What remains is an ambiguous temperament that focuses the gaze on the device Bachi designates for the genealogical tree of her figures (the motif of the crib from which a baby’s head emerges; a crib that is, at once, a deadening device – ‘crib death,’ and a protective one – a porthole through which insemination appears like a disruption of life’s normal progression).

* God’s absence is also addressed by David Ginton’s neon work The End of God. The fundamental negation introduced by this piece enhances the question of representation, reinforcing the inadequacy of human language with regard to God. Ginton “sought to curse and remained to bless.” The enigmatic nature of his work turns against language, delineating its boundaries. Emphasizing the negative function of language as a means for describing Divinity is linked to the concept of God as an indescribable transcendental entity.