History of Violence

Lida Abdul (Afghanistan), Yael Bartana (Israel), Tali Ben Bassat (Israel), Avner Ben Gal (Israel), Gilad Efrat (Israel), Lea Golda Holterman (Israel), Mona Hatoum (Lebanon), Michal Heiman (Israel), Grzegorz Klaman (Poland), Sigalit Landau (Israel), Ernesto Neto (Brazil), Chloe Piene (USA), SUPERM: Slava Mogutin and Brian Kenny (Russia/USA), Naama Tsabar (Israel), Artur Zmijewski (Poland)

The Haifa Museum of Art

January – June 2009

The driving force underlying this exhibition is a paradoxical one. It stems from a pessimistic source, yet since absolute pessimism cannot motivate any form of action, it does not amount to a total denial of hope. Rather, it seems that what is at stake is a deep melancholic state that gives rise to a different kind of drive; one that is saturated with sadness, yet still contains a shadow of hope, a longing for change – for some kind of shaking experience.

History is marred by an endless series of wars between different peoples, civil wars, acts of terrorism, tribal struggles, religious fundamentalism, nationalist extremism, military dictatorships, illegal militias and many other daily instances of aggressive and violent confrontations between human beings, which are described by means of endless, complex linguistic definitions. Repeated occurrences of mass murder and international acts of terror – in the name of this or that religious, national, esoteric or commonly accepted ideology – have become an integral part of everyday routines throughout the world. The dialectic between ideologies of education, construction and progress and various injurious strategies has similarly become a common item on the public agendas of both leading and backward countries, as well as on the agendas of minorities with indisputably extremist ideologies.

The questions underlying this exhibition ponder the origin of violent human urges and touch upon a general examination of concepts such as border, responsibility, and, of course, violence. The concept of the border is addressed in the exhibition both materially and conceptually. According to the dictionary definition, a border is a line separating geographical entities and different countries either naturally (by means of a sea, river or mountain) or artificially. At the same time, a border also distinguishes between different forms and circumscribes distinct things, and is a concept that stands for both a limit and a frontier; it is both concrete and abstract, restrictive and enabling. In this context, a discussion of the concept of the border requires coming to terms with the fact that it is constantly influenced by everything beyond it; that as a milieu, it is repeatedly defined by what is seemingly outside of it.

Moreover, a discussion of the concept of the border requires an examination of the concept of transgression, whose charge is simultaneously positive and negative. On the one hand, transgression involves an invasion of another's territory, as in the form of rape, conquest or theft; at the same time, it also relates to the subject's expansion beyond his own limits, to personal development and to a sense of transcendence. The examination of this complex term in a series of concrete contexts, inevitably leads to a unique definition of both personal and collective responsibility; one that unifies within it, on no easy terms, both the positive and negative aspects of transgression. This kind of responsibility must simultaneously address both freedom and its limitations – or, as Emanuel Levinas argues, must think one's freedom only in relation to one's total responsibility towards the other.

The ongoing attempt to understand and analyze man's proven proclivity for violence, destruction and annihilation has gradually undermined the positivist assumptions that shaped theoretical understandings of human nature up until the early 20th century. The prevalent perception of violence as a negative, external force that threatens to disrupt the existing order slowly gave way to the understanding that violence is also activated as an internal force that may be positive or negative. In his essay "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" (1920), Sigmund Freud began to outline the concept of the "death instinct," by means of which he attempted to extend his own interpretation and understanding of human behavior. If, early on in his career, Freud believed that the pleasure principle automatically regulated man's mental processes, in this essay he began to formulate the "reality principle." According to this principle, the subject attempts to experience pleasure and to avoid sorrow or pain, while accepting the conditions of reality and his own urges in a manner that enables him to postpone gratification. Later on, Freud began searching for another force capable of explaining this behavior – a force located beyond the pleasure principle, one that precedes it in time and is not dependent on it. The hypothesis he formulated was applicable to all urges: Freud argued that an urge is the drive present in any organism to return to its earliest state; it is not a positive force that leads to change and development, but rather a force that attempts to reconstruct the primal state of a living creature or human subject. Since any form of life is created out of matter that was once lifeless, the first and most decisive urge is thus the urge to return to that inert state. 

Against the background of these reflections, the exhibition attempts to examine the concept of violence in a range of complex political, philosophical and psychological contexts. It addresses a wide range of situations involving tension, struggle and warfare around the world, as well as the ongoing state of occupation in the context of which we live and work here in Israel.

Nevertheless, it is important to stress that the exhibition does not attempt to offer a historical survey of these events, or to analyze the nature of the connection between terror and beauty, spectacle and horror. Despite the relevancy of the exhibition's subject in the context of current events, the works it features – which were created by leading Israeli and international artists – are not characterized by a straightforward documentary approach; rather, they address this subject in conceptual, mediated, subdued and abstract ways. This approach is the result of a conscious attempt not to focus on the depiction of horror; an attempt to go beyond the particular case or event, and to think about the violence that shapes and structures the works even when it is not explicitly present in them.

The most apparent common denominator that ties together the works included in the exhibition is the harsh sense of emptiness they provoke. This is a multifaceted kind of emptiness, which camouflages a range of fateful moral, cultural and geographic implications. A significant number of works contain vestiges of army camps or of war; others depict human beings in states related to survival, struggle, distress or faith. States of alienation, detachment, wandering, exile, hatred or horror lie at the basis of the exhibition, and allude to the human condition it delineates. At the same time, the exhibition presents works that touch upon violence in political, national and religious contexts, as well as in emotional, sexual and social contexts; violence related to a state of excess versus violence related to a state of lack. Yet what, in fact, is the difference between these terms? And can they indeed be separated into distinct categories?

One may state that in a certain sense, the exhibition attempts to examine, or perhaps to put to the test, the question of human character. The exhibition's title relates to the expression "history of violence" * – which is usually used to describe criminals whose record includes documented cases of violence, and who are thus expected to commit additional crimes. This expression stresses the need to carefully consider the treatment of such criminals given their violent history, even in cases where they have not been proven guilty.

This exhibition attempts to go beyond the reductive, deadening limitation that results from examining contemporary existence from within a predetermined framework; to carefully examine a given state of affairs, yet also to question it; to function not simply as a lamentation, but also as a call for active reflection.

*  The exhibition title also relates to David Cronenberg's well-known film, A History of Violence (2005).

Gilad Efrat
Born in Be'er Sheva, Israel, 1969; lives and works in Tel Aviv
Ansar IV, 2008

Gilad Efrat's large-scale, monochromatic painting depicts some sort of detention camp or temporary prison. A panoramic view seen from a bird's-eye view outside of the prison area reveals a scraped-over and emptied-out site, which does not fully disclose its function.

This work is part of a series of paintings based on a series of early photographs by artist Roi Kuper. In 2003, Kuper created 13 photographs featuring the Ketziot detention camp in the Negev, which is also known as Ansar, after the Ansar prison in Lebanon. The Ketziot prison was opened in 1988, following the outbreak of the first intifada. It was closed down during the period of the Oslo agreements, with the Israeli freeing of Palestinian security prisoners. During its period of operation, thousands of Palestinian detainees were held at the prison under extremely harsh conditions, and it became a notorious symbol of oppression. While working on his series, Kuper photographed different areas of the abandoned prison, paying special attention to the site's characteristics and to the imprint of passing time: barbed wire fences, rusty barracks, empty yards, deserted watchtowers, desiccated vegetation and dry earth. Kuper's series of photographs maintained an indexical connection with the place, and examined the unique way in which the act of photography may capture traces of the past – preserving or mediating the remaining evidence of the events that took place at a given site. In doing so, this series encompassed both Kuper's underlying approach to the photographic act and his pained and critical stance in relation to the actions undertaken by the Israeli state.

Efrat's work is entirely about a process of emptying out, of destruction; its painterly subtleties embody a political and social horror. It seems to attempt to shift from the concrete instance to its underlying principle, from the specific to the general. Although it preserves the frame of Kuper's original image, it is devoid both of human beings and of the other identifying climactic, topographical or cultural marks that appeared in Kuper's photographs. The work thus seems to touch upon the concept of imprisonment more than upon the specific case of the Ansar prison. One could even describe it as examining the schema underlying a concept of imprisonment related to Michel Foucault's discussion of the panopticon – a form of organizing and policing space in order to control those present within it. In the case of the panopticon, power is a function of the division of space. In this manner, Efrat's work distills the treatment of the concept of power, and is not concerned only with a specific instance in which it was practiced.  

Avner Ben Gal
Born in Ashkelon, Israel, 1966; lives and works in Tel Aviv
Green Jacket, 2005; Cursed by Slaves, 2005; Baghdad Zoo, 2006; Soldier, 2008

Avner Ben Gal's paintings extend between the familiar and the imagined; lingering on the borderline between figuration and abstraction, they combine imaginary, dream-like, even nightmarish landscapes with identifiable, concrete images. At once local and phantasmagorical, they pierce the viewer and trigger a sense of urgency and fear, while simultaneously transporting him into an unexpected state of painterly rapture.

Suspended between condensation and transparency, lyricism and violence, it seems that Ben Gal's work attempts to touch upon and treat repressed, explosive issues related to local history, to personal biography and to the spirit of the time. Yet all of these are assimilated in his work into a contemporary world of raw passion and crude sexuality. Although at times it seems that the works substitute one discursive order for another, these different types of discourse are in fact essentially interrelated. Thus, for instance, a state of war – habitually associated with national or political conflicts – is transformed into an arena of violent rape. Territory, or land, are often signified and replaced by the female body. The concept of occupation is openly revealed on the surface of these works by means of sexual intercourse, while also, of course, relating to national politics.

Destruction, incineration and annihilation are all present in the background of these paintings, while various human or animal figures appear in their foreground. For the most part, the figures' faces are erased, stained or concealed, allowing for a reading that is at once particular and general. The smoke, fire and burning flames are not only visible to the gaze, but also experienced on the level of subjective consciousness. Some of the works contain dreamlike, surreal images – hybrid human and animal forms or aquatic creatures planted in an expanse of dry earth. The sensation that arises from these images is that of an intermittent contact with reality – fragile, depleted, dense at times and yet almost transparent – just like an attempt to capture a memory or dream fragment that eludes one and dissolves, resurfaces and disappears once again. Although one may read these works as attesting to the disintegration of a moral infrastructure or existing social order, they may simply attest to the fact that such an order never existed or was never defined.

Tali Ben Bassat
Born in Rishon Lezion, Israel; lives and works in Tel Aviv
Untitled, 2006

This work by Tali Ben Bassat is composed of ten painterly units, which come together to form a single entity on the exhibition wall. It seems that these works –  transparent and delicate watercolors on paper – are composed of ink and blood. Devoid of any human presence, they depict various apocalyptic scenes that are at once ecological and cultural. The only movement in these works is the movement of survival: helicopters searching for familiar signs of life; animals gnawing at a dead body; hovering birds, which are either taking off and flying away or sinking and dying; lava that threatens to cover and destroy.

One of the works in this series features a sun that appears several times – simultaneously bright, shining and fading. This disruption of the cosmic order amplifies the sense of discomfort and imperfection that arises from the depicted scenes. Yet this exposed violence, disruption and estrangement are clearly revealed to be a consequence of human action, rather than of a transcendent force or an unforeseen catastrophe. This impression is attested to by the barbed wire fences, watchtowers, electric cables and vehicles that allude to an intentional, planned act of destruction – one that may have gotten out of control.

The nature of these images is reminiscent of familiar photographs featured in National Geographic magazine or on various news sites – real, recently captured images that nevertheless seem to come from the end of the world. An end defined through various forms of mediation, which enable viewers to easily ignore its active existence in the present.

Yael Bartana
Born in Afula, Israel, 1970; lives and works in Tel Aviv
Disembodying the National Army Tune, 2001
Sound composition: Keren Rosenbaum
Voice: Noa Frenkel
 
Yael Bartana's work is mainly focused on video art. In many instances, her works attempt to examine the question of identity in general and in Israeli society in particular, while studying various practices that define identity and bringing together contemporary and traditional aspects of it; these works also bespeak a continuous concern with mourning and memory – profound emotional states that cannot be circumscribed within predetermined ceremonial or temporal frameworks.

The work featured in this exhibition is somewhat unusual, since it is a sound installation that commands the surrounding space. The installation consists of a loudspeaker connected to a metal pole containing a hidden sensor, which is activated by the viewer's presence. The viewer's presence activates a mechanism that causes the loudspeaker to move up and down the metal pole, while the audio system plays a tune reminiscent of the IDF's national military anthem. The viewer must approach the pole in order to observe the work; yet in order to avoid hearing the anthem and the related ordering of the body in space, which seems to occur spontaneously and involuntary, he must step back. This situation produces a dual tension between closeness and distance, as one is simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the work itself.

The music emanating from the work is strange sounding, undefined, and perhaps somewhat pathetic; nevertheless, its eruption into the exhibition space is startling, jarring and unsettling. Indeed, despite its clear affinity with the national military anthem and the sound of the trumpet, the work is in fact an original vocal composition, performed by a woman's voice. The national military anthem is usually played at important military and state events, including funerals and memorials. The series of intentional disruptions through which this work was created – the fact that the composition is similar yet distinct, vocal rather than instrumental, and performed by a woman rather than a man – creates a hybrid situation. It is neither the origin itself nor it a simple imitation, but rather a simulacrum that enfolds within it a critical stance, ridicule, manipulation and even compassion. The fact that the tune is played over and over again in a loop is similarly related to an underlying existential state; to the fact that we are surrounded by illogical and merciless death, which is mediated and marketed for us by a variety of means.
 
LeaGolda Holterman
Born in Haifa, Israel, 1976; lives and works in Tel Aviv
Sacrifice, 2008

Lea Golda Holterman's video work features a young boy who presents himself as Shai Engel, age 12, from Tel Adashim in the Jezreel Valley, Israel. With his light blue eyes and serious gaze directed at the camera, the boy describes his deep commitment to the land of Israel, his longing to serve in a combat unit in the Israeli army and the understanding that he may pay for his decision with his life. Despite the determined manner in which he attempts to explain his position, it is difficult to identify enthusiasm or excitement in his voice or words. Fear, sluggishness, even an unexpected fatigue seem to envelop his figure, undermining the ability to interpret his statements as an expression of an ideological vision or desire. The powerful effect of this work is based on the extreme manner in which innocence mingles with maturity and purity clashes with processes of social construction.

The work raises extremely difficult moral questions related to politics, education and art making on the political, educational and artistic levels. It points to the complexity of local existence, marks the hidden manner in which national and cultural identity are constructed, and attests to the destructive influence of the violent atmosphere in which we live both on the ability to form a personal identity and on the possibility of constructing an emotional experience.

It is commonly argued that those who return from war are re-assimilated into civilian society, while living in it like ghosts; invisible, unknown and surrounded by an abyss of silence, emptiness and purposelessness; trapped in the dichotomy of being a hero or a criminal, between sanctification and repression. Yet beyond the dimension of personal experience, it turns out that just as in cases of post-trauma, war is never simply reduced to being a bad memory; rather, it induces change in the structure and manner of thinking characteristic of society as a whole. Accordingly, Holterman's work points to a double kind of violence: the external, social violence that has led the boy to form his beliefs, and the violence that has been internalized and assimilated to the point of being perceived as heroic, romantic, aesthetic and necessary.

The work's title, Sacrifice, underscores and enhances this dual complexity and sheds light on the boy's supposedly free choice, as he attests to his seemingly self-induced willingness to sacrifice his life. Moreover, the affinity with the biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac requires an examination not only of the boy's status, but also of the figures of the father and the angel – raising the question of who undertakes to perform the sacrifice and who intervenes to impede it; at the same time, it raises the possibility that this is a sacrifice without an angel.
 
Michal Heiman
Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1954; lives and works in Tel Aviv
Subject Unknown: Scrolls – Did You Say No? No. 1 (Michal Heiman, 1985), 2008

Michal Heiman's work combines various arenas of action and different mediums –  including photography, painting, video, conceptual art and complex, site-specific installations. Her works examine the various cultural fields in which images appear, and the different ways in which we read them depending on their context. The intersection between different contexts is immanent to her artistic strategy, and is given expression in the combination of the arenas of art, journalism, psychology, media and more.

The image in the work featured in this exhibition was photographed by Heiman in the mid-1980s, while she worked as a photographer for various local newspapers. The image was reprocessed and printed on a large-scale white screen, of the kind usually used as a backdrop in photography studios. The photograph captures a young man standing at a nightclub's entrance or exit. He appears to be detached from his surroundings, withdrawn and seriously contemplating something. The kaffiyeh around his neck softens his appearance somewhat, and points to a possible gender-related or national identity. The question that both stains and stamps the screen is retroactively addressed to the figure in it, and seems to be asked on several levels: artistic, political and sexual. Did the young man refuse to be photographed? Did he refuse to take part in a violent act of resistance? Was photographing him an act of stealing? The intensive deliberation of the figure is extremely touching, and awakens a sense of identification in the viewer; at the same time, it inevitably also raises the question: Should he have refused? Did something happen? In this manner, the viewer is torn between compassion and worry, identification and distancing; he remains in a state in which, consciously or unconsciously, he is formulating a difficult, fundamental decision – a decision based on the basic values, beliefs, and emotional, psychological and political preferences that are anchored within him.

Heiman's work is based on creating a state of instability – both in terms of the status of the photographed image, and in terms of the related meaning and the viewer's stance vis-?-vis these questions. The transformation of the figure into a background, and of the event into a possibility – since the viewer can easily pull the cord that will roll up the screen, thus remaining in front of a white, empty and indifferent wall – amplifies and underscores this unstable quality.

Artur Zmijewski
Born in Warsaw, Poland, 1966; lives and works in Poland
Them, 2007

Artur Zmijewski's work tends to examine human behavior under a range of extreme conditions. Many of his works are concerned with personal and collective traumas, while relating to specific historical contexts and to complex ethical, moral and political questions. Moreover, in addition to touching upon sensitive and controversial issues, his works are usually created in clearly unconventional manners, while blurring or ignoring familiar boundaries.

The work included in this exhibition touches upon fundamental questions concerning freedom of expression, freedom of action, limits and morality: where does the line run between legitimate self-expression and an assault, between a right and a violation? In the context of this work, which resembles a social experiment, Zmijewski brought together representatives of various ideological groups in Poland: conservative Catholics, young nationalists, Jewish social-democrats and human-rights activists. During a series of consecutive meetings, each group was charged with defining its ideological credo by means of a sign or poster, and with responding to the other groups. In this manner, participants had to both express a clear stance by means of words, images and symbols and to engage in an active process of negotiation, argumentation and explanation. The work clearly captures each group's attempt to define its stance in the clearest, most concise, original and most effective manner.

Yet with every consecutive meeting, a process of escalation leads to a deeper ideological rift between the groups; the last meeting ends with one group's tearing and burning the signs prepared by its rivals. The participants' ideological and creative enthusiasm is transformed into an unbridled wrestling ground charged with raw aggression, while the possibility of dialogue, co-existence or compromise is entirely forgotten. The work's title, Them, is an expression of repression and exclusion, the indexical marking of a third person plural that bears the burden of guilt. Like all of ?mijewski's works, this work too raises poignant questions concerning concepts such as memory, responsibility and personal liberty, while defining in a radical simple and direct manner painful facts about human nature.

Mona Hatoum
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, 1952; lives and works in London and Berlin
Rest Assured, 2001–2005
Traffic II, 2002

Mona Hatoum's work repeatedly returns, over time, to address states of being uprooted, of detachment and of wandering – which are characteristic of those who have no physical roots, home or homeland. The violence stemming from this state of existence – be it the result of a geographical, physical or emotional rupture, is given expression in her works in many ways. In 1975, Hatoum – who was born in Beirut to a family of Palestinian exiles – was constrained to remain in London, where she was visiting at the time, following the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon. Living far away from her family and twice uprooted from her homeland, Hatoum's life evolved in a constant state of longing and yearning.

The work Traffic II is composed of two old leather suitcases positioned one against the other. Woven into their sides are human hairs that extend outwards, as if attempting to reconnect on the floor. The weaving of the hair into the suitcases embodies the personal within the conceptual, and extends the work's bold existentialist character into the space between bearing witness and reflecting. Like other works by Hatoum, this work attempts to bring together the familiar and the uncanny, the personal and the public, the specific and the general. Moreover, the concept of home – which has repeatedly surfaced in her works over the years – is once again presented as unstable: although the suitcases point to the potential for an internal, mobile or alternative home, they mainly mediate its ephemeral quality. By calling attention to subjects such as war, immigration, refugees and wandering, the work fills the viewer's field of awareness with allusions to memory, an experience of sadness and a longing for security.

The work Rest Assured, which is also included in the exhibition, is a hammock woven out of delicate latex rubber bands; a hammock that signifies the option of rest, yet which will likely crash in the course of the attempt to realize it. Its extreme delicacy allows it to assimilate into space and disappear; to promise, yet not to enable the realization of this promise. A hammock is, by definition, a temporary object that may be installed when needed or on demand, and which does not usually function as a permanent bed. In many ways, it produces an extremely exposed and vulnerable state: lying within it and passively sinking as one succumbs to the force of gravity means abandoning oneself to the gaze and to fate.

The work's title alludes to a double promise for rest and security. Yet this promise is momentary, the notion of truth is relative, and the decision one must come to vis-?-vis these terms is always personal. Hatoum's work is equally poetic and political, personal and a-temporal, poignant and delicate. It challenges the viewer by combining different subjective experiences and creating complex enigmatic states; it touches upon questions of freedom and political borders, while also relating to internal, mental and emotional borders.
 
 
Sigalit Landau
Born in Jerusalem, Israel, 1969; lives and works in Tel Aviv
Eat as Much as You Can't I-V, 2007

Sigalit Landau's sculpted figures greatly resemble bodies that have been stripped of their skin – as if the outer layer of their epidermis has dissolved to reveal not only exposed flesh but also the very essence of their existence. The flesh of these figures seems composed of leftover fragments of time, which are related both to the recycled paper materials used to create them and to their evident process of extinction. The gauntness of the figures and the presence of the large, yet empty, metal pots place them in a context of survival – related to hunger, subsistence, plague, war or disaster. The emaciated bodies endow the figures with a similar appearance, although they are never identical. A woman, man, boy or girl in a state of convulsion, ecstasy or imploration – they are all searching for some form of consolation.

At the same time, the work alludes to a state in which the idea of community ceases to exist, and the family structure or stable relationships that parallel it are questioned and threatened by distress. It is a state in which it is no longer clear who is responsible or able take care of whom – not only due to ego, power and political struggles, but also because of the all-consuming distress that is capable of annihilating even the inner kernel of the self.

Like most of Landau's works, this work may be read both in terms of its allusion to a narrative context and in a wide conceptual context. In this latter context, one may identify the work's concern with concepts such as responsibility, citizenship, solidarity or collectivity – concepts that seem to have been emptied of meaning with the passage of time. The acuteness of the critical stance presented by Landau is also given expression in her clear choice to detach her installations from obvious and limiting associations with a specific time and place. In this manner, the state captured in her works is a-temporal, archetypal and futuristic, and the criticism they contain is directed at the very essence of human existence.

 
Ernesto Neto
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1964; lives and works in Rio de Janeiro
Epiderme Barricada, 2003
 
Ernesto Neto's work is usually characterized by the creation of large-scale sculptural objects composed of soft, semi-transparent materials, which create sensual environments within the exhibition space. The viewer can often enter the works, move within them and alter their form. The work included in this exhibition is somewhat different: it is composed of thin nylon sacks, filled with sand and wrapped in cotton. Overstuffed and assembled into a pile, the sacks are systematically organized one atop the other to create a blockage, a barricade.

The work's title, Epiderme Barricada, relates the corporeal and sculptural dimensions to one another. The epidermis is the skin's most superficial layer, which comes into contact with the world. It marks the boundary of the human body – a boundary that protects the interior of the body, circumscribes it and prevents its eruption into the surrounding space, while also preventing the environment's invasion of it.

Neto's epidermal barricade seems to be offering protection against an attack from the outside, against death itself, while simultaneously exposing the fragility and sensitivity embodied in it; it gives rise to a consideration of the power of fragility, of the possibility of protecting without attacking. The tension between the work's soft appearance and the discomfort and terror it provokes are amplified by the metaphor arising from its name.

 
Superm:  Brian Kenny and SlavaMogutin
Brian Kenny born in Heidelberg, Germany, 1982; Slava Mogutin born in Siberia, Russia, 1974; both live and work in New York
Target Works, 2007–2008
 
Brian Kenny and Slava Mogutin have been working together under the name Superm since 2004. Their biographical backgrounds are strikingly different; Mogutin was born in Siberia, grew up in Russia and was exiled from it at age 21 due to his queer writing and social activism. With the assistance of Amnesty International, he received political asylum in the U.S. Kenny was born in Heidelberg on an American military base, and grew up in an all-American, Catholic, militaristic family. Their joint works combine graffiti, drawing, painting, texts, various bodily fluids, found objects, sound and video, and they frequently collaborate with additional artists. Their art is transgressive, political and personal, and is often given expression by means of site-specific installations in various exhibition spaces.
 
This exhibition features a series of works on paper, paintings and collages created on printed, pre-existing sheets of paper that had been used by the American police for target practice during the 1970s. The targets include images of policemen or soldiers aiming their weapons at the viewer (or the shooter, originally). Kenny and Mogutin attack these images with evident libidinal energy, combining criticism and joy of life, painting and collage, image and text, the imagined and the documented. The dynamic character of these works, and the fact that they are suffused with desire, sexuality and pleasure, render them highly personal. Nevertheless, they address issues on the public agenda – war, violence, superficiality, estrangement and commercialism – while the political dimension of their work stems from all that is personal, specific and unique.
 
In the course of a filmed performance that took place in Bergen, Norway, in 2007, Kenny and Mogutin took a number of framed works, set them down in a firing range and fired at them. Two of the six works included in the exhibition thus bear the marks not only of the American police's target practice and the duo's subsequent artistic intervention, but also of the vestiges of their action. Kenny and Mogutin thus created a reflection of a cycle of bloodletting: the images, which were originally made for target practice and later rendered "artistic," seem to have genetically duplicated themselves to return to their origins. At the same time, one may argue that the artists are engaging in a juggling game of sorts with various arenas of production and discourse. In doing so, their work alludes to an eruption of violence that does not attempt to celebrate itself, as one may at first conclude, but rather to critique the infrastructure of the system it addresses – that is, the infrastructure of the existing social order.
 

Lida Abdul
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, 1973; lives and works in Kabul
In Transit, 2008

Lida Abdul's video work opens with a breathtaking image and the words: "I saw this and this… I was sent as a witness… one day I began to see." And what does she see? At first glance, a group of boys in traditional Afghan dress. They are holding long ropes tied to a grounded airplane that has been perforated and destroyed. As they keep pulling on the ropes, the boys attempt to bring the airplane back to life, and to fly it up into the sky like a kite. Gathering bits of lamb's wool from the ground, they climb onto the plane and attempt to stop up the holes, to heal the wounds. On one level, one may see the airplane as offering a possibility of escape, the option of a journey to another, distant and better world. On another, more concrete level, the airplane embodies the vestiges of the war, the end result of religious and political conflicts that know no boundaries.

The sentences floating above the images describe, in the first person singular, the experience of visiting this place, while also quoting the voices of the invisible onlookers: "Anything is possible when everything is lost," they say; "We’ve been covering each other’s eyes for so long," they go on to explain. Abdul's video is a sad, poetic work built out of broken phrases and slow, faltering camera movements. Like fragments of memory, the shards of imagery and information attempt to come together, to create a coherent view, while falling apart as if swallowed into the realm of oblivion.
 
 "You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing," says the man to the woman in the opening scene of Hiroshima Mon Amour (script: Marguerite Duras, director: Alain Resnais, 1959); "I saw everything. Everything," the woman answers. For in Hiroshima, as in Kabul, Ramallah or anywhere else in the world, seeing is first and foremost a matter of decision.

Chloe Piene
Born in Stamford, CT, U.S., 1972; lives and works in New York and Berlin
The Woods, 2002
 
Chloe Piene's drawings and video works examine various liminal states of terror that are both personal and collective, real and imagined, while blurring the boundaries between body and subjective awareness. These characteristics are also evident in the video work featured in the exhibition. The work opens with a black screen and a series of invective, angry sentences, such as "You're a walking waste of space," which are uttered in an unclear, scratched and dirty voice. Several seconds later, the viewer is presented with an ambiguous scene, in which a group of youngsters, mostly male, are assembled in a circle. Every so often, various figures enter the center of the circle, and thrust their bodies in various directions in what appears simultaneously as a violent and uncontrollable assault and a ritual dance.

Every so often, the screen goes dark again and the same processed, synthesized voice arrests the action with growling and various negative, invasive sentences that cannot always be clearly understood. Paradoxically, the use of words, of language, transforms these moments of darkness into moments of exposure. The voice utters sentences such as: "Positivity is decreasing in my mind," "The voices in my head keep screaming pain," or "I fucking want to destroy your life" – statements that communicate an intense, if incoherent, state of distress.

Despite the invective quality embodied in the movements going on within the circle, the passage of time reveals that this is not a scene of pure anarchy, and that there is no aggression in the image. Notwithstanding their wild movements, the bodies of the youngsters do not touch one another; it is obvious that they are following an implicit pattern of behavior, a clear code of participation. Towards the conclusion of the work, they are suddenly seen holding a woman's body or corpse. Like a victim or a goddess, the young woman is hoisted up into the air with surprising care, high above their heads; light shines down on her, creating a bright white halo around her belly. It seems as if, like in a ritual of purification, the image becomes clearer, the movements more refined, and a feeling of acceptance arises. "You feel free." In this manner, Piene's work brings together good and evil, the organized and the disturbed, into a single, whole experience.

Naama Tsabar
Born in Rehovot, Israel, 1982; lives and works in Tel Aviv and New York
Untitled, 2009

Naama Tsabar's work is concerned with invasion, transgression, deviation – overwhelming states characterized by the absence of a clearly defined border. The work is composed of dozens of perforated black rubber mats that are connected with cable ties, creating an unexpected mass whose powerful smell pervades the exhibition space. The mass unfolds from wall to wall, circumscribed by the space's physical boundaries – yet threatens to continue spreading towards the viewer, perhaps even beyond him.

Like a wave that is about to break, the edges of this material mass are held together, rolled up and drawn back – embodying a liminal state characterized by the tension between the visible dimension of material excess and its powerfully ordered, condensed organization. The liminal state to which the work refers is at once emotional, political and material – simultaneously expressing the need for spatial expansion and for constituting borders. The environment it shapes is thus characterized by a clearcut, internal and cyclical logic; it combines potentially absorptive, softening and protective qualities and a crude, industrial sensation.

To a certain extent, the introduction of these rubber mats into Tsabar's arena of action is akin to using a ready-made, since these objects are familiar to the artist in an everyday context, where they are used individually to prevent slipping and the breaking of glasses or bottles behind bar counters. With the transformation of one context into another, this object of consumption becomes a kind of earth art. Threatening rather than protective, the installation invades the museum space while simultaneously producing a border from within.
 
 
Grzegorz Klaman
Born in Nowy Targ, Poland, 1959; lives and works in Gdansk
Fear and Trembling, 2007; Blow Up #1, 2007

The title of Grzegorz Klaman's work, Fear and Trembling, is borrowed from the title of Danish philosopher S?ren Kierkegaard's well-known book. In his book – which was first published in 1843 under the pseudonym "John the Silent" – Kierkegaard sought to reach the root of the conflict between the systems of morality and faith. In doing so, he examined the "paradox of faith," a paradox that brings together obedience and deep understanding.

Klaman's work features three figures wearing large black capes, who are kneeling down at the foot of a wall and hitting their heads against it. They move slowly, as if suspended either in a state of meditative elation or in a state of humility and imploration; their faces are invisible, and only their legs and feet may be glimpsed. Their monotonous movement and the hermetic withdrawal implied by their pose allow for no exchange of gazes and words, and preclude any form of contact with the world. Any attempt to understand the nature of their action thus necessarily involves a transgression of their space and mental state. Both their postures and their movements allude to prayer, yet may also hint to self-inflicted injury or sacrifice. The intersection between these different fields of meaning directs the viewer back to the work's title, while expressing a critical stance towards the familiar paradigm that calls for self-inflicted or collective injury in the name of faith. Klaman's work touches upon the growing surge of religious fundamentalism in the contemporary world; upon a state in which faith, no matter what faith, does not only envelop but also obscures; does not only protect, but also detaches and separates.

The video work Blow Up #1 was filmed in constant motion, from a low point of view, in a site resembling a silent, empty university campus. Every so often, a figure – perhaps a corpse – is seen lying on the ground in a distorted pose, in a state of unconsciousness, death or sleep. Although it is obvious that something has occurred, one cannot pinpoint the nature of the crime. The strong resemblance between the work's visual appearance and the plethora of images we have become habituated to viewing on international news reports – poisonous gas attacks, mass murder or random shooting – produces a familiar sense of horror. Although the background of the work is pervaded by a strong intimation of a sexual crime, the camera's indifferent, and at times hurried, gaze makes it difficult to decipher the structure or goal of the action that has taken place.

The work's title has a double meaning that vacillates between photographic enlargement and an explosion, and which is related both to the general sense of disintegration communicated by the work and to its cinematic context. In Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blowup, a well-known fashion photographer discovers strange details in random photographs he took in the park. While blowing up the photographs in the lab, he discovers signs pertaining to a crime scene.

At first glance, it seems that Klaman's work, which was filmed in full daylight, conceals nothing. Upon closer observation, however, the organized and structured campus is revealed to be disturbed not only by the violent invasion that has taken place, but also by the very presence of the camera. Since the work's viewer cannot decipher the connection between the wandering gaze that is searching and lingering behind the camera and the gaze that initially lead to the depicted calamity, he is left to conclude that perhaps the evidence is actually hiding behind the camera.  Unable to break beyond the limits of the gaze offered by the work, all the viewer can do is slowly draw back and detach himself from the fallen figures, while observing the subtle connection woven between the movement of the camera and the invisible movement of the guitar strings on the soundtrack. This soundtrack calls to mind an additional cinematic association, since it was originally written for Wim Wenders' exceptional film Paris, Texas (1984) – a film that constitutes a total expression of searching and longing.

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History of Violence

The Haifa Museum of Art

English Text
Hebrew Text
Catalogue (pdf)