Artists: Yael Brandt (Israel), “Breaking the Silence” ( with Miki Kratsman and Avi Mograbi), Lana Čmajčanin (bosnia-Hezogovia), Juan Manuel Echavarria (Columbia), Julia Meltzer and David Thorne (USA) (with Rami Farah), Avi Mograbi (Israel), Christoph Weber (Austria), Rona Yefman (Israel) and Mich’ael Zupraner (Israel).
Curator: Maayan Sheleff
In the artistic discourse, a long exposure is used to describe a photograph taken with slow shutter speed. During the long exposure to light, the details are gradually revealed and deciphered. In psychological jargon, “prolonged exposure” is a therapy technique developed recently by Dr Edba Foa, which has gained worldwide popularity in treatment of post-trauma patients. As part of the “prolonged exposure” therapy, the patient is exposed to elements tied in his memory with the traumatic event.
Most of the works in “Prolonged Exposure,” are video pieces created as a result of long-term documentation. The creators of these projects introduce stories which touch upon the notion of trauma, and depict a reality of power struggles, exploitation and manipulation, violence and chaos. Through this long photographic process, they ask their protagonists to reveal their individual traumatic stories. The testimonies bring to light the hidden trauma, thus echoing the “prolonged exposure” therapy technique.
The stories originate in different parts of the world—from Israel to the west bank, Syria, Bosnia, Colombia and Austria. Although they deal with biographical experiences, the works don’t present direct testimonies, but touch upon the crisis of testimony, and its inability to reflect an all-encompassing historical truth. The performativity of the testimonies offered by the artists of “Prolonged Exposure” represents an abandonment of the need to represent the real in a conventional manner , and an attempt to construct a new reality.
The artists in “Prolonged Exposure”—like many of their peers in film and video-art—have ceased to present an uncritical vision of the real through the documentary. They have instead chosen to blur the boundaries between documenter and documented, and to undermine the author’s authority by leaving their position behind the camera, entering the photographic frame, and by handing the camera to the subjects themselves—either physically or by foregoing control over the mode of documentation and the process.
The externalization and the undermining of the customary power relations between documenter and documented, with regard for the resulting internal contradictions and complexities, is a call to alter the existing balance of powers between strong and weak, heard and silenced. The shift proposed by the artists of “Prolonged Exposure” challenges the assumptions regarding what truth is, and who is authorized to be the bearer and speaker of that truth. The exhibition calls upon the viewer to reconsider her passive position in the power relations of representation, and to take a more active position in their realignment.
Breaking the Silence
Video installation with 15 screens
The project initiated by “Breaking the Silence” (Shovrim Shtika) organization, with artists Avi Mograbi and Miki Kratsman, present testimonies of former IDF soldiers who talk about daily life during their service in the Occupied Territories. These testimonies are the filmed version of the anonymous written testimonies which the organization has been gathering for the past six years. The video project was initiated by Noam Chayut, one of the former soldiers who gave testimony for the organization. Chayut approached other witnesses, asked them to expose their identity for the first time, interviewed and filmed them. Mograbi and Kratsman edited the testimonies and planned the installation in the exhibition space.
The former soldiers recount the daily experiences of the Occupation through events which they consider, in retrospect, to be immoral, and question their legality. The testimonies are not intended to represent a personal tragedy or trauma, but to expose the mundane banality of the Occupation, perceived in Israeli society almost as normative, and yet something which is not discussed. The aforementioned daily friction with absurd situations of suffering, insensitivity, and inhumanity, gives rise to growing emotional numbness.
The former soldiers strive to break the silence engulfing this reality, the policy of denial which presents it as unchangeable. The shattering of the male-military taboo of “don’t ask, don’t tell” precisely from a situation in which the witnesses are the strong party in the balance of powers, is an extremely difficult act in a society that consecrates the army as a superior, moral and just authority, and deems testimony as informing or betrayal. The speakers chose to leave the safe spot of heroic men, and put themselves in a vulnerable position, against an entire system which may suddenly doubt them vigorously. This explicit vulnerability calls for a change of the status quo between the silenced and the heard in a broader sense.
Snow Tapes, 2011
Two channel screening
In the Snow Tapes, artist Michael Zupraner functions as a double witness whose presence is felt, yet invisible. The work, presented on two screens, features two points of view: one through the eyes of the Palestinian el-Hadad family documenting a violent encounter with a group of neighboring Jewish settlers at Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood. The other, seen through the artist’s lens, documents the family viewing the materials they filmed in their living room, in the artist’s company.
In 1997 Israel withdrew from most of the territories in the city of Hebron and handed them over to the Palestinian Authority, yet kept its domination over the city center—an area called H2. Upon the outbreak of the second Intifada, in order to protect the lives of some 600 Jewish settlers in Hebron, the IDF imposed strict restrictions on the Arab inhabitants of H2: prohibition of movement in the main streets, closing down of the market as well as hundreds of additional stores, exposure of the residents to in-city barriers, frequent house searches, and curfew days. This policy, alongside growing violence on the part of the Jewish residents, has led to mass immigration of Palestinians out of H2. What had once been a bustling lively commercial center, has now transformed into a ghost town, and the Palestinian families still living there are forced to remain shut in their homes.
Against the backdrop of this reality, Zupraner chose to “settle” in Hebron, in a deserted Palestinian house adjacent to the Tel Rumeida Jewish settlement. For the past two years he has lived in the building, and together with Issa Amro transformed the place into a studio and a communal meeting place centered on the project HEB2 and the accompanying website—HEB2.tv. Over the past four years B’tselem organization has distributed video cameras to some thirty Palestinian families in the area, through a joint initiative with Zupraner and Amro, as a means to document human rights violations in the city. HEB2 is aided by this infrastructure, working with the camera holders in a different direction, of creative, expressive and personal documentary photography. As part of the project, participants learn how to shoot and edit short films addressing their everyday life, their immediate environment, and their relationship with their Jewish neighbors. Zupraner gathered many materials shot by the families with the cameras given them, as well as other materials in which he himself documented the project from the “outside”.
Snow Tapes presents “evidence” of a violent conflict that abruptly broke out between a group of settlers and the el-Hadad family as the latter was making a snow man on a bright winter day. The event is embodied on screen through two simultaneous gazes: The viewer of the work observes the artist observing the family observing itself. While watching, the family expresses artistic criticism of the cinematographic quality which fails to properly reflect the occurrences. The response seemingly reflects the voice of the artist himself and his blindness, in a reflexive gaze at his doomed attempt to represent the pain of others for all his good intentions: While the family father takes upon himself the authoritative role of the artist and art critic, Zupraner is still the party belonging to the “strong,” being from the occupying nation, and being the creator of the work. His gaze at the shifting of the camera to the hands of the Palestinians is twofold: on the one hand, it is an honest attempt to give them the power of documentation which may, if needed, serve as testimony in a court of law. On the other hand, he realizes that the camera is not really a weapon which changes the power relations. The duplication of documentation generates a distance from the documentary gaze, and implies that there will always be multiple points of view, which cannot reflect an absolute truth.
Mich’ael Zupraner was born in Beer Sheva in 1981, lives and works in Israel and Boston*
Video, 82 min
In Z32 Avi Mograbi uses one of the testimonies he encountered in the course of his work with “Breaking the Silence”, transforming it into something different altogether. His unique, provocative work is both a testimony and a reflexive gaze at the testimony’s inability and its intricacy in light of the relationship between documenter and documented. The soldier testifies to an event during which he shot at innocent people following an illegal order. Mograbi inserts himself into the film, deliberating on camera as to the morality of the act of documentation, which enables the witness to clear his conscience, while exploiting the pain of others. He employs unusual cinematic means foreign to the documentary medium: from animation that hides the face of the documented subject—a technical tool which protects him from exposure, while metaphorizing the medium’s manipulative quality—to musical sections in which the artist sings his deliberations—in-between a Greek chorus and a Brechtian opera.
*Avi Mograbi was born in 1956, lives and works in Israel
Juan Manuel Echavarria
Mouths of Ash, 2003-2004
Video, 18.15 min
In the project Mouths of Ash the artist documented the survivors of massacres committed by guerrilla groups and militias involved in drug dealing, in sequestered villages in Colombia, over a period of two years. Echavarría traveled to these villages and filmed survivors and refugees of these slaughters who put their experiences of the traumatic event into music. The songs, different variations on a popular Colombian tune, offer a poetic description of moments etched in their memory alongside lamentations calling upon the president or upon God to hear their voices. They are sung by the writers, whose faces are shot in close-up.
The singing mediates the story more subjectively than direct testimony. By connecting with the emotional aspect, the pain and grief are conveyed to the viewer more vividly. The songs are, however, also a ritual celebration of survival and creation, presenting people who have created art under the toughest conditions. Most of the singers are Afro-Colombians, among the poorest people in Colombia, whom the harsh events forced to leave everything behind and move to shanty towns, abandoned by the government and ignored by the majority of the country’s population.
Echavarría tries to give voice to those usually not heard or seen in the manner most faithful to their choice. The work thus changes the traditional perception of testimony, as a work within a work, and at the same time reverts to the classical photographic perception of direct portraiture. The artist emphasizes and refines the place of the documentary portrait as a vehicle with which to convey the idiosyncratic humanity of the documented person, but also as a reflection of a social situation and as a call for change.
*Juan Manuel Echavarria was born in Medellín, Colombia, 1947. Lives and works in Bogotá, Colombia.
Julia Meltzer and David Thorne
with Rami Farah
Not a matter of if but when: brief records of a time in which expectations were repeatedly raised and lowered and people grew exhausted from never knowing if the moment was at hand or still to come, 2006
Video, 32 min
Julia Meltzer and David Thorne’s Not a matter of it but when is a collaboration of another type embodied in the construction of the work’s text. In 2005 Meltzer and Thorne went to Syria as part of The Speculative Archive project in which they have been engaged for approximately a decade. During that period the political climate in Syria was unstable following the murder in Beirut of Rafiq al-Hariri, Lebanon’s ex-Prime Minister, an event that forced the Syrian army to retreat from Lebanon for the first time in three decades, making Syria a key target of criticism in Bush’s Axis of Evil doctrine. Meltzer and Thorne chose to collaborate with Rami Farah, a Syrian actor and director, a person who resembles them in terms of cultural background, age, and profession, yet differs in his being a part of what is perceived by Bush and many Americans as an intimidating other, an enemy. Meltzer and Thorne transmitted words, expressions, and questions to Farah, who, in turn, improvised and transformed them into a monologue which he performed. The monologue, which sounds at times like a testimony and at times like a folk tale, is filmed by the artists in a restrained direct manner, while Farah renders it expressive through his facial expressions and hand gestures. It is a virtuoso solo performance by a figure living in a state of chaos, anxiety, uncertainty, and a fundamentalist political reality. Farah speaks directly to the viewer who is sometimes defined as an enemy, and sometimes as a beloved friend, going through an entire range of feelings, eliciting identification, guilt, affection and horror all at once. The work is being presented in Israel for the first time, and in this context, the mirror turned at the viewer is reinforced, acquiring additional dimensions.
* Meltzer was born in 1968, Hollywood, Thorne was born in 1960, Boston. They live and work in Los Angeles.
Martha Bouk, 2002-2011
Video installation, mixed media
The performativity and blurring of boundaries between documenter and documented are also conspicuous in Rona Yefman’s work, which documents a 7 years collaboration between the artist and a female protagonist named Merav—an 80-year old Holocaust survivor who has developed a female persona for himself in body and soul. With an expressionless mask, blonde wig, and sexy outfit, Merav challenges the normative perception of masculinity and aging, as well as the myth of the greatest Jewish trauma.
The documentation accompanies the creation of a fashion “book” for the figure, a project in which Merav is responsible for the styling. The masquerade is a game shared by both: the artist and the protagonist, yet tension arises when Merav also tries to take control of the filming and directing process, whereas the artist tries to convince her to speak about her memories and to expose her testimony, at times against her will. The work, whose style corresponds with photographs in fashion magazines and with cinéma vérité, undermines the gender myth of power relations between model and photographer. Merav’s exaggerated costume and the way in which she “performs” for the camera transform her from a passive documented object into an active participant in the construction of reality and the structuring of her own identity.
*Rona Yefman was born in Israel in 1972, lives and works in Israel and NY
Female President, 2005
Video Performance, 3.17 min
Play and a reversal of gender relations are also discernible in Lana Cmajcanin’s, Female President. The young Bosnian artist reads the testimony of a woman who was raped during the war in Bosnia aloud from a podium. The painful, sad text of a victim, the testimony is read in an assertive, instigative, demagogic style usually reserved to politicians who try to excite their audience. Reading out the victim’s testimony, a text which is usually read in discretion or not heard at all for fear of exposure, reinforces and provides a voice for those who remain unheard, but also exposes the way in which politicians exploit the pain of others, as well as the gender role division prevalent among victims and victimizers. In speaking in the voice of the witness but in the style of a politician, the artist takes upon herself both roles: of ruler and ruled, alluding to the intricacy of political art which employs the life materials of real people.
*Lana Čmajčanin was born in Sarajevo in 1983, lives and works in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Video, 40 min
Similarly, Yael Brandt’s work, Occupied, presents a stratified picture of power relations between the artist and the protagonist of the work, who, like Cmajcanin’s witness, represents the silenced voice of one who is regarded as a victim. For a long time, the artist documented prostitutes in the area of Tel Aviv’s New Central Bus Station in a process which, per her own testimony, became a personal obsession; she felt that her gaze ceased to be the external gaze of a documenter on his documented subjects. At the conclusion of the process the artist decided not to present the many portraits she photographed, but instead to ask one of the prostitutes to hug her on camera for a fee. The embrace, which took place in a rented room in south Tel Aviv, continued forty minutes. It was perpetuated in a single shot and is presented without editorial intervention. The embrace is an act of identification and compassion, a metaphor for the documenter’s wish—the wish of any documenter—to cease documenting and lend a hand instead. The work, however, explicitly acknowledges the inability to do that because of the exploitative and non-egalitarian power relations between the two women. The hug spawns a near-impossible, touching and exposed moment of contact, which demands a different type of observation from the viewer.
*Yael Brandt was born in 1982 in Jerusalem, lives and works in Israel.
Seven doors installation, mixed media
Christoph Weber’s work is a sculptural-architectural installation which echoes with a cinematic language. The viewer must enter the exhibition space using a key, and finds himself in a narrow corridor with identical doors, which remain shut. Each of the doors has a hole which seems to have been created by an ax, likewise identical to all others. The corridor is a deliberately cliché image of the subconscious seen in many movies. Moreover, the split wood appears like a moment in the midst of a violent act, frozen in time, much like a photographic image. The work corresponds with the other works in the exhibition via the repetition and duplication reverberating in all of them as a post-traumatic repetition compulsion. The meticulous identity between the duplicated doors and the holes alludes to the links between traumas as an ongoing historical condition. The viewer, forced to enter the work and “activate” it with his presence in order to reach the other works, makes a conscious decision to enter into the collective subconscious of the exhibition as a rite of passage from the sterility of the art object to a space in which humanity is intensely present.
*Christoph Weber was born in Vienna in 1974, lives and works in Vienna, Austria.