A woman stands naked on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, spinning a hula hoop. The hoop, however, is made of barbed wire that bruises her chest. As the woman rotates her body to keep the hoop up, we grimace at how painful it must be for her to avoid the hoop’s jagged edges.
To visual artist Sigalit Landau, who stripped down to record herself for this video performance called Barbed Hula, the space within the hoop is one of freedom as well as restriction. Landau says her performance is symbolic of learning to live within the borders of a country like Israel.
“My videos are very much mirroring things in me,” Landau said in an email from her home in Tel Aviv. “I only [perform] if there is suffering involved… no one should suffer for my art but me.”
Landau is one of Israel’s most internationally renowned artists. Her video works are the focus of her first solo exhibition in Canada, Moving to Stand Still, which runs at the Koffler Gallery in Toronto from Feb. 6 to April 6.
Moving to Stand Still will feature six of Landau’s most essential video artworks. The exhibit’s title speaks to the constant movement of both the Jewish People throughout history and the artist at its centre. Landau was born in Jerusalem in 1969, but also spent her childhood in Philadelphia, London and parts of Quebec.
Landau began making short films to educate soldiers, when she served in the Israeli army. Although she said she prefers making installations and sculptures, film creates a whole new space of possibilities, especially when it focuses on water and the body.
“Video… is contemporary but has its roots in storytelling, painting, dreams,” she said. “Some materials are not possible to inhabit the gallery space.”
Her videos look at many current topics in Israel, such as war, agricultural exploitation and Jewish-Arab relations. One focus of her work is the history of the Jewish People in Israel and their shifting identity.
“As a people that have a history of being in exile, being thrown out and displaced… [Israeli Jews] haven’t really learned to live with borders or with this very defined idea of a homeland,” says Mona Filip, curator of the Koffler Gallery.
One of the videos from the exhibit that looks at borders is titled Azkelon. The name is a combination of Gaza and Ashkelon, a coastal city just north of the Gaza Strip.
In the video, three teens are on a beach, playing a game where they throw a knife into the ground and create a literal line in the sand, dividing their space from the other players’ territory. It is a clear metaphor for Israel’s continually shifting borders.
In another of her videos, DeadSee, Landau appears nude again, lying atop a spiral raft of 500 watermelons floating on the Dead Sea. DeadSee is one of Landau’s many videos full of contrasts, Filip says.
“The [Dead Sea] is the heart of the desert,” she says. “At the same time, it’s the site of all this agricultural exploitation that is further endangering that place.”
The irony that a sweet fruit like a watermelon can still thrive in such a salty environment is an apt metaphor for life persevering in the harshest of circumstances – a reality clear to many Israelis.
“[Israeli] society, creative as it is, diverse as it may seem, is living from one catastrophe to the next, despite the fact that for 65 years, the state exists,” Landau said. “My works show in a normal way how abnormal things are getting.”
Another of Landau’s striking works, Salted Lake, is a tribute to her parents, who survived the Holocaust. The video focuses on boots encased in Dead Sea salt crystals, sitting on top of a frozen lake in Gdansk, Poland. Slowly, the shoes melt through the ice, a symbol for the disappearance of Jewish life in Europe.
Moving to Stand Still is the Koffler Gallery’s second exhibition at Artscape Youngplace, their new home in downtown Toronto that’s quickly becoming a part of the local arts circuit.
Toronto marks Landau’s only North American stop on a worldwide tour that includes openings in Rome, Moscow and Johannesburg.