Video is the single greatest catalyst for the development of contemporary Israeli art, and is responsible for putting Israel on the map of the international art world, says Chen Tamir, the organizing curator of a historical survey of Israeli video art opening in Toronto in September.
Video enabled cultural exchange “because it has this immediate way of drawing you into another culture, another situation. And I think there was a lot of curiosity about the political situation in Israel, as it became more mediatized and televised, starting with the first intifadah,” Tamir said via Skype, from Tel Aviv.
Staring Back at the Sun: Video Art from Israel, 1970-2012, which opens at the Koffler Gallery on Sept. 14 and runs until Nov. 26, sheds light on the recent history of Israel. The exhibit is divided into four historical and thematic sections and features 35 works by 38 artists.
The evolution of Israeli video art is connected to the transformation of the Israeli broadcast media in the late 1980s and ’90s, Tamir said. Israel had a single, state-run, black-and-white television station until the late ’80s, when international cable television stations like CNN began to multiply. Israel’s first commercial TV station, Channel 2, started broadcasting in 1993.
“All of this coincided with the first intifadah and the Gulf War, both of which were events that Israelis were consuming visually through television, and a lot of prominent artists who we identify today as creating video art came of age at this time,” she said. “We saw this transformation happening quickly and this shift in visual culture made them very good at deconstructing the language of video.”
Some of the exhibit’s early videos, made from 1970 to 1980, are informed by the 1967 Six Day War, the 1974 Yom Kippur War and the 1977 election, which gave the right-wing Likud party a plurality in the Knesset for the first time.
These early videos include Pharavizia, which follows artist Dov Or Ner from a kibbutz to an art gallery in Tel Aviv, where he feeds and milks a cow while a TV set next to him broadcasts regular programming. The kibbutz symbolizes the ideal of Zionist socialism, which is juxtaposed with television, a symbol of individualism and capitalism, Tamir said.
Tamir said that Israeli art turned away from video in the ’80s, but a few seminal works were created from 1980 to 1997, the years covered by the exhibit’s second section. One of them is Hila Lula Lin’s No More Tears, a powerful feminist work in which the artist slowly rolls an egg yolk back and forth on her arms and through her mouth and back out on her arms again without breaking it, Tamir said.
The third part of the exhibit traces the years 1997 to 2005, when the artists who came of age during the ’80s established video as the dominant medium in Israeli art. Included in this section is Yael Bartana’s Kings of the Hill, which shows men in large trucks driving over sand dunes for sport. It’s about masculinity and conquest, Tamir said.
The final section of the exhibit is devoted to videos made from 2005 to 2012 and focuses on the current political and social realities in Israel. This section includes Sigalit Landau’s Deadsee, which juxtaposes the Dead Sea with a human body among 500 watermelons. It’s a comment on the sustainability of the sea, which has been damaged by climate change and commercial exploitation.
Nir Evron’s A Free Moment, also in the exhibit’s fourth section, features an unfinished castle, which belongs to the king of Jordan, on a mountain overlooking Jerusalem. The continuous, four-minute black-and-white shot was created by mounting a 35mm film camera onto a programmable motion-control head.
The video “stands for what could have been, how people’s lives are shaped by history,” Tamir said. She added that the video is “kind of biblical, although it’s not on the mountain that Moses looked at the Promised Land from. Rather, it overlooks Ramallah and Jerusalem. So this kind of site as a vantage from which to survey the landscape is pretty loaded.”
The exhibit will be projected on the walls of four different rooms at the Koffler Gallery and seating will be provided. Part two is 30 minutes long and the other sections are each about an hour long. A schedule with start times will be posted in the gallery for visitors who want to view the exhibit chronologically.
For more information about Staring Back at the Sun: Video Art from Israel, 1970-2012, visit kofflerarts.org.