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Yael Bartana: Our Own National Demons
(a raport on new Yael’s work by Sebastian Cichocki, provided for Mousse magazine)

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As strange as it may sound, Yael Bartana’s new film is a political fairy tale for grown-ups, where the brave protagonists – Jewish settlers, embark on a bloodless conquest of Central and Eastern Europe. This historical fantasy, which has an ominously idyllic character, is an escapade across dangerous territories, marked with nationalism and militarism, burdened by the accompanying history of settlement, memory of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The film is not free of pathos. Bartan once again applies national clichés, stereotypes, however remaining an explorer of political propaganda notwithstanding.

I meet Yael, who has moved back to Tel Aviv after a few years spent in Amsterdam, in a flat not far from Karl Marx Allee, in the eastern part of Berlin. It is freezing cold, clouds of steel hang over the German capital – indeed an ideal scenography for reflecting on alternative versions of history, nostalgia, and political fiction. Yael says, “My works suggest that there are many ways of writing history. Somebody has to write history for it to exist at all; it has chapters, however, which have never been written. Perhaps my films indicates a different type of historical narrative which is inaccessible, which is not taught. I felt that in my lifetime I have been many times ideologically manipulated – a feeling I share with many people. Being an artist I can discuss this experience by means of my work. Perhaps it can help others understand that reality should not be accepted at face value, and that even the view of the past can change in the future”. Bartana’s works have for a long time remained ambiguous, quasi-anthropological records of political rituals practiced in Israel. With time, however, the radical political element has become ever more apparent with imitations of the language of propaganda (the film “The Declaration” from 2006 being the key point), and fantasies about the different “official” historical narratives and possibilities of their transgression. The artist declares, “I try to create a mirror, a huge mirror reflecting history.… With the help of my works I suggest the existence of pages, or even whole chapters which are missing from history books.”

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We are watching ”Operacja Mur i Wieża” [Operation Wall and Tower] , Bartana’s main production from this year, where Central and Eastern European trances (or rather demons) are accentuated just as strongly as in the gloomily sentimental picture entitled “Mary Koszmary” [Nightmares] from 2007. Bartana continues the “Polish” motif, which she skillfully translates into a universal language of political propaganda – a set of gestures, rhetoric, and symbols not assigned to any specific time or ideology. “This is a very universal story; as in previous works, I have treated Israel as a sort of a social laboratory, always looking from the outside. These are mechanisms and situations which can be observed anywhere in the world. My recent works are not just stories about two nations – Poles and Jews. This is a universal presentation of the impossibility of living together.”
In a film from two years ago, “Mary Koszmary” [Nightmares], a young leftist activist, played here by Sławomir Sierakowski (leader of a circle gathered around “Krytyka Polityczna” magazine), delivered a speech at the abandoned National Stadium in Warsaw, addressing three millions of Jews and encouraging them to come back to Poland. “We look at our similar faces today with no excitement. Treading the streets of big cities we seek out foreigners, we listen in to their speech. Yes, today we know that we cannot live alone. We need the other, and there is no other closer to us than you are! Come!”, Sierakowski screamed at the empty stands of the stadium. Bartan referred in this film to the esthetics of a propaganda film, in particular relating to Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” from 1934, where the stadium is too an arena of political manipulation. Yael talks about the reactions to her work, “For many Jews it was painful to see the film and imagine a possible return to the place of slaughter, as it is called in Israel. I wanted for my film to become a topic of discussion. For some it was a form of reversed anti-Semitism.”
The fantasy about the “Jewish renaissance” presented in “Mary Koszmary” comes true in Bartana’s most recent work. The new film was made in the summer of this year, in the Warsaw district of Muranów, where a kibbutz was erected in the scale of 1:1 in the architectural style of the 1930’s. The film features extras from Israel and Poles with a “Semitic look”, as well as the leftist intellectual, Sławomir Sierakowski, and Wilhelm Sansal – one of the most renowned Polish artists who plays here the role of the “national painter”, painting the logo of a fictitious Jewish Renaissance Movement on the wall of a wooden barrack.
The kibbutz constructed in the center of Warsaw is an utterly “exotic” structure, despite the perverse reference to the history of the place which was part of the Warsaw Ghetto. “I was interested in what would happen to an architecture, which is typical for Palestine, if it was moved to Poland – what kind of a collective memory would it evoke? What people see is the architecture of concentration camps. Such associations are dangerous for the perception of my work. I am aware, however, that the theatricality of the situation is very explicit.” By building a kibbutz in the center of Warsaw, Bartan tests the reactions to the unexpected return of the “long unseen neighbour”. She also recalls the forgotten motif of the alternative locations for the state of Israel considered once by Syonists, such as Uganda in Africa. “I wanted to be provocative and concentrated, and send a simple message. It stemmed from my being confused about the relationship between my own art and politics. I am critical of the state of Israel, but at the same time there is this feeling of pain and disappointment resulting from unkept promises. I did not want to take advantage of that what is in between, of the ambivalence.”

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According to the hypothetical scenario proposed in “Opearcja Mur i Wieża”, the Jewish arrivals return to Poland and apply the procedures valid in the 1930’s. Bartana refers to the Homa U’Migdal (wall and tower) method applied by Jewish settlers during the Arab revolt from 1936 – 1939 during the British Mandate in Palestine. Despite the ban on annexing new territories, over fifty new settlements were built then. They were usually constructed overnight because the Ottoman law, in force at that time, prohibited the demolition of finished buildings. The kibuttzes hastily built were composed solely of the two basic elements – the wall and the tower. Only later were they filled with residential buildings and remaining infrastructure.
Bratana recalls the Syonist dream, invoking the heroic images of the strong and beautiful men and women, who despite the most unfavourable conditions keep on building houses, cultivating land, studying, collectively brining up children, sharing assets, and at the same time courageously fighting off enemy attacks. This is the world to be resurrected in the 21st c., in an entirely different political and geographical configuration. “I quote the past, the time of Socialist utopia, time of youthfulness and optimism – when there was a project of constructing a new world”. At the same time Yael remains distanced and restrains the enthusiasm of such fantasies, “I am not so naïve as to think that any of the two nations would be ready for such coexistence, that Poles would be capable to receiving three million Jews, and that Jews would be happy to move to Poland”. Furthermore, Bartana keeps stressing the fact that the film should be analysed in a broader, global context – as a story of the readiness to accept the stranger and of assimilation in the unstable world of geographical and political shifts. This art seems to be a form of collective psychotherapy, where national demons are awaken and dragged out into daylight. Yael is already contemplating a third production, which would conclude the issues dealt with in “Mary koszmary” and “Operacja mur i wieza”, “For a long time I have been thinking about creating a trilogy which would have the third part missing. I wanted to leave this project as open as possible, leaving room for discussion and natural development. With time, however, I began thinking about another film, perhaps a more aggressive and radical one. I keep thinking about the most dismal, final solutions.”

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“Operacja Mur i Wieża” [Operation Wall And Tower] will be presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw on 5 December 2009, and at the KunstWerke in Berlin in February 2010.

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Wąwóz – uwodzicielska fantazja Joanny Rajkowskiej na temat pasażu znajdującego się pomiędzy tymczasową siedzibą Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie i pawilonem Emilia. Jeśli wdrożylibyśmy ten projekt do realizacji byłby on prawdopodobnie najdroższą, ale i prawdopodobnie najbardziej enigmatyczną pracą polskiego artysty ostatniej dekady. Wąwóz zaprezentowany jako rendering i architektoniczne rysunki, jest częścią programu Warszawa w budowie.

Porządki w komputerze podczas przymusowego pobytu w domu. Kilka zdjęć z niedawnej wrześniowej podróży do Turcji… Bardzo udane biennale przygotowane przez chorwacki kolektyw WHW, nieustanne wędrówki, Wyspy Książęce, azjatyckie zakamarki, psy, koty, duchy, silne emocje i chleb ramadanowy…

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Poniżej list-kolaż, który dostałem wczoraj od Antje Majewski, jest on kompilacją różnych tekstów m.in. opowiadania L.A.S.T. L.E.A.K. , który napisałem dla Antje dwa lata temu. Tekst, jako słuchowisko, zaprezentowany zostanie niebawem w Temporäre Kunsthalle. U góry obraz Antje, ze strażnikiem „przedmiotów, które mają znaczenie”.

News from the World of Gimel

Picture yourself on a wide plane full of all things that are the case. Among other things, you will find a Buddha’s hand citron serving as a lucky charm; horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; a boat on a river; instruments for grinding chocolate; a flower vase with a bunch of poppies; a meteorite from the Chinese desert; a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; an hourglass filled with Peruvian sand; a beautiful woman wearing a headscarf; a small box with a lid with the inscription “Duncan, A. H., Mr., The Society for Psychic Research, 1939”; convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; a figure clad in cloth from under which only the face and one hand are visible, both of an uncanny bluish skin color; a clay hand serving as a teapot, green tea spilling from its fingertip; a hedgeapple; a wedge of chastity; me; a shell from the sea between Senegal and the Capverde Islands; not to mention soldiers with only one leg left, Coke bottles, neutered cats and all the rest.

Now all of this is laying out there in the sun. Imagine that it is flat (this is just a trick to make you understand). We are now in an area called “Flatlands”. People and things can shift, but only if they move around each other. They can’t reach out or step over each other. Now imagine a three-dimensional object traversing that plane. It would touch, say, the flamingo area with one leg, the penguin area with the other. None of them could ever imagine that these two legs belong to a mighty body walking high above them. It might, for example, be a black swan the size of Scotland.

These legs could be described as bullet holes. The flat plane could be described as the world of Aleph. It’s what we see with one eye only. If you add several more eyes, make the pilgrimage to Real de Catorce or eat a Wub on your way back from Mars, you might be able to see the Betha world.

BUT- you’ll never be able to see the Gimel world. There not only all things that are thinkable exist, in however many dimensions, but also all the stuff that is impossible, hardly possible or highly possible. Each event that takes place combines space and time in an infinite
number of possible combinations. It might be a solace to know that in the World of Gimel, the person you are in love with loves you back. But there is also one version in which this person is a fat pig that offers to be eaten. By the way – the word “pig” has a infinite number of meanings and is pronounced in an infinite number of different ways. If you catch the shadow of the World of Gimel you know that you will never die, but unfortunately this doesn’t really help in our World of Aleph.

Thank you, my very bright male friends: Jorge Luis Borges, Adam Budak, Sebastian Cichocki, Philip K. Dick, Marcel Duchamp, Christoph Keller, Momus, Jim Skuldt, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michal Woliński.

Minęło sporo czasu od ostatniego wpisu, w najbliższych dniach postaram się uzupełnić bloga o kilka odkryć z niedawnych podróży.
Tymczasem zapraszam też na bloga „Warszawa w budowie”, projektu który pochłaniał mnie bez reszty przez cały wrzesień: http://warszawawbudowie.blox.pl/html .
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A dziś zachęcam do odwiedzenia londyńskiej Curve Gallery w Barbicanie, gdzie trwa instalacja nowej pracy Roberta Kuśmirowskiego:

Robert Kuśmirowski
Artist Talk
Wed 7 Oct 6.45pm
Fountain Room

Join Robert Kusmirowski in discussion about his work and perspective on the Polish and European art scenes. With Sebastian Cichocki, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and David Crowley, Royal College of Art.

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Kilka zdjęć z architektoniczno-land-artowych poszukiwań na Ciudad Universitaria, zbudowanym na wulkanicznej lawie. Sam uniwersytet cieszy się bardzo dużą autonomią, to prawdziwe miasto w mieście, ostoja lewicującej inteligencji. Uniwersytet zajmuje gigantyczny obszar po którym można poruszać się specjalnymi autobusami wysiadając co jakiś czas i tropiąc kolejne niezwykłe budynku, zaprojektowane pod wodzą architektów Mario Paniego i Enrique del Morela. Są też oczywiście wszędobylskie zaangażowane murale, wybitnych ściennych artystów meksykańskich: Diego Rivery, Davida Alfaro Siqueirosa i innych.
Na dwóch zdjęciach na dole widać fragmenty Espacio Escultorico, dzieła land-artowego z 1979 roku, autorstwa grupy artystów współpracujących z Mathiasem Goeritzem. Z betonowych, stromych bloków podziwiać można zastygłą lawę, a także zażywać przyjemności małych wspinaczek wewnątrz wulkanicznej misy.

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Z wizytą w jednej z trzech pracowni Pedro Reyesa. W tej przy ulicy o wdzięcznej nazwie Amsterdam, Pedro pracuje nad kukiełkowym sitcomem zatytułowanym Baby Marx , którego pierwszą część zaprezentowano na triennale w Jokohamie. „Somewhere, sometime in the XXIst century a wise man said history had ended and ideology was to be no more. Lost forgotten theories of fancy social utopias now rest in oblivion…”.

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Is modernity our antiquity? w wersji meksykańskiej, czyli wieżowiec Torre Latinoamericana, zaprojektowany przez Augusto H. Alvareza z 1956 roku, do połowy lat 80. najwyższy budynek w Ameryce Łacińskiej. Budynek, który szczęśliwie przetrwał trzęsienia ziemi z 1956 i 1985 roku.