Yael Bartana’s solo exhibition at PS1 Contemporary Art Center features five video installations that span the last six years. Bartana, an Israeli artist who is now based in both Tel Aviv and Amsterdam, focuses her work on the place that she grew up, exploring social rituals and activities in Israel in stark relation to the constant presence of the State, war, and insecurity. With a roving and afflicted eye of an anthropologist, Bartana uses her camera to create poetic investigations into the militarization of everyday life, and notions of displacement, protest, and remembrance.
Bartana’s videos are almost documentary in their impulse, though most, if not all, are loosely staged performances, but her subtle manipulations of sound and image reflect a doubling back of experience – like disturbing flashes of memory or uncanny embodied dreams. In her two-channel installation, Wild Seeds (2005), young Israeli pacifists play out a game they created called, “The Evacuation of Gilad’s Colony,” which evolved from the forced withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Occupied Territories, and the real, violent confrontation that occurred between soldiers and settlers at Gilad’s Farms in 2002. In the game, the young people are divided into two teams, the authorities / soldiers, and the settlers / citizens. Filmed on a beautiful mountaintop in Israel, the game quickly turns into a chaotic mess of bodies, as play turns into real violence and back into play. The video’s sound is mixed with silence so that sometimes we hear them screaming and laughing, and other times we do not, while a second channel projects a translation of the soundtrack, words that feel awful and violent because of its displacement from image.
In Trembling Time (2001), we witness an unfolding of time as cars on a busy highway bridge at night come to a complete stop. Only a few minutes of actual video footage are slowed down, and shots of moving cars are superimposed on top of one another as people, ghosted in their half-transparency, get out of their cars and disappear again. The ritual of stopping for a moment of silence is an annual national commemoration of all Israeli soldiers who have died since 1948. In Bartana’s film, this nationalistic gesture becomes haunted – a painful stretch of time that reveals its artifice and its ambivalence.
Bartana’s work suggests how social rituals perpetuate and promote a kind of national cohesion, while pointing out the tension between collective and individual identity. She is a kind of participant / observer, insider / outsider, an uncomfortable place that allows her both the ability to see and not see, to make palpable the strangeness of everyday practices in a politically tense world.
Images: Yael Bartana, Wild Seeds (2005), 6 min 40 sec, mini DV & DVD, PAL, color, sound, two channel video and sound installation; Kings of the Hill (2003), 7 min 30 sec, mini DV & DVD, PAL, color, sound, Trembling Time, 2001, DVD, 6:20 mins. Courtesy P.S. 1.