Dana Levy

Dana Levy talks about World Order

Dana Levy, The Wake, 2011, video, color, sound, 5 minutes 24 seconds.

New York–based Israeli artist Dana Levy is known for her poetic video and photographic works, which often investigate boundaries between the natural and man-made. Her first artist’s book, World Order, was published this month by the Center for Contemporary Arts Tel Aviv and Braverman Gallery in affiliation with Sternthal Books. Levy’s solo exhibition at Galerie Ron Mandos in Amsterdam is on view until November 24.

FOR THIS BOOK, I wanted to focus on nature and history. I’m very interested in how a story can give meaning to the most mundane objects. The monograph begins with an image of a path in woods that leads to the caves featured in my new video Refuge. I read a short article a few years ago in The Guardian about these caves in Caen, France, which is about an hour away from Le Havre, where I participated in a residency program last year. Thousands of people hid in them during the summer of 1944, protecting themselves from the bombing of the Allies. I was intrigued, so I contacted Laurent Dujardin, the historian mentioned in the article, and we went there to film. I ended up making a dual-channel video that documents the remains in the caves—everyday items such as a comb, a mirror, and a tin cigarette box. The work focuses on the few selected objects that the refugees brought with them—so here a shoe is no longer just a shoe; it becomes a symbol for man’s struggle to survive in the midst of war.

As you flip through the book you encounter my latest video work, Dead World Order, which was filmed at Maison de l’Armateur, one of the few houses in Le Havre that remained intact after the city was completely destroyed in the bombings of 1944. The house is filled with artifacts collected at the time: rare shells, a gun collection, old musical instruments, and taxidermy. In the film, the museum’s curator Elisabeth Leprêtre walks through the space and organizes these artifacts; she too appears to be trapped in time. I’ve become fascinated with objects, perhaps because as a filmmaker I don’t make “objects” per se as painters and sculptors do. I’ve always been drawn to secretive places that I’m not supposed to be in. I’m really an explorer at heart. The book’s designers, Koby Barhad and Noa Schwartz, understood that aspect of my work and suggested to create a picture book with the texts as a separate insert. In the end, the texts are inside the book but separate from the images. I like the challenge of telling a dramatic story without a dialogue, and in a way that’s what happens in the book. I wanted the images to provoke curiosity and emotion without explaining too much.

Dana Levy, Dead World Order, 2012 (excerpt)

As an Israeli, you carry a past: biblical stories, the Holocaust, and wars. There is always a dualism between the past and the present. I also find that there usually is a dualism in my work: something whole, something broken; something wild, something tamed; nature and man; life and death. For The Wake, which I made in 2011, I searched for a location where I could find plenty of specimens of butterflies categorized in drawers, and brought one hundred live butterflies to fly in the Invertebrate Zoology Room at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. I remember when Dr. John Rawlins, head of the section where the work was filmed, asked me why I wanted to do this work. My answer to him was simple: “Why do poets write poems?” He approved and very generously permitted me to film there. I finished editing just as the Arab Spring had begun. It suddenly became clear that, for me, the work was about an awakening from an obedient slumber into a revolution.