Interviews

Dana Yoeli

Dana Yoeli, Olympia, a work in seven acts, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 41 seconds.

Dana Yoeli is an Israeli artist based in Tel Aviv. Her current solo show at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art showcases her project Olympia, 2017, which extends her explorations into architecture, Israeli mythologies, nostalgia, nationalism, and catastrophic events. The exhibition is on view through February 3, 2018.

THE HERZLIYA MUSEUM, founded in 1965 as Beit Yad Labanim, was originally constructed and maintained by a volunteer organization to preserve the memory of fallen soldiers and provide care for their deprived families. In 2000, architects Yaakov and Amnon Rechter designed a bypass that blocked the original entrance to the exhibition space that had passed through Beit Yad Labanim, adding a new room and entrance to the museum. This new structure shifted the focus of the building but did not erase its history. The space is, and will always be, infused with a subconscious charge, a latent energy that suffuses the entire complex with the currents of loss, redemption, and ambivalence.

Brutalist architecture, with its poured concrete, exists in Israel as one of the purest expressions of the establishment of the state. It is the visual language of government buildings, memorial sites, Kibbutz architecture, and educational institutions. It is such an effective language that an entire community of individuals recognizes the significance of even its most esoteric details. It is deeply embedded in the Israeli national ethos and sense of community. Olympia was influenced directly by the unique architecture of the museum and the historical connection to Beit Yad Labanim. The exhibition space was selected because of its exemplary status and rich heritage, which layers commemoration with art.

My current show consists of two videos, two marionettes, and a puppet theater maquette. The installation of these works together offers an existential paradox based in the disparity between the personal pain and loss resulting from serving in the military, and the mythical and national mechanism of celebrating heroic actions.

Upon entering the show, you first see the video Olympia, which echoes the epic opening of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 film of the same name. Here, the camera moves again and again along tracks I built in my studio, while the landscape seems to be changing as if it had been filmed in a long and uninterrupted shot. The repetition of a distinct section, time after time, creates a horizontal expansion; I wanted viewers to see the entire installation through the prism of a disturbing, silent trajectory—an uncanny view of a dystopian landscape made of miniature models.

On the other side of that same wall the video Olympia, a work in seven acts is framed within a theater’s facade, which is also presented as a sculptural object nearby. In the work, components of Israeli memorial ceremonies—such as the lighting of a flame and the sand burial—are shown and express a collective loss, rather than a personal one.

Like many of my generation, I remember the feeling of my knees being scraped against a stucco surface, my chin splitting on granolithic tiles, and my first kiss leaning against a commemorative wall. My perception of the culturally influenced texture of public space, as always decorated with a plaque or a commemorative site, is a part of who I am as a human being and as an artist. It informs the meta-language that I use in my work. Emotions such as shame, pride, discomfort, and pain are permanently cast with the DNA of communal memory. Furthermore, virtually all of the architects of Israeli commemorative sites are men. By performing the construction and realization of this entire project by myself, I break into the closed club of male model-makers and memorial architects, and challenge the masculine hegemony of these endeavors.

ALL IMAGES