Critics’ Picks

Gilad Ratman, The Days of the Family of the Bell II, 2012, ink-jet print, 15 1/4 x 20".

Gilad Ratman, The Days of the Family of the Bell II, 2012, ink-jet print, 15 1/4 x 20".


Gilad Ratman

ENGAGE Projects
864 N Ashland
September 21–October 26, 2012

In Israeli artist Gilad Ratman’s five-minute, single-channel video The Days of the Family of the Bell, 2012, ten shaking bodies morph into a variety of temporary organic formations. Through this work, Ratman suggests our human dependence on one another regardless of the pain incurred from moments of heavy leaning and lifting. This sparsely curated exhibition comprises the single video and two production stills excerpted from it.

For the video, Ratman directs a total of ten performers—five are hired professionals with whom Ratman has no relationship, and five are friends he has asked to participate. They all appear seminude and are of varying athletic abilities. Four people stand on top of a man’s bare back. A strongman wearing two layers of underwear uses only his arms to triumphantly hold nine gyrating bodies that bend and twist into the shapes of branches, twigs, and leaves. Ratman invites the viewer to indulge in these fantastical moments, and even makes a few appearances himself. In one scene, a bald man agilely balances one foot on the artist’s left shoulder and another on the side of his head. Ratman gasps for breath. The man finishes climbing Ratman, and then gently holds his hand. This moment suggests a quiet intimacy, and also leaves viewers wondering if the artist’s neck is made of an invisible, unbreakable material. But the truth here—as in Ratman’s entire video oeuvre, which explores the edges of human behavior through seeming physically impossible situations—is that they appear this way because of a simple point-of-view manipulation. Ratman points a fixed camera down onto a square sheet of black carpet and a vertically positioned slab of wood that looks like a wooden wall. The performers lie down on the black carpet, moving about on their backs and sides. They feign shakiness and feats of strength. In reality no one battles gravity. Viewers are led into a state of visual enthrallment without suspending their disbelief.