Critics’ Picks

Guy Ben-Ner, Escape Artists, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 37 minutes.

Guy Ben-Ner, Escape Artists, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 37 minutes.


Guy Ben-Ner

Palazzo Ducale - Cortile Maggiore Piazza Matteotti 28r
December 20, 2016–March 3, 2017

Escape Artists, 2016, a video by Israeli artist Guy Ben-Ner, is the sole work in this exhibition and documents the existential condition of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum-seekers being held at Holot, an Israeli detention center the Negev desert. While teaching cinema at Holot once a week for two years, Ben-Ner observed how his students were trapped in a limbo created by Israel, a country that cannot expatriate people whose lives would be at risk in their native lands yet refuses to grant them refugee status. The work’s narrative structure lies in the relationship between people as they carry on in everyday life and in Ben-Ner’s lessons as a form of art. The result is a video about education that analyzes the dynamics of contemporary society within a physical and political space of suspension.

In one scene, we see the artist and his students gathered closely around his computer discussing Robert J. Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922). Ben-Ner’s work constantly moves between the individual dramas of the refugees in the room—whose lives are taken apart for an unpredictable span of time—and Nanook’s themes of invisibility, speechlessness, and surreal segregation. Frame after frame, Ben-Ner’s video brings the viewer closer to an understanding of how the artist worked in at Holot: He interweaves the famous film’s footage with video clips taken by class participants.

Escape Artists also uses cinematographic didactics and editing as tools for acting on reality, as he emphasizes the human condition and its differences. This is evident in the film when, during a car trip with Joshua, one of his students, Ben-Ner shows the student speaking as the landscape rushes past behind him. When Ben-Ner is in the frame, however, the car proceeds forward.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.