Critics’ Picks

The Dining Hall, 2007, mixed-media installation, dimensions vary.

Berlin

Sigalit Landau

KW Institute for Contemporary Art
Auguststrasse 69
November 18, 2007–January 13, 2008

Israeli artist Sigalit Landau’s site-specific work The Dining Hall, 2007, is not easy to digest; it greatly disturbs the viewer, who is confronted with unpleasant smells, disintegrating organic matter, and an enormous, two-yard-high mountain of (nonorganic) kebab meat. The overall effect is grotesque.

The installation engages the process of ritualized eating, an activity occurring across cultures and throughout history, from the Last Supper, which in Judaism (and specifically in the Israeli kibbutz) signifies the communal meal as a central moment of community creation, to the twentieth-century middle-class nuclear family, and ultimately to the complex food chain of the global economy. Central to this process is the changing relationship between the individual and the collective. The consumption of food is always a kind of “border crossing,” a mutual intermingling. The visual counterpart to this idea of an organically arrived-at, interdependent community takes the form of barbed wire twisted into lampshades, which are covered by salt crystals from the Dead Sea. Here the resonant materials connote a territorial politics that courses beneath the surface of everyday life in the region.

The work’s main point of reference is the debate between Israeli politician Abraham Burg and Ha’aretz newspaper columnist Ari Shavit, which was unleashed by the publication of Burg’s book Hitler besiegen (Defeating Hitler), in which the former Knesset member questions the Zionist idea of the founding of the state of Israel. On a '60s-era television set, which is placed in a re-created middle-class family's living room, Landau presents the transcript of this debate without accompanying images. By incorporating this material, Landau forthrightly opens up a truly controversial discourse of a kind rarely found in today’s art. In this sense, the exhibition is utterly political, and despite her evident use of metaphor and the aesthetic dimension of her work, Landau has made art into something that it, unfortunately, rarely is: an opportunity for communication.