New York

Emily Jacir

Emily Jacir is a bilingual American citizen, born in Bethlehem and living between New York and Ramallah. Her work arises from her position as a young, cosmopolitan cultural worker who is active not only on behalf of Palestinian statehood but also within an international network of friends and colleagues. Jacir quotes the voices of these individuals in her text-based works and uses images of their daily lives in her photographs. Her recent show at Alexander and Bonin included forty-five hand-painted reproductions of e-mail messages she has received since 2000. She also presented drawings, photographs, and videos, all concerned with ways in which language functions—in the form of words, sounds, and pictures—to create the relationships and beliefs we call identity.

Inbox, 2004–2005, the e-mail work, initially looks daunting. Each 11 x 8 1⁄2 inch panel is painstakingly lettered in black on white and adorned with the familiar blips of onscreen discourse: angle brackets, underlinings, date stamps, and banner ads. Jacir requires viewers to penetrate a first impression of exhausting density and accepts the risk that we might not. If we do, the opening up of her correspondence to our attention begins to feel profoundly generous. Judicious choices create an episodic narrative in which global politics and everyday friendship merge. “us Chicana/os are with you, in struggle and in victory,” declares one correspondent. The rhetoric is immediately nuanced by a forwarded list of “martyrs” from Ramallah, Jerusalem, Gaza, and Nablus. One imagines suicide bombers before noticing that three of the individuals were only twelve years old. And lest one homogenize the dead: “NO ONE has heard anything from Michael,” writes a friend on September 11, 2001, referring to the artist Michael Richards, who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. “I am just sick. Emily I just know we are about to go to war . . .” A bulletin from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee warns “at-risk communities” in the US about hate crime; instances of hate mail directed at Jacir follow. The artist’s consciousness becomes a filter through which pass dual currents of out there and in here, in a relay that stays “live” as it extends to us, the newest reader-receivers in the chain. “giant hello and hug for me” says one envoi. We all get such notes, but the postscript reinflects the intimacy: “ps i hope theyre not spying on my or your e-mails. Tell me if i shouldn’t write this stuff to you.” Here the “I” becomes Jacir, the “you” us.

Jacir’s work is easy to describe but demanding to elucidate. What could be simpler than cell phone, 2004, a diptych listing, under the headings “Ramallah” and “New York,” two penciled columns, each a mix of American- and Middle Eastern–sounding names? Similarly, Ramallah/New York, 2004–2005, is a dual-screen video juxtaposing deadpan footage of activity in parallel businesses—hair salons, falafel stands, travel agencies—in the title cities. Yet how to unravel exactly what such twinned images mean, in their insistence on specificity and unity, simultaneity and distance, English and Arabic? In linz diary, 2003, Jacir presents self-portrait photographs captured directly from an Austrian surveillance system that uploads images of the town square to a website. A forlorn shape in dark clothes, she inscribes her presence on the world via its systems of categorization and control. One work is captioned: “That’s me in front of the fountain standing alone.” She is not alone, however, in that she places herself in the public sphere and addresses the reader postcard-style. Various images also extend their relational character via dedications to Gregory Corso, Edward Said, and Valie Export. Jacir’s visual artifacts of speech and writing thus stand metonymically for what critic Martin Sturm has termed “actions of engaged communication.” In their formal economy and conceptual polyvalence, they render—or actually perform—communality.

Frances Richard