Art Focus 5

Talpiot Beit Benit Congress Centre

“What does art want? Everything. What can art do? Nothing. What does art do? Something.” With an adaptation of Jean-Luc Godard’s claim for the radical potential of cinema as a conceptual aegis, itself an appropriation of the Abbé Sieyès’s remark in 1789 about the revolutionary necessity of the third estate, cocurators Bernard Blistène and Ami Barak organized “Art Focus 5: Can Art do More?,” the latest manifestation of this (roughly) biennial contemporary art exhibition as a paradoxical set of possibilities suffused with a lingering sense of failure. Yet rather than an always-already-foreclosed cul-de-sac, the desire (indeed, the need) to believe in art’s transformative power despite its anticipated impotence appeared as a productive conundrum. In other words, between the absolute poles of “everything” and “nothing,” Blistène and Barak attempted to delicately and provisionally open up the space of “something.” The beauty of this operation, at least in theoretical terms, is that “something” not only emerges as an uncharted modality but must remain perpetually open and undefined in order to maintain its “somethingness.”

More tangibly, the very choice of venue articulated the importance of carving out a creative interstice. While the city of Jerusalem can very easily be exploited as a transcendental or messianic backdrop, Blistène and Barak resisted this temptation. Like squatters, the international and local roster of artists occupied the ground floor of an unfinished building in the industrial zone of Talpiot—four thousand square feet of space awaiting commercialization. This temporary aesthetic settlement was sponsored by the Jerusalem Foundation (in cooperation with the Ministry of Science, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Bank Leumi), in an effort to promote Israel’s budding art scene. Yet the link between capitalism and art and the insertion of both central and marginal urban spaces into the processes of globalization, which may seem like truisms elsewhere, were stark moves in the local context. While the idea that the uniform character of “the global village” may be disrupted by inventive modes of multiplicity is by now de rigueur, Blistène and Barak proposed something more radical. In effect, they systematically challenged the singularity, or holy essentialism, of the “local context” by its intersection with techniques, forms, and experiences of multiplicity that they attributed to the forces of globalization.

In the temporary lacuna of the exhibition site, Loris Gréaud’s Frequency of an Image (Tremors Were Forever Edit), 2008, which emitted the artist’s brain waves as vibrating sonic sequences, clattered at such excruciating decibels that it was impossible to remain placid, let alone centered; Ariel Schlesinger’s Untitled (Bubble Machine), 2008, a Tinguely-inspired gizmo, fabricated soap bubbles that exploded into fire; Miri Segal’s Whatever You Say, 2008, transformed random utterances whispered into a microphone by viewers into publicly broadcast chatter spoken by the image of a parrot. Clamor, combustion, and confusion abounded, both blatantly and metaphorically, making it hard to draw diametric distinctions between various kinds of boundaries: between the psychic violence instilled by the wall separating Israel from the West Bank, the blockade erected between ultraorthodox and secular neighborhoods in Jerusalem on the eve of the Sabbath, the threshold between private and public space in Tel Aviv, or even the Indian-Pakistani border. Rona Yefman’s collaboration with Tanja Schlander, Pippi Longstocking, the Strongest Girl in the World at Abu-Dis, 2006, Nira Pereg’s Jerusalem, 2008, Chantal Akerman’s Là-Bas, 2006, and Amar Kanwar’s A Season Outside, 1997, treated borders as markers of both geopolitical and psychological difference.

Through such multiple materializations of the border, Blistène and Barak vigorously deconstructed the myth of Jerusalem as a monolithic whole. They seemed to suggest that if art can do more, it is by constantly reinventing that elusive space of “something” as a generative force to contest both binary oppositions and ossified singularities.

Nuit Banai