Paris

View of “Michal Rovner,” 2011. From left: Makom IV, 2011; Makom II, 2011.

View of “Michal Rovner,” 2011. From left: Makom IV, 2011; Makom II, 2011.

Michal Rovner

Musée du Louvre

View of “Michal Rovner,” 2011. From left: Makom IV, 2011; Makom II, 2011.

In a corner of the Cour Napoléon, the Louvre’s central courtyard, Michal Rovner and a team of Israeli and Palestinian masons added two temporary monuments to the celebrated axe historique of Paris. Makom II and Makom IV, both 2011—the word means place in Hebrew—were aptly framed by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a Neoclassical homage to Napoleon’s military conquests, and I. M. Pei’s Pyramid, a spectacular punctuation mark to postmodernism. In activating these composite spaces and layers of signification, Rovner delved into the conundrum of how to find common ground between Israelis and Palestinians, while pointing to the museum’s role in mediating between politics and cultural patrimony.

Made of stones gathered in abandoned or destroyed Palestinian villages on the Israel-Syria border in the case of Makom IV, and from around Jerusalem, Hebron, Haifa, Bethlehem, and the Galilee for Makom II, Rovner’s prodigious edifices were part of her solo exhibition “Histoires.” The title translates as both “Histories” and “Stories.” Encouraged by this ambiguity, the forty-ton white limestone of Makom II, split by a narrow vertical opening, and the seventy-ton dark basalt Makom IV, with its dramatic horizontal fissure, conjured scenarios of abandoned outposts, fortresses, or temples in a premodern Levant very removed from the nineteenth-century boulevards of the Right Bank. Examining the stones of Makom II, which Rovner has numbered with both Roman numerals and the Hebrew alphabet, one might even have imagined a reconstructed archaeological site. This elaborate mise-en-scène raises a critical question: namely, whether we can ever locate the original “place” of these stones when history has fragmented and redistributed peoples, borders, and nation-states. Indeed, the primary condition of the two works is one of double exile: homes turned into rubble with the creation and expansion of the Jewish state only to be transformed into fictional monuments in a European art institution.

In another part of her exhibition, Rovner intervened within the Louvre’s permanent collections, pointing to the museum’s role in deracinating and reconstituting objects and histories. The digital imagery of Lubnan, 2009—the Arabic name for Lebanon—was projected on two stelae in a room dedicated to pre-Christian antiquities from Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. One projection shows an endless procession of identical, tiny brown figures marching horizontally across the stone’s grainy surface, which seems to form two landmasses. In the other, a processional moves between two white silhouettes that appear to extend their hands to each other. Is this a critique of the way that imperial mechanisms sundered cultural histories and turned indigenous materials into displaced artifacts? Or perhaps a wishful fantasy of a return to topographic and cultural affinities preceding the Middle East’s colonial carve-up? In either case, Rovner ultimately frames the museum as both a depository and a fabricator of histories.

Deep in the museum’s medieval moats, Time 5, 2008, functioned as a digital fresco probing the mediating role of art by grafting the contemporary Louvre onto its twelfth-century fortifications. Along with a faint projection of Rovner’s classificatory system, a sequence of Roman numerals and Hebrew letters randomly assigned to different stones, we also observed Pei’s Pyramid surrounded by a convoy of minute figures (tourists, no doubt). The museum’s artistic license transforms divergent times, spaces, and technologies into one simultaneous perceptual experience that is documented in situ by thousands of visitors and diffused globally as their unique image-memories. In the sum of its parts, “Histoires” succeeded because Rovner maintained the critical tension of its differential identity: Cultural patrimony may transmit a history in its materials, but it is also constructed by those who speak on its behalf, and animated by those who incorporate it into their own life stories.

Nuit Banai