Dani Gal, Untitled (Reality Estates: Fake Properties, Lifta), 2015, photographs, documents, 28 3/4 × 28".

Dani Gal, Untitled (Reality Estates: Fake Properties, Lifta), 2015, photographs, documents, 28 3/4 × 28".

Dani Gal

Freymond-Guth Fine Arts

Dani Gal, Untitled (Reality Estates: Fake Properties, Lifta), 2015, photographs, documents, 28 3/4 × 28".

In 2012, Dani Gal made a two-channel HD video installation called Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. It was a re-creation of an oft-overlooked detail of the Black September attack on the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. As the terrorist operation (named after two abandoned Palestinian villages, Iqrit and Biram) played out over the course of a single day, the captors forced their Israeli captives to swap clothes with them in order to confuse those observing the building where the athletes were quartered. In his video, Gal had eleven actors dressing and undressing continuously, in and out of athletic wear, civvies, and police uniforms. The resulting ambiguity—are we watching actors preparing for their roles, or has the story already begun?—played upon the recursive nesting of documentation within fiction and vice versa. With hostages and captors symbolically trading places, everyone becomes an extra in a drama both grotesque and tragic. The compulsive repetition of a marginal detail is a technique that Gal adeptly employs to allow the artificiality of historical narrative to reveal itself.

In his most recent solo show, “Sono vietate le discussioni politiche,” Gal propped a marble slab with the exhibition’s title carved into it against a gallery wall. The phrase is sometimes seen on signs in Italian bars, but a stone of these proportions would be set into the facade of a building. The irony is clear, because anything carved into marble is a political statement par excellence. Nothing else in this exhibition, from collage to film, is monumental by comparison, but that is the fate of critique: It leaves no monuments behind.

This point was made in a particularly acute manner by a series of collages of photographs and documents pertaining to the village of Lifta, whose ruins are visible on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Like Iqrit and Biram, Lifta belongs to the nostalgically presented past of Palestine. It was a prosperous and politically influential community until the war of 1948, when targeted terrorist attacks by the Lehi gang and others caused the Arab population to flee. The empty houses they left behind were initially occupied by impoverished Jewish immigrants from Yemen before being abandoned altogether in the 1970s. Since then, the village has been a ghost town, its agricultural pool popular with ultra-Orthodox bathers, who sing pious songs before leaping into its shallow, murky water. What makes Lifta unique is that, perhaps thanks to its visibility, it exists in a kind of limbo—an empty village that has neither been demolished nor redeveloped, even as luxury hotels resembling high-tech fortifications are erected nearby.

Gal, who knows the village well from his art-school days in Jerusalem, exhibited photographs and documents ranging from certificates of land ownership dating to the Ottoman empire to a map from the Hapoel Hamizrahi political movement that appears to show the planned partition of Lifta in 1934, fourteen years before the war, to an article about the 1959 film Ben-Hur, for which Lifta was used as a set. The photographs show the ruined houses from within and without, with gaping doorways and sunlight streaming in through the jagged holes that perforate the buildings. The stark light and high contrast tend to conceal rather than reveal form, with dark and bright areas unpredictably indicating voids and solids. In what is perhaps an uncharacteristically heavy-handed reference, Gal uses the formal language of Gordon Matta-Clark’s photographic collages in order to present the disjunction in the histories of Israel and Palestine. The photographs are split and divided horizontally, with the jagged holes standing in for Matta-Clark’s voids, just as the maps stand in for Matta-Clark’s “Fake Estates,” 1973. But here, as in Any resemblance, Gal carefully avoids easy catharsis by leaving the identity of victims and perpetrators ambiguous. According to witnesses, the demolitions were undertaken in peacetime, in the 1970s, in order to discourage the Yemeni Jews from attempting to return.

Adam Jasper