New York

Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 17 minutes 53 seconds.

Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 17 minutes 53 seconds.

Rosalind Nashashibi

Murray Guy

Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 17 minutes 53 seconds.

“To remember, one must imagine,” art historian Georges Didi-Huberman once wrote. Rosalind Nashashibi’s films task the viewer with considering this inescapable problem of memory: The recollection of an event is always corrupted by the mind that calls it forth. She often exaggerates or otherwise lays bare the unreliable mechanisms of imaginative reconstitution, interjecting documentary footage with staged elements (Jack Straw’s Castle, 2009) or restaging scenes of others’ work (The Prisoner, 2008; Carlo’s Vision, 2011). At times, she points up the tainted products of memory; at others, she provides those details that memory elides.

“Two Tribes,” Nashashibi’s second solo exhibition at Murray Guy, felt like something of a double bind. In the first of two rooms was a neat modernist hang comprising ten paintings in gouache on paper or oil on canvas of vaguely biomorphic forms that range in hue from sooty periwinkle and mustard to the more abject colors of viscera. These paintings are fresh and strange—Zero Care, 2016, calls to mind a strawberry whose fibers have been magnetically pulled from its flesh—but they are confounding for anyone familiar with the filmmaker, who has only once before exhibited paintings, in a group show at Kunstverein, Munich, last year. Here, the paintings served a function outside themselves, bracketing the viewer’s access to a second room in which the film Electrical Gaza, 2015, had its US premiere.

Electrical Gaza, which runs nearly eighteen minutes long, documents the Gaza Strip just before the “Operation Protective Edge” bombardment of July and August 2014—the most recent of several attacks since 2008—when more than two thousand Palestinians and seventy-two Israelis were killed, most of them civilians and nearly five hundred of them children. Nashashibi splices together scenes of quotidian life in refugee camps and in the city of Rafah, site of one of the two remaining gateways out of Gaza, both of which have been closed since the bombardment. Nearly two million people are locked in; Israel restricts the movement of bodies and food, airspace and waterways, electricity. The artist shuttles the viewer between claustrophobic close-ups and panning, aerial shots, paralleling two irreconcilable views of this region: abstract militarized territory, and a home. In so doing, she acknowledges the objectness of the idea of Gaza, often a political football, just as she shakes loose that framework.

Shifts in perspective and plays on the documentary form persist throughout the film, but most effective are the few moments that slip, almost unnoticeably, into cartoonish animation. At the film’s beginning, for example, we see footage of the gleaming, futuristic building of the Rafah crossing point. Under a hot sun, men press against a gate whose inviting celestial pattern belies its own forbidding function. The scene then cuts to a drawn and inked animated rendering of the border point at dusk, closed and unpopulated, with a flag waving uncannily in the breeze. Not only do such animated segments underscore how difficult it was to capture this footage (to film in the region, one must acquire permits from both Hamas and Israel), they also leaven the intensities of what we might project onto the fraught space. Likewise, many scenes teem with childlike awe: We see boys splashing around in the seductively turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, horses wading to their underbellies. Adolescents vogue for the camera in an alleyway ornamented with graffiti, and men sing together in a living room. These vignettes undermine the idea that the media restrictions imposed by Palestinian authorities and the IDF would ever be politically advantageous at all.

In the penultimate scene, an animated black circle swells in the right side of the frame, slowly obfuscating the image of a sunlit alley behind it. In a way, this void constitutes the condition of Nashashibi’s document: a portrait of pre-2014-attack Gaza that now exists only in memory. As one passed back through the first gallery, the formal resonances between the film and the paintings were apparent. I imagine I’m not alone in having found that this second reckoning with the winsome paintings marred the intensity of the film. But noticing this effect was exactly the point.

Annie Godfrey Larmon