Nida Sinnokrot, Jonah’s Whale, 2014, steel, gypsum, Styrofoam, carpet, vinyl, plastic conduit, aluminum, foam, fabric, 7' 10 1⁄2“ × 15’ 9” × 39' 4 1⁄2". Photo: Trevor Good.

Nida Sinnokrot, Jonah’s Whale, 2014, steel, gypsum, Styrofoam, carpet, vinyl, plastic conduit, aluminum, foam, fabric, 7' 10 1⁄2“ × 15’ 9” × 39' 4 1⁄2". Photo: Trevor Good.

Nida Sinnokrot

Split into three administrative divisions, intersected by barriers, pierced by settlements, and punctuated by rapidly erected high-rises, the West Bank is visibly dismembered terrain. Nida Sinnokrot’s solo exhibition “Expand Extract Repent Repeat” offered poignant reflections on the role of real estate in the geopolitics and economics of the region. The centerpiece of the show was the Palestinian-American artist and filmmaker’s 2014 installation Jonah’s Whale, which consists of an overseas shipping container surgically sliced into a line of eleven freestanding segments. The background to this piece is not only that shipping containers have been widely appropriated as flexible modules for low-cost housing all over the world, but that Israeli settlers often illegally place them on strategic outposts in the West Bank before more solid settlement structures can be built. This particular container, we learned, served as an ersatz residence for illegal settlers before being repurposed as an office for a Palestinian construction site.

Drawing its name from the biblical tale in which a whale swallowed and then later spit out Jonah on God’s command, the sculpture was first installed on a former military base near Ramallah, where the gaps in the metal carcass simultaneously framed and fragmented the surrounding landscape into cinematic cuts. Here in the white-cube space of the gallery, the extended container tapped into a variety of other associations—think of Damien Hirst’s infamous sliced cow, whose segments were presented individually in twelve tanks filled with formaldehyde. Like the dissected animal, the cross-sections of the container evinced a kind of subdued horror as they exposed the traces of its past lives, with cutting through carpets, a mattress, and decorative window grates to reveal layers of insulation, steel, and gypsum.

While the nomadic caravans of the Bedouin tribes who used to live in the desert regions of the Levant are a thing of the past, the urgent need for permanent housing has left many Palestinians in unsustainable debt. All over the West Bank, mechanical tri-louver billboards are plastered with advertisements for low-interest mortgages. Ya Ghanamati (Billboard no. 02), 2014, takes on the structure of these billboards, only Sinnokrot has lined one side of the rotating slats with strips of sheepskin instead of advertisements. Consumed and disgorged in endless repetition by the billboard’s (here, literally) empty promise, this remnant of rural life keeps reappearing in stubborn resistance.

Rubber-Coated Rock, All-Stars 02, 2015, offered a fleet of portrait-like assemblages constructed from rubbish found near checkpoints. In each work, stones or chunks of brick are loosely covered by the makeshift “rubber coat” of a deflated sports ball. These disguised projectiles update the story of David and Goliath while also recalling the rubber-coated bullets that Israeli soldiers regularly shoot at Palestinians. All mounted at eye level on their own metal pedestals, these sculptures appeared in the gallery as cultic fetish objects.

Similarly transformed, the sculpture Rawabi, 2013/2014, is a camel’s skull with golden front teeth. Its shape suggests the silhouette of a rolling hill or a bulldozer with a gilded scoop. Rawabi, the Arabic word for “hilltop,” shares its name with a controversial town currently being built by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Envisaged to ultimately house forty thousand people, Rawabi is a prestige development by a private investor that promises a luxurious lifestyle where everything is nice, clean, and quiet. Through a simple intervention, Sinnokrot reconfigured the skull as a symbol of the paradox in which Palestinians are trapped. Israel’s settlement policy has resulted in both a festering housing crisis and booming real-estate speculation. A city designed for “upwardly mobile families” is the next step in normalizing the condition of occupation.

Eva Scharrer