Exhibition / Iran as a gag
Did someone say war? A Tel Aviv exhibit is meant to dispel fear, but its Borat-type gimmicks are more irritating than insightful.
More than an exhibition, "Iran" is a gag. Most of the works featured and meant to warn of war, are of a kind of intentional, aware subconscious. The problem is that they really are substandard
"Iran" is an annoying exhibition. Usually annoying exhibitions are much more interesting than ordinary fine, tight exhibitions that are easily digested. The controversial ones are the ones that liven up the occupation with art much more than those that are wary of confrontation. Events that embarrass, infuriate and confuse are rare and welcome.
But "Iran" - showing at the Spaceship Gallery in Tel Aviv - is annoying in a different way. It is annoying because of its tremendous self-confidence that it is just such an exhibit - without any clear signs of an effort made to warrant this. And the exhibit lacks integrity and awareness. It seems like a rowdy late-night event, but one that takes itself seriously.
The "Iran" exhibition is a glowing stop sign moments before the war with Iran," write the exhibition's curators, Haaretz writer Roy Arad, Joshua Simon and Ari Libsker. This is of course a ridiculously pretentious - even more so than the belief that citizens can protect themselves from a chemical bomb with nylon and overpriced masking tape. The exhibition is hardly a sign to stop before a war.
The reference to the once-exorbitant price of masking tape is not just esoteric nostalgia. Based on the curating concept, the price increase was the goal of that war. Outrageous? "The fantasy about an Iranian bomb is already providing a new master plan for the whole country," they write. "Forget about slow gentrification and evict-and-build programs, the only way to destroy the towers built over the past few years is with an aerial bombing. The speculation needs the possibility of completely destroying the buildings (and you people ) in order to rake in more capital. They call it growth."
The lightweight feel of most of the works has no proportion to the subject. Many of the works are videos that use masquerade tactics for an interview, questions and answers, interview program or fabricated documentary clips.
Itamar Rose presents a work featuring two people dressed as Iranian scientists coming to Israel to "investigate whether the Israelis are genuine." They inspect discarded soft drink bottles and a half-eaten boureka through a magnifying glass, rifle through public garbage bins, question Dimona residents in broken, Israeli-accented English about the reactor. When they meet a former worker at the reactor who talks about cancer patients, they have nothing to say to him. They move on to the next gag, making sure that the reality doesn't ruin their Borat-type gag.
In another clip, Arafat Abu-Rat, a Palestinian from Nablus, joins a fictional correspondent in the south that is being shelled. They ask Sderot residents "to play the role of Palestinians." Some refuse because it is beyond their most nightmarish images and others agree to the cliched role-playing for a simulation exercise: "I want to pick the olives, but they are coming and beating me." "Fear, pressure, tanks in the streets." "Here in our Koran it says that all of the land of Israel is ours."
An Israeli attack on Auschwitz
In a video, "The Attack," Ofri Ilany and Yotam Feldman present an investigation of a classified plan for an Israeli attack on Auschwitz-Birkenau. Zev Tene, as the general in charge, says in Polish, "Dear Polish dogs, you don't know the IDF... don't try to hide or protect yourself." While Ofra Tene, in the role of international expert, Aviva Bar Yagon, says it is a plan that will "certainly spark disagreement within the Israeli public." There is no apparent difference between this and a bad clip from the satirical TV show "Eretz Nehederet."
Nimrod Kemer presents two video clips. One features two people, one dressed as a bread roll and the other as a pita, fighting each other. In the second clip, "Rambo at Yad Vashem," the two behave like untalented action film stars. They capture targets and are involved in failed antics, shout fire and roll on the floor. This is of course, intentional, aware subconscious at play. But in reality these are subconscious, bad jokes, almost akin to flapping your arms and holding your hand in your armpit to mimic the sound of flatulence. If the clips have a critical point (the oppressive Western bread roll culture against the excluded pita ), it is inferior or obvious.
Anna Appel and Ari Libsker present a statue of Ehud Barak with the label "the most dangerous person in the world 2012." Black clothes and his hands in his pockets, he looks like a dwarf in a large, locked display case that resembles a fancy aquarium, or perhaps a stuffed animal or an untouchable diamond, or a lethal virus that requires a sterile environment. Noam Edry sells shirts with slogans such as "I went to the most hated place on earth (second to Iran ) and all I got was this lousy t-shirt," which imitate the irony of the cliche of souvenir shops.
Beyond the humor hovers a sense of euphoria - a lack of fear that is not so much courageous as lightheaded and foolish, of the kind that makes clear that anyone who does not enjoy all this is morose. Whoever does not join this celebration of idiocy-but-on-purpose is left out, not privy to the secret code. But it's not all that hard to decipher this snobby bon ton. It leaves one with a feeling of inferiority if one fails to feel the requisite enthusiasm, if one sees the dissonance between the pretense and the result, or squirms with discomfort over the emotional impotence.
These are smart, sharp people who curated an exhibition of visual statuses. The momentary, gimmicky occupation is not harmful. It just seems like a new youth movement, one in which the shoelaces on the official shirt symbolize "the chuckle stage."
The Spaceship Gallery's vintage, salon-like atmosphere also doesn't help and assigns the works the role of decoration. Placing low, colored plastic chairs in front of the video installations so that the person seated on one feels like he is in a kindergarten creates a sense of humiliation. The exhibition's other design elements which are based mainly on existing furniture in the gallery, have something that makes it feel like a user-friendly and renovated sex-toy store. They want to kill you and we will be glad to provide you with pleasure.
The meta-masculine debate over acquiring arms versus disarmament (which is certainly prone to being described in masculine sexual terms in Hebrew ) features Guy Briller's pipe missile placed on the roof of the gallery and aimed at the U.S. embassy. (A Facebook clip shows how the embassy security staff, gripped by aggressive panic, were upset by this ). Ridiculous, mature, serious and miserable as they were, didn't they realize that we were just playing a really funny joke on them? ).
Is this pre-catastrophe humor? Most certainly it is the empty joy of hyperactivity. The biggest victims of these gags are the few serious, subtle works in the exhibition, including those by Haya Rukin and Malki Tessler. In any other context they would have been received as having poetic power, but in the current display of light art, they were lost in the crowd.
"Iran," Spaceship Gallery, 70 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv. Curators: Joshua Simon, Roy Arad, Ari Libsker. Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11:00-18:00, Friday, 11:00-14:00, through April 19.