Snapshot: Horses Charge Two Tel Aviv Front Lines

Marina Abramovic tell her tales of knights on white horses inside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art; outside, police cavalry is deployed against Ethiopian Israeli protesters.

Tal Niv
Tal Niv
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"Hero" from “Turn On — Time-Based Art from the Julia Stoschek Collection” at the Tel Aviv Museum.
"Hero" from “Turn On — Time-Based Art from the Julia Stoschek Collection” at the Tel Aviv Museum.Credit: Marina Abramovic
Tal Niv
Tal Niv

1. Woman on a white horse. Tall in the saddle. Wind blowing. Video art, but almost static. Heroic? Intimidating. Outside the walls specially built in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which completely transform the institution’s lower, deepest space. Because even before looking at what’s on display in this exhibition, called “Turn On — Time-Based Art from the Julia Stoschek Collection,” even before starting to notice anything – you realize that its installation has turned the place where it’s situated into a different place. A meta-neutral—place. But outside the hall, things are happening. All the time.

Marina Abramovic is known for her ability to sit motionless indefinitely, to absorb actions and looks of others. She has a capacity for endurance – and now she also has wealth and power and celebrity. In this work from 2001, “Hero,” she is sitting immobile astride a white horse while the Yugoslavian national anthem (from the Tito era) sounds in the background. Her parents were partisan fighters.

The story? Symmetrical to a fault, symbolism-ridden to the point of straining credulity. But here’s what she says: Her father, while riding a white horse as a combat soldier in World War II, passed by her mother, who was lying unconscious beneath a blanket on the ground near the front line. Seeing her beautiful hair, which protruded from under the blanket, he was captivated, lifted her onto the horse and took her to a nearby village, thereby saving her life. A year later, he himself was wounded. Her mother, who had recovered, was working as a nurse in the hospital to which he was taken. And lo and behold! The soldier who had saved her life was lying before her.

A year later, in 1946, Abramovic was born, in Belgrade. I read also that she has a brother and that her father left the family. In the film “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present,” directed by Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre, and documenting her 2010 performance by that name, which was the center of a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – she relates that her mother never hugged her. Never. The film then shows how Abramovic sat in the museum at a small table (afterward without it) without moving, eating or drinking, and day after day – for more than 730 hours – allowed people to approach and sit opposite her. To look her in the eyes as she looked into theirs. Her mother, she tells Akers and Dupre, brought her up to military austerity, punctuation. She had to make her bed and to be ready on time and to carry out tasks faithfully. Abramovic has no children.

Opposite the screening – so still it is almost a photograph – at the Tel Aviv Museum, what goes through my mind is: I don’t believe the story about the parents who rescued one another by romantic chance as war swirled around them. But I do believe in her right to tell that story and to be a knight on a white horse, or Joan of Arc. To sit on the horse indefinitely. Because this is a story about her parents as living in a loop — a Mobius ring — in which they start to see and end by seeing only each other. And themselves. So the story’s organizing principle is sufficiently true.

“Hero” is a restrained beautiful piece, projected on the descending staircase wall leading to the exhibition space. I think of it as a “declaration of intent.” Thematically, many of the 22 works by the 17 artists shown at “Turn On” are an exploration of women’s actions — and non-actions. Passivity is an issue. The exhibition itself meets the highest standards of installation, of space-related precision, of acoustics.

The Julia Stoschek time-based media art collection, I read online, is based in Dusseldorf. Slim, she drinks an espresso, the exhibition floor plan spread out in front of her. It is her passion. Her team, along with Israeli curator Ruth Direktor, are making sure all is just so. Time is of the essence to her. Her brown eyes dart about when the name Andreas Gursky is mentioned (a photograph by Gursky, whom she knows, sold for the highest price ever paid for a single photographic image). She visited Israel many times, she made sure her collection will be shown at the highest standards. Even before entering the exhibition, it’s worth pausing to see how the walls were built. So that it will be possible to be only within the work, and the collection, not outside.

I’ll write more on this, but what’s worth knowing and understanding now is this: In the first minutes of “The Artist Is Present,” a frame of the full face of a woman suddenly appears. It’s the young face of Julia Stoschek. The collector. Her brown eyes are set off by black eyelashes, and her hair is smooth and black. A long close-up of her face. And she’s crying. Crying.

Mounted police during an Ethiopian Israeli demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, May 3, 2015. Photo by Tal Niv

2. I rushed to Rabin Square to see with my own eyes. To stand with the people who were demonstrating. A young woman from Gedera said she’d come by train. And a young guy said that always, when outside somewhere, like on the beach, if they’re talking, for instance, a policeman immediately appears and demands: “Let’s see some ID.” I showed a few girls my press card, and they agreed to say that they’re in National Service. Religious. They stood huddled together. At the entrance to City Hall, opposite the bust of Yitzhak Rabin – a poor and peculiar work – a smooth-cheeked fellow from Kiryat Gat told me that it’s inconceivable that cops would beat up a soldier and tell him to make himself scarce.

He talked about himself, and about the clip that triggered the protest. Write down, he said, that Pnina (Tamano-Shata, a former Yesh Atid MK of Ethiopian origin) is not part of the new Knesset because she said things. Because she fought for us. I told him to take care. To be careful. To watch out for the police. He laughed. Don’t worry, he said, I was in the army.

On the way back, I photographed a group of horses. The cop on the black horse turned to a Russian-speaking guy who was taking pictures nonstop: Enough, ‘bro, not now.



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