Likely Stories

Seven video installations in a new exhibition in Tel Aviv form a contemporary version of what was once the preserve of storytellers.

Eitan Buganim
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
From Yael Bartana’s “Inferno” (2013).
From Yael Bartana’s “Inferno” (2013).
Eitan Buganim

A new exhibition, “Story Time: Or Was It?,” at the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art (part of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art) consists of seven video installations. With the exception of one work – by the Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila – which is from 2010, all the other works were shot in Israel during the past year. To allow viewers a modicum of comfort while watching the demanding short films (average length of each work: about 15 minutes; total running time: 132 minutes), the pavilion has been divided into seven darkened spaces.

The video works unfold like a contemporary version of what was once the preserve of storytellers, but at the same time they generate in the viewer a feeling of uncertainty and bewilderment. Each film uses “a variety of technological means and any possible ruse to create a semblance of a story which is then deconstructed into its parts, subverting the classical story frame,” the museum’s website explains. In doing so, the artists end up “pushing the boundaries between a tale that was and one that never was.” In some cases, the investment that went into the production is in inverse proportion to the film’s degree of truth. In any event, the show’s curator, Ruti Direktor, says there is one abiding constant. “Artists do not tell a story in a straightforward way,” she notes. “They invoke the narrative structure only to deconstruct it from within. They systematically peel away its component traits: the story is nonlinear, more is hidden than revealed; manipulation abounds.”

In the work by the French artist 
Camille Henrot, for example, the creation story is told at a very rapid pace by means of multiple frames that appear on the screen. The way the film delivers the visual and verbal information about different versions of the formation of the universe leaves the stunned viewer at a loss about their reliability. Truth and 
fiction are also difficult to tell apart in the work by the Israeli artist Yael Bartana. Her film tells the story of the construction of the Third Temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and, as in her previous works, there is a gap between pathos-laden aesthetic, conviction and self-importance, and the manipulation of history.

The English artist Simon Fujiwara uses the format of an interview he conducts with himself to reconstruct a lost photograph, which he remembers from childhood, of his bikini-clad mother in the arms of a Lebanese boyfriend. “While trying to recreate the photograph and looking for the appropriate models, the artist is incidentally drawn to investigating deeper layers – political, sexual, racial, East-West relations – that arise from it,” the curator 

Another variation on the theme of the status and essence of memory emerges in a film by Thalia Hoffman. It consists of one shot in which a young man (an Arab actor) and a young woman (Jewish) are seen walking along a hillside trail near the Arab community of Kafr Manda in Lower Galilee. They talk about memory and about forgetting.

“Their dialogue is conducted in a way that makes it impossible to know whether they are referring to the memory of their private love or to a broad national memory,” Direktor says. “Their walk together along the path effectively takes the form of a struggle over the preservation of memory – who remembers and who tells the story, how and for what reason.”

“Story Time: Or Was it?”, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 
until November 1.

From a film by Thalia Hoffman on memory.