Mur i Wieza (Wall and Tower), 2009 (video still), video, 15:00 minutes, sound, courtesy of the artist and Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv
Yael Bartana's works examine the formal and cinematic language that shapes Israeli nationally identity: propaganda films, symbols, ceremonies, anthems and military rhetoric. This exhibition features two films from the "Polish Trilogy," which has yet to be completed. The film Mary Koszmary stars the Polish journalist and left-wing activist Slawomir Sierakowski, who is seen standing at the center of an empty, abandoned stadium and calling Poland's three million "lost Jews" to return to their homeland. This is the Decennial Stadium, which was built in Warsaw in 1955 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the communist regime, and its remains are reminiscent of the old regime's ostentatious propaganda demonstrations. The echo of the speech's absurd contents, which bounces off the empty stands, highlights the ironic dimension of what is being said. The pathos with which the speech is read ridicules the rhetoric of anti-Semitic, communist and Catholic propaganda. At the same time, an attempt is made to transmit a positive message of reconciliation in the name of a shared future. This work brings to the fore hidden complexes, and touches upon a repressed sense of guilt; at the same time, it offers a kind of deceptive catharsis - an illusion that the guilt can be effaced and the ghosts of the Holocaust can be vanquished, and that a shared future is indeed possible.
The vision concerning the return of Polish Jews to their country of origin is seemingly realized in the work Wall and Tower, in which Jewish settlers are seen hard at work building the first European kibbutz in Poland. This site is constructed in accordance with the method used to build the "Wall and Tower" settlements built by Jews in Mandatory Palestine. This fictional settlement is located on the former site of the Warsaw Ghetto, facing the memorial for its fallen heroes. The performance seems to be taking place simultaneously in the present and in the past: the contemporary city surrounds the buildings, while the Jewish "pioneers" employ the old-fashioned work methods practiced on the kibbutz. The structure, which is quickly completed, boasts a Hebrew sign reading: "welcome." The "pioneers" even learn Polish, yet surround themselves with a barbed-wire fence and create a complex that resembles a reconstruction of a concentration camp - a site awaiting the arrival of Holocaust tourists. This is an almost instantly created settlement that is estranged from its surroundings, one whose construction begins with an aggressive act and ends with the formation of a ghetto. This action, which appears to be an amusing parody about the early days of Zionism, reveals the violent dimension of the Zionist settlement project, and insists that the memory of anti-Semitism and the murder of European Jews in the course of the Holocaust cannot be detached from the history of Zionism in Israel. In this manner, Bartana's camera structures a reality concerned with the affinity between nationalism and military aggression.
Born in Afula, Israel, 1970; lives and works in Tel Aviv