MM1: De-Construct/Re-Construct/We-Construct is the first of two exhibitions by Israeli curators Sharon Toval and Nimrod Vardi which consider communication, the creative process and how where we come from defines how we relate to the world. In a spirit of experimentation, Toval and Vardi paired British artists Daniel Bourke, Cos Ahmet and Leonie Lachlan with Israeli artists Orly Dvir, Abraham Kritzman and Barak Brinker to take part in a collaborative project, using the internet as the forum for their interactions. The resulting work (all 2012) recently at Arbeit Gallery is a look at visual and cross-cultural communication in the digital age.
In the exhibition’s title, ‘MM’ stands for ‘Mutatus Mutandis,’ or ‘that having been changed, which had to be changed,’ and notably, the project was supported by the British Council’s Israeli partnership program, BI ARTS, where MM1 fits within the organisation’s stated purpose: to promote dialogue between Israeli and British artists in Israel and the UK. What is the agenda of an Israeli-British show? Despite political assumptions which arise when discussing Israel and topical Israeli themes (landscape, identity) here we do not see such a narrow discourse. In fact, there is a sense that the exhibition functions as a disclosure; that as a visitor one is privy to the inner workings of the artists’ experiment, and that quite ironically, the exhibition’s qualities are more introspective than global. MM1 simply gives a platform to artists to discuss relationships: with art-making; with place; with each other. It is in the spirit of dialogue and collaboration that MM1 comes together as a project.
Bourke and Dvir are oil painters with styles as diverse as to recall Poussin versus Rubens, yet both explore the mode of the mash-up, a term used in art, music and within digital technology to describe the process of blending appropriated images, sounds, elements of digital media (text, graphics, video etc) and combining them to create something new.
In his practice, Bourke looks to technology, using Photoshop to dissect and render parts of flowers against the backdrop of software-generated QR codes — matrix barcodes designed for consumption by smartphones and ubiquitous in advertising – and then translating the composition of the code on canvas in oils. In the case of Tulip no 2, the input to the QR code was ‘ISRAEL’, represented by Bourke in a fragmented state.
Dvir too draws from technology, appropriating images from photography and film, integrating them into theatrical landscapes and then painting them in a loose style. In Aqaba and Cluster, explosions were staged by piecing together photographs taken by Dvir while driving, and an image of an explosion from Antonioni’s cult-classic box office-bomb Zabriekie Point . Both paintings show actual landscapes (Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan) in a region of real conflict and yet the explosions depicted are staged by Dvir – elements of fantasy superimposed on serene scenes evoking the potentiality of violence.
I was disappointed not to see Bourke and Dvir’s ideas merge together in a finished artwork. They posted a blog together, but I failed to see how their ideas fully integrated despite the shared webspace. Perhaps the tension created by the work refusing to be resolved says more than a tidy resolution.
Mixed media artists Ahmet and Kritzman examine pillars of Western culture—religion, medicine and history—in their collaboration. Mixed media mobile Untitled, (a print of the sacred heart with a brain on the reverse support a palm frond shroud which opens to reveal an image of Jesus); and Incision (a wall hanging showing two placid men, mirrored, with opened chests, sharing a tangled cloud of intestines) examine the building blocks of man as well as what motivates our cultural beliefs. The use of religious imagery combined with body parts examines – literally piece-by-piece – the materiality and motivations of our culture, bodies, beliefs, selves. In one way, we could look at Incision’s men as blindly communicating, ‘though we are not the same, we are made of the same stuff.’ Identity politics have always been a part of Israeli art as Israel was founded as a refuge for Jews living in the diaspora, but the theme of identity rings true with many other groups: minority and otherwise.
More immediately than this political angle, Ahmet and Kritzman champion collaboration by seemingly losing their individual egos and finding a single voice.
Print artist Lachlan and photographer Brinker came together and then fell apart during the MM1 project. Lachlan dropped out just a few months in, and Brinker was left to meditate on the project without her. Brinker said, “Leonie’s work is about urban life and the way we observe the urban grid; I’m not an urban type, though I did try to find the grid that Leonie talked about. I can’t say I’ve found it but I can say that it was in my state of mind”.
Brinker’s work is stark. The photographs Untitled [1-3] look at the Israeli military landscape, framing hard industrial structures as aesthetic typologies like Bernd and Hilla Becher did. Velvety black shadows against diaphanous light render each object cold and static, alluding to their sinister purposes, while Brinker’s rendering suggests the soullessness of lunar landscapes. It seems that Lachlan left an impression despite her own hand being absent.
Does MM1 succeed as a political statement? In espousing the utopian ideal, and advancing the idea of communication and the web as the method and forum for cross-cultural dialogue, the viewer is left unconvinced. But viewed as an experiment, the project succeeds in what it tells us about the reality of communication at a distance; the successes and failures revealed in the works, the commonalities and disjunctions between the artists, even the failure to participate of one of the artists, all speak to the imperfect struggle to connect and work together.
4 Helmet Row, London, EC1V 3QJ
19-29 July 2012
Part II of the MM project is slated for October at Alfred Gallery in Tel Aviv.