Smoking Utopia # 2


Collaborative Solo show with Reuven Zahavi

Curator: Varda Genossar

Under  challenging and critical title, Smoking Utopia, the artists Ariane Littman and Reuven Zahavi present a new joint project following on a series of collaborative works that they began in 2005 in the Donald Duck’s Dream project, based on Ariane Littman’s photographs taken at the time of the “Disengagement” settler resistance events.

They construct, on the basis of an ideological and formal dialogue, their artistic outlook on the current reality in Israel and on the occurrences and social confrontations seen from a nonconformist point of view. Theirs is a stand that attempts to distance itself from the relevant commentary on events, and aims at positioning the evidence in a place where it does not lack presence but nevertheless cannot be clearly identified.

Utopia, the ideal society, and smoking are contradictory terms that align along a single axis – the inevitable clash between hope and aspiration and between reality beset with the debris of war and devastation.

In the video presentation at the center of the exhibition several monitors, on which are screened video clips that build the images, display Ariane Littman’s photographs together with Reuven Zahavi’s animation, reflecting a well-known complex reality.

The works shown in the present exhibit are the continuation of the first part of the project, shown at the Artists Workshop in Jerusalem in 2007 as part of the He’ara 11 events, the sequel of which is now being shown in the present exhibition. The haziness, the blindness, and the ambiguity that envelops the problematic reality concerning everything connected with Israel’s occupation and the settlements are expressed here, and reflect this situation as though through a semi-reflecting mirror.

A camera placed in the center of the installation films the viewer himself observing the video clips, blending his reflection in the screen with the events, and thereby clearly turning him into an accomplice in some part of the reality. This delicate subtlety pointing to the fact that we are silent observers standing idly by encapsulates a statement that reveals the poignancy of the sadness.

Watching from the sidelines is further demonstrated by the viewer’s ability to physically move around the installation, thus causing this unrestricted locomotion to express the search for various reference points from all the diverse aspects. Intentional Sisyphean repetition of each clip represents both the existential aspect of the occurrences that weave the texture of life in our land as a succession of construction and destruction, as well as the dissatisfaction felt on facing the current reality. Ariane Littman’s photographs taken during the 2006 “Summer Rain” campaign (the IDF operation that was launched as a reprisal for the kidnapping of the soldier Gil’ad Shalit) are shrouded in shadows and smoke that camouflage the movement of the soldiers in the field. A collection of her new works Born to be Free is based on photographs taken in Kissufim in 2005, which embrace the idea of emptiness and destruction and strengthen the feeling of loss. Fragments of concrete slabs piled high are covered with graffiti chiseled by those who endeavored to perpetuate the painful period, while a bright azure sky glistening above them emphasises the “indifference” of time and nature flowing unconcernedly in their unmarked permanent courses.

Violently dislodged windows in these photographs by Littman constitute some kind of additional “frames” that reflect the chaotic surroundings in the semi-opaque glass, and a shattered window in the foreground of the photograph portrays on its broken surface a network of cracks above which the caption “Born to be Free” accentuates the dichotomy between living in freedom and trapped in captivity.

Such a bleakness reverberates also in Reuven Zahavi’s animations – barren expanses, a desolation above which floats an abandoned swing leaving footprints in space of a life that has since vanished. In these video clips red lights can be seen flashing warning signals, a clear sign of danger. Also coloured in red are sentences, taken from statements made by an IDF spokesman, in the work Just Words – an animation by Zahavi and Littman, naturally bringing to mind the expression “There’s no smoke without fire.”

In the work Summer Rain 2008, the tanks that left Kissufim in 2005 are returning in 2006, and their progress is recorded in purposeful slow motion, intensifying the horror of their presence as snarling beasts emerging from the dark and making for a clear target. A green light beamed from a projector colors the whole event in a disturbing shade of green, attempting to enhance the night vision, to distinguish details of the operation that would otherwise have been invisible.

The “Utopia” that envelops all this is meticulously described in Zahavi’s animations. These works outline an ideal, detail-free inner space that is also “sterile” as against the marked outside area seen through the windows spouting smoke.

Against the continuum of black squares formed by the camera’s “frames” stands the composition in light colors of a pool filled with peaceful azure water, desolate sand dunes and hills, and an empty swing that has long stopped swinging. Reality and Utopia, hope that peace is almost at hand, and all that represents it – a lawn, a pool, quietness, tranquility – is there. Except that it is devoid of human presence, which leaves hanging in the air the tension inherent in the question that must be asked when confronting reality.

In the three-dimensional animation work Kissufim Labyrinth 2007, based on Ariane’s photographs, a maze has been constructed out of protective concrete slabs. The motion of the camera and the sound of footsteps inside the closed structure magnify the emptiness of the space, and strengthen the sensation of being both the pursued and the pursuer, of being lost and trapped, with the resulting sense of confusion. In Reuven Zahavi’s animation, the gray concrete slabs rise up to the full height of the frame, capturing a halo of light. The power of the closed structure is reminiscent of fortified walls, or of the sensation of the ramified interior space of a cathedral, both of which arouse a sense of secrecy and a certain thrill.

The emptiness and movement  in Littman and Zahavi’s collaborative work, and its studied anonymity, all strive towards an abstract and universal statement that revolves around the constant quest for answers, and assigns the viewer the task of going out, climbing down into the maze and getting to the root of things.

Varda Genosar  (Translated from the Hebrew by Amos Riesel)

הזמנה זהבי ליטמןSmoking U 01Smoking U 02Smoking U 03Smoking U 04Smoking U 05Smoking U 06Smoking U 07Smoking U 08Smoking U 09Smoking U 10Smoking U 11Smoking Utopia 08 1Smoking Utopia 08 2
Ariane Littman