Machines for Living
Manuela Lietti for Frieze Magazine
June 2012

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Yaffo 23, Jerusalem, Israel

The group show ‘Machines for Living’ is hosted by Yaffo 23, a non-profit space associated with the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and located on the third floor of an old office built during the British Mandate. The exhibition presents the works of 13 international artists who, directly or indirectly, focus on one of the most frequently explored yet most indefinable notions in the contemporary world: the feeling of belonging or not belonging associated with the search for what we commonly define as a home (land), a space between the real and ideal, between continuity and rupture. The works on show are a visual compendium of the metaphorical implications of the artists’ ideas, constantly shifting between the theoretical and pragmatic worlds, the microcosm and the macrocosm, the domestic and social spheres. Once within this space, viewers are immediately confronted with works that challenge their perception of the familiar and the homely, constituting a visual oxymoron imbued with overwhelming visual tension.
The subtle yet witty installation by young artist Dina Kornveits, Grandmother’s Asleep (2010), is a cabinet like those found in a middle-class family’s living room; it is filled with carefully arranged pieces of china. Belonging to the artist’s Moscow-born grandmother who immigrated to Israel, the fragile china seems a cherished treasure, a sacred and untouchable core of the domestic world, a metonymy for archaic roots, and the ultimate safe haven. However, every few minutes this graceful arrangement shakes due to subwoofers hidden in the cabinet. Thus, the familiar coexists with unexpected and uncontrollable forces that challenge the precarious balance of a previously self-contained world that is now exposed to outside forces.
The unavoidable intermingling of the domestic and societal spheres is also embodied by the collaborative work of Andrea Zittel and Lior Shvil. Thanks to Shvil’s intervention, Oz Belev Yam (2011), Zittel’s classic 1996 A-Z Escape Vehicle becomes a living cell functioning as an independent organism whose interior is designed according to its relationship with the human body. The work also reflects the mechanisms of control and protection dominating today’s society, exemplified by a video showing a takeover attempt and live scenes shot in the gallery space. The architectural element is not merely functional; although this structure may be reminiscent of Minimalism’s functionality and pragmatism, it becomes a metaphor for a psychological dimension in which the controllers and the controlled coexist. Each architectural element is no longer neutral; it becomes a potential battlefield.
In the same space, an intense yet succinct photographic installation by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin speak of places whose semantic meaning have been changed by history. Entitled Chicago (2006), the piece refers an Israeli training ground made to look like a generic Arab village. The artists took these haunting shots while they were in Israel during the Second Intifada. Holes were cut into the photos where the gallery windows are; this blending of the gallery space with the art work creates a feeling of displacement, casts doubt on common notions of reality, and highlights the complex geopolitics of the city of Jerusalem.
On the right end of the gallery the video works Always After (The Glass House) (2006) by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle and Pictorial Space Drama (2010) by German artist Heike Gallmeier engage the viewer in a space suspended between fact and fiction where architectural elements are the pretext for a deeper reflection on the burden of history. The work of Manglano-Ovalle considers the legacy of Modernism, while Gallmeier’s piece reflects the deconstruction and representation of history through discarded materials from both high and low culture and present and past history. Along with these monumental pieces, small works like Marion Ritzmann’s drawings entitled Roadline Detail (2010) and Almog Neeman’s coluorful watercolours on paper (House at Bustan HaGalil, 2012) give a gentle touch to a very concise but effective arrangement.
However, the conclusion is just a few steps away from the beginning. Three humanized machines performing repetitive and useless gestures and a de-humanized head covered in blonde hair form Death and the Maiden (2009), by Shachar Freddy Kislev. The delicate gestures of the three machines are visually striking when paired with the disembodied being; this being is devoid of the identity and spark of life for which the machines so affectionately and irrationally care. This disturbing ensemble urges the viewer to ponder the subtle barrier between the mechanical dispenser of lively gestures, and the ossified “human” subject, a representative of death. Another degree of illusion is highlighted by the laundry machines Elisheva Levy made out of paper. Her work Speed Queen (2012) was inspired by the laundry machines available in motels throughout the US that bring to mind feelings of home.
Whether directly related to the Israeli context or the international one, these pieces exemplify a universal need to investigate the intermingling of the individual and collective, private and public. How we shape our home (land) reflects how we shape ourselves; whether home is evanescent, lost, or longed for, it seems more performative than monolithic.