Saturday, June 16, 2007

No Rest for the Wicked Ones [ENG]

[From the exhibition catalogue of Avi Mograbi published by Van Abbemuseum /
Avi Mograbi'nin Eindhoven'daki Van Abbemuseum'da gerçekleştirdiği serginin kataloğu için yazıldı]

Some geographies permit the construction of a public sphere. Here, ideally, the analytical, reflexive, coherent and slowly unfolding arguments of social actors and cultural practitioners build up a progressive field of smooth negotiation and political debate. The hypothetic conception of an agonistic platform on which differing political opinions relate to each other as respectable contenders comes into being and make discourse possible. Other geographies do not have this luxury. In some (most) of the planet, there is scarcely any space to assume fair, non-coercive competition between ideas. The comfort of academic havens is lacking, there are no non-identitarian niches or sub-cultural formations that could be used to bypass the overwhelming burden of the context.

A critical, artistic examination of Avi Mograbi’s films derived from the perspective of the first kind of geographies gets confused about the leaps inherent in his work. It wonders why he employs a stern tone in a particular film while humour is prevalent in rest of the works, why there is a devoutly documentarist language in a particular piece while techniques of fiction are used unreservedly in others. Variations within and among Mograbi’s works in terms of structuring the narrative and applying a variegated set of enunciative and psychological moods have less to do with a mannerist effort to develop an “aesthetics of failure” than with the restlessness of a radical critic. He is quite aware that a parrhesiatic stance within a society paralysed by a stiffening consensus imposed by conformism, ideological propaganda and violent measures requires more than an unmediated appeal to transparency, objectivism and articulation. The distance between Mograbi as the author of the films and Mograbi acting as the film director within the narratives allows him to employ a multiplicity of tools to interrupt and undo the flimsy consistency of national myths and destabilise the hypocritical call for absolute identification with the nation and for a conflict-free society in the future tense (and at the expense of others). Mograbi’s works course along, tensely held between an effort at disidentification and the critical and specific engagement with the culture in which he is embedded. The parallax between Mograbi himself and his personae in the films, gives him the ground to process this tension, and facilitates a playful self-mockery that functions as a disclosure of the troubles, deadlocks and fatalist paradoxes of the Israeli Left.

Towards the end of the film How I Learned to Overcome My Fear and Love Ariel Sharon we see the documentary director let himself be immersed by the religious crowd dancing to the live music of an ultra Orthodox, extreme right wing rock band supporting the Likud campaign in the coming elections. The prolonged wait and then failed arrival of Sharon himself, the consequent fatigue in the audience, and the decline into pathos hint vaguely a possible misgivings and disappointment in a united group. The number of people in the compound creates a self-pitying atmosphere in which the enthusiastic slogans of the rock band sound absurdly out of place. The documentary director’s carefree dance on the floor and his accompaniment to the slogans chanted opens up a field of ambivalence in which the film maker problematises the legitimacy of a critical gaze assumed to be exterior to his object of critique (the culture he has been part of or so far related to). At the same time, and in conflict with that assumption, his presense displays the gradual sanitisation and loss of political antagonisms – a point that is actually the main theme of the whole film as played out in the relationship between the director and Sharon.

A similar scene appears in Avenge But One of My Two Eyes. A Kahanist rock group is on the scene, but this time the psychological atmosphere is rather warmer: more blatantly aggressive and racist lyrics, fully fledged sound supported by multiple electro-guitars, virile and kinetic ecstasy cherished by the packed crowd in the hall. For a moment, we detect Mograbi standing in the crowd with headphones on his ears. This time the mood doesn’t allow mockery. The air is filled with an uncompromising antagonism and confrontation so that there is no need (even in the shortened version of the scene shown as a separate gallery projection) for adding comment, contextualisation, critical or ironic intervention into the recorded material.

This sobering effect is implanted into the last scenes of Happy Birthday Mr Mograbi as well. Throughout the film, the artist juxtaposes a series of skilful decomposition of the jubilee celebrations of the State of Israel, and exposition of inconsistencies, contradictions and the practices of ideological veiling that portray Israel (not unlike any other nation state) as a naturally developed entity, establishing it as the oldest nation that could survive millennia and being crowned teleogically with the young state and its harmonious, peace-seeking society. A personal drama on a property conflict (functioning as an allegory of the political development of the recent past) collapses the idea of a temporary identification with the state (the coincidence of overlapping birth days). The firework images taken from the celebrations are followed by street clashes in the Territories, and the film ends with the unsettling image of a Palestinian man lying on the ground, his skull emptied by a rifle bullet.

What goes further than this sobering visual effect is the moment in Avenge but one of my two eyes when the distance between the author, the camera-holder and the political being gets flattened. Mograbi loses control while addressing young soldiers blocking the road for Palestinian school kids to get home. As the soldiers shout back, he leaves in the reaction of one of the soldiers who says that shoudl be ashamed of himself for the way he speaks. The breath-taking scene offers a candid self-examination and exhibits the limitations of a cultural product (or even the appeal for political negotiation with a coercive power).

1 Comments:

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