A Moving Image at the AGA


Yael Bartana, video still, Kings of the Hill (2003), single Channel Video, 7:30 minute loop. Courtesy of Petzel Gallery, New York; Annet Genlink Gallery, Amsterdam; and Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv

Artists are free to choose any medium they like to express their ideas. Why, then, would a group of artists — working separately, but from the same part of the world — choose one particular medium over another? That was one of the questions being asked by the Art Gallery of Alberta’s Catherine Crowston and the National Gallery of Canada’s Josée Drouin-Brisebois, when they travelled to Israel last year on a research trip.

The result of that trip is not only an answer to their question but also A Moving Image, a new [email protected] exhibition of eight video-based works by five Israeli artists, on view at the Art Gallery of Alberta. The title is a bit of a play on words, to describe not only the medium of moving images, but also images that can move people emotionally. 

“The question Catherine and I had originally was ‘Why video’? It could be sculpture, it could be painting, it could be anything,” says Drouin-Brisebois, the NGC’s Curator of Contemporary Art. “If you look at the early use of video by artists elsewhere, some of it investigates the idea of television and the possibilities of new technology. Others have used video to really look at identity and question the self; but that is not what is going on in media art coming out of Israel.


Nira Pereg, video still, Sarah Sarah (2012), high-definition video, 4:25 minute loop. NGC

“There, the use of video is much more tied to mass media, and how mass media has been used to tell stories from specific points of view. So it is not about identity as much as it is about information and the dissemination of information and storytelling,” she adds.

The invitation to travel to Israel afforded both curators an opportunity to visit artists and to see works to which they wouldn’t otherwise have had access, as well as to understand how those works fit into the context of that place.

“I had an idea going there which I came to understand was incorrect when we started talking with artists and a historian of video and media art who was based in Tel-Aviv,” says Crowston, the AGA’s Executive Director and Chief Curator. “One of the things she said is that Israel, in general, is very media-conscious. That over the past decade, there has been so much news coverage in different types of time-based media that has both saturated and represented Israel and the Middle East in general. As a response to this, video has become an important means with which artists can make work that addresses the issues that are being raised there.”

The works in the exhibition range in scope from serious to more playful, as various aspects of the Israeli experience are explored. These include the films Abraham Abraham and Sarah Sarah (2012) by Nira Pereg, which were recently acquired by the NGC. These two single-channel HD video works run, one after the other, on four-minute, 25-second loops with stereo sound.

Projected on opposite walls, Sarah Sarah and Abraham Abraham document an unusual event that takes places at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. An ancient and sacred burial site in Hebron, the cave is a place of religious significance for both Jews and Muslims. Ten times a year, in accordance with special holidays, each faith is given full use of the site for 24 hours. Abraham Abraham documents the change to a mosque as all the Jewish artifacts are removed, while Sarah Sarah captures the change when the site is changed from a mosque to a synagogue, and all Islamic artifacts are removed.


Nira Pereg, video still, Abraham Abraham (2012), high-definition video, 4:25 minute loop. NGC

“The viewer enters the room between the two projections, putting them in a place of —almost — impartiality,” says Drouin-Brisebois. “It’s a little bit like a documentary of the everyday, but in a way that makes the everyday become quite significant.”

“It’s a constant cycle, and shows how both faiths, in this context, co-exist in a negotiated way,” adds Crowston.

Other works in the show use humour to illustrate the theme of claiming territory. Yael Bartana’s work Kings of the Hill (2003), on loan from the artist, is a single-channel video lasting seven minutes and 30 seconds. It documents a game played by Israelis on the weekends, when local residents bring their four-wheel-drive vehicles to the coastal hills outside of Tel Aviv. Well into the night, watched by crowds of people, drivers attempt to climb steep sandy slopes with Jeeps and pick-up trucks, in an adult version of the kids’ game, King of the Hill.

“It’s a kind of macho display,” says Drouin-Brisebois. “It’s really about territories and games that we have been playing since we were kids.”

A Moving Image is on view at the Art Gallery of Alberta until January 4, 2015. For more information about the exhibition please click here.

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