German and Israeli artists explore their countries’ intricate relationship in a multidisciplinary exhibition.

Presented by The Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) in Berlin and the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Tel Aviv, “Conditions of Political Choreography” features experimental works by internationally renowned artists, performers, theatre-makers and dancers, who have been invited to respond to each organising institution and its sociopolitical context.


It was once the work of historians to parse events in a neat, consumable chronology of static events that current and future generations could readily consume. History, as a discipline, has since expanded to include critical dimensions regarding its own methodology, particularly re-examining political and social events as dynamic relationships between political actors rather than simply static occurrences. This view of history is at the heart of “Conditions of Political Choreography”, a collaborative research project and exhibition series between the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA), Tel Aviv (17 November – 7 January 2017), and the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) (16 June – 16 July 2017), who have commissioned new works of theatre, dance, visual art and participatory performance, to explore the political and historical dimensions between Germany and Israel.

The joint venture is a departure from conventional art exhibitions in that the works contained within it are presented at CCA consecutively three days a week within what the organisers have termed a “spatial intervention”, created by Berlin-based architect and designer Markus Missen. When the exhibition is presented in its second iteration at n.b.k., the spatial intervention will be designed by New York-based Israeli artist Ohad Meromi.

The collaborative project is programmatic, comprised of a series of “discursive events” that include artist talks, performances and exhibition tours, in addition to film screenings. These works negotiate transnational diplomacy between Israel and Germany. Art Radar highlights four of the artists participating in the series.

Yael Bartana, sketch for 'Tashlikh (Cast off)', 2016. Image courtesy the artist, Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, and Petzel Gallery, New York.

Yael Bartana, sketch for ‘Tashlikh (Cast off)’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist, Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam, and Petzel Gallery, New York.

Yael Bartana’s Tashlikh (Cast Off) addresses through film the idea of history – or rather, histories – as burden. The title comes from the Jewish tradition of tashlikh – the tossing of bread or other objects as a ceremonial gesture towards rectifying one’s sins – but the work goes beyond Jewish tradition to address victims of genocide, not only the Holocaust, but also ethnic cleansing in Sudan, Armenia and Eritrea. Bartana’s work functions as a platform for not only voicing the psychological weight of genocide but also as a means for absolving them. In the spirit of “political choreography”, Bartana’s work transfers agency from those who are the supposed ‘victors’ in history to those who are most disenfranchised.

Michal Helfman, sketch for 'Forgive My Bad Memories', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv.

Michal Helfman, sketch for ‘Forgive My Bad Memories’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Sommer Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv.

If Bartana’s Tashlikh is a gesture towards absolving the past through active ritual, then Michal Helfman’s Forgive My Bad Memories attempts the same goal of exoneration through cyclical, repetitive actions. Helfman uses the metaphor of the washing machine as an analogy for stages preceding and following conflict, going from ‘normal’ (times of stability following conflict that are seen as moments for commemoration or reflection), ‘intensive’ (actual conflict) and ‘delicate’ – a precarious stage outside of cycles that asks us to consider conflicts as specific and requiring a human touch, or ‘hand care’. For Helfman as for Bartana, the artwork functions largely as conceit, perhaps because the confrontation of the brutality of conflict is too difficult, or ineffective.

Susanne M Winterling, sketch for 'The Bladder of Gaia', 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Susanne M Winterling, sketch for ‘The Bladder of Gaia’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Other projects in the exhibition draw attention to the interconnectedness between individuals and their environment as an example of how these relationships are discursive, producing multiple histories. Susanne M. Winterling’s The Bladder of Gaia, which toes the lines between performance, installation and happening, examines the possibilities of ritual via sensory experience, through a series of immersive projects including fish pedicures accompanied by data visualisations that address an aquifer named “The Bladder of Gaia”. This aquifer serves a catalyst for Winterling – who appears in a live stream video with the viewer – to probe questions surrounding human interactions with nature in the age of constant technological intervention.

For Winterling, these interactions comprise an understanding of political power as biopower, advancing that concept as not only the regulation of bodies, but in light of resource scarcity, the control of bodies as sustained by these limited natural resources. This political coercion is inevitably a contested site, as struggles for the use of land and water inform the ability to govern and exercise political freedoms.

Yochai Avrahami, sketch for 'Agriculture, Pride, and Scruples', 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Yochai Avrahami, sketch for ‘Agriculture, Pride, and Scruples’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Land and water rights are the central concern of Yochai Avrahami, whose performance Agriculture, Pride, and Scruples, presented as a “closed-circuit guide”, follows the historical representation of agriculture in Israel from its early history as a settlement to the establishment of a Jewish State. In this progression, agriculture functions as an organising principle for nationalist ideology, as evidenced through an understanding of settlement as a utopian project, as well as a marker of progress, seen in the exhibition of cattle, flower and agricultural technology in trade shows.

Avrahami makes an economic case as much as a political one, and in his work is the echo of Winterling, Bartana and Helfman’s underlying credo that what currently exists, or what has occurred in the past, cannot simply just be accepted. Each of the four artists, in addressing history and its discontents, strive for an alternative to what once was, and position their work as a site of potential.

Yochai Avrahami, sketch for 'Agriculture, Pride, and Scruples: A Closed-Circuit Guided Exhibit Tour', 2016. Photo: Assaf Saban.

Yochai Avrahami, sketch for ‘Agriculture, Pride, and Scruples: A Closed-Circuit Guided Exhibit Tour’, 2016. Photo: Assaf Saban.

Much of the organisation of this collaborative project between Tel Aviv’s CCA and the n.b.k. is aimed not so much to arrive at answers, but to generate questions. In the press release, the organisations offer some of these questions:

What is the difference between being hosted (in a space, in a country) and being contained? When does the freedom to collaborate become an obligation to do so? What are the responsibilities that come with power?

In lieu of directing visitors towards answers to these questions, the organisers present on their website a Resource Room, linked by thematic keywords such as “#Commemorative Absolution,” “#EuropeFatigue,” “#EmpathicUnsettlement,” and the like. These hyperlinks are guideposts towards a continued questioning and examination of the political dynamics – or choreography – that gesture toward a nuanced understanding.

Yochai Avrahami, sketch for 'Agriculture, Pride, and Scruples: A Closed-Circuit Guided Exhibit Tour', 2016. Photo: Assaf Saban.

Yochai Avrahami, sketch for ‘Agriculture, Pride, and Scruples: A Closed-Circuit Guided Exhibit Tour’, 2016. Photo: Assaf Saban.

The project is entitled “Conditions of”, after all, implying that its aim is to build a framework or platform for the development of a synchronised political choreography rather than a substantial heuristic for determining political engagement or efficacy. The bifurcated nature of the project – the events for summer 2017 are still contingent on the development of the “spatial intervention” by Ohad Meromi – allows the artists, curators and participants to bask in a space of potential; through this platform, any number of possibilities remain open. The exhibition’s curator Chen Tamir tells Art Radar about the project:

The idea was to challenge all of our pre-conceived ideas — about how group shows are structured, how visual art is formed and how it’s experienced, how culture and societies are formed, how history is written, and more. It makes for a very challenging show to curate, and also to see. We are asking our audience to come back every week, which we know will rarely happen, but this requires them to imagine things beyond what they’re seeing. It’s an exhibition that unfolds over time — and in two different venues since it will manifest again in June 2017 at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, who have co-curated it with us. It’s an extremely ambitious, multi-layered, and experimental project with vectors reaching in many different directions.

Tausif Noor


Related Topics: Israeli, German, performance, political, environment, Berlin events

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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