|Photo by: Courtesy of Gilad Ratman|
The borders of humanity
By RACHEL MARDER
Gilad Ratman, representing Israel at 2013 Venice Biennale, presents disorienting films of human-beast hybrids.
Watching video and installation artist Gilad Ratman’s 588 Project is a
disorienting though harmonious experience. A stream of water gushes
through a thin, plastic tube nestled in a dark green forest. The camera moves to
a bubbling, chocolate brown swamp. A face with a pained expression appears
outlined in the mud, as a swamp figure starts to emerge. More muddy heads
creep to the surface breathing through plastic tubes, and the screen splits into
two simultaneous images. The mix of leafy, watery and smooth textures on either
screen complement each other, the sounds of nature create a serene scene, as the
dark figures lurk.
The 2009 video installation, filmed in Arkansas,
garnered tremendous attention for the Haifa native, who will represent Israel at
the 55th Venice Biennale in June 2013, a highly prestigious contemporary arts
festival that draws over 30,000 visitors from around the world looking to see
the most innovative artists of the day.
Ratman’s video installation
Multipillory (2010) is based on a medieval torture instrument, and Give her back
or Take me too (2004) is a seven-minute video showing a person struggling out of
a swampy lake through a forest and carrying a heavy human-beast hybrid. Each
step is painstaking as the viewer struggles to make sense of what is
“It is a love story, but some love stories are very
disturbing,” says Ratman in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from
New York City, where he lives when he’s not in Tel Aviv. “I guess I am going for
The 36-year-old Bezalel graduate succeeds if viewers
feel their understanding of the world collapse when they watch his
“The box of tools that you think you have to do something is no
longer fixed and then you have to rearrange things,” he says.
doesn’t stop at subverting and undermining the viewer. He wants the the audience
to then create their own unexpected meaning out of the chaos.
call is to make this discomfort or this confusion or misunderstanding something
positive, not as something that the viewer will think ‘I’m stupid, I can’t
understand,’ but more like, ‘wow, I don’t understand it but I want to, and I can
create something out of it.’” Ratman says that for the Biennale he’s working on
a multi-video installation that will “tell the story of a small community on a
long journey that ends up with a big surprise.”
In disorienting fashion,
he cannot divulge any more details. While he is excited and honored to present,
he says he’s also quite nervous.
“It’s a bit stressing because I feel
that everybody’s looking to see what will be, what will I do.”
isn’t any reason a critic would label Ratman’s work as “Israeli” or “Jewish,”
but he says his sources of inspiration are naturally embedded in his identity,
in the politics and history of Israel. And his work is highly political,
commenting on societal power structures and the media’s role in creating popular
meaning, though critics often read his videos and installations as
non-political, he says.
“I think that the media and the people in power
are trying to dictate to us what are the important topics we should deal with,”
Ratman says. “I want to reflect things that are not dictated by this hierarchy
or this scale of importance the media is trying to create.”
love stories and communities of mud people facilitate the viewer’s questioning
of the relationship between the individual and the group, the self and the
state. The community featured in The 588 Project does not base its belonging on
an anthem, flag or government, he says, rather, they undermine the traditional
social structure and are united as mud beings.
As a child, Ratman says he
excelled in drawing and took an interest in cavemen and animals, influences and
images he sees in his work today.
“What are the borders of humanity and
what makes us human,” he says, of his work’s focus. “I think my role in society
is not as a leader but more as somebody who asks questions and presents other
ways of thinking.”