The line between art and activism is thin and fraught with risk. If a curator
veers too far into politicking, an exhibition might alienate the open-minded.
But when art ignores political reality, it loses the power of
Opening Saturday night, the exhibition “Iran” wears bright
activist colors in a warning sign against possible military action. Featured at
The Spaceship Gallery on 70 Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv – across the street from
the US Embassy – the exhibition employs televised multimedia and unconventional
mediums to convey an unequivocal anti-war message and criticize the socalled
Curator Roy Chicky Arad is not shy in describing the
art show’s message, which draws attention to psychological neuroses and
deep-rooted fears. “Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] feels as if he’s a
kid in Auschwitz,” says Arad, worrying about the prospect of war. “The
comparison of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to Hitler is
In the multifloored exhibition hall, different displays provoke
and unsettle the visitor. On the rooftop, a 3.6-meter missile entitled Nimrod
points at the diplomatic mission. Constructed from a metal plumbing pipe, the
rocket is spray-painted with flashing solar lights attached to the
“It’s a very sad joke,” artist Guy Briller says. Like a phallic
object, the rocket is “a very basic symbol of masculinity, a representation of
power and control.”
Its initial placement upset US Embassy officials, who
raced across the street to check its lethality. “After an hour, five guards came
from the embassy and said, ‘Hey, you can’t point this toward the embassy,’” says
Briller. In an attempt to defuse the crisis, “Iran” organizers offered to
move the rocket away from the embassy and point it toward the sea.
see this missile – it’s become disco and rock ’n’ roll,” curator Ari Libsker
says as loud trance music blasts from the roof deck. “We should be afraid, but
instead we’re making fun. It’s not so serious.” Downstairs is a screening
of the violently erotic short film Tse, directed by Roee Rosen and winner at the
Venice Film Festival.
The movie contrasts sexualized violence to
far-right rhetoric, shocking the viewer with BDSM (bondage-domination-
sadism-masochism) scenes. The naked protagonist is possessed by Foreign Minister
Avigdor Liberman and thrashed by an exorcist. As the dominator whips the
haunted, she belts out Liberman’s provocative language of incitement.
the entrance to the exhibition stands a miniature wax sculpture of Defense
Minister Ehud Barak. Entitled The Most Dangerous Man in the World, the statute
takes issue with Barak’s reputed support for a military strike on
Libsker designed the wax sculpture and compares the Iranian nuclear
threat to underlying neuroses in the Israeli psyche. “It’s about the Israeli obsession with Ahmadinejad, with a
threat. But most of the people don’t want war,” he says.
looks askance at media coverage in the lead-up to war in Iran with two
mockumentaries. One film shows two Iranian inspectors visiting Israel,
investigating the Dimona nuclear facility. The director, Yossi Atia, wants the
film to question viewers’ preconceived notions about the Iranian
“We are so afraid of Iran that we forget that we have enough
power to destroy them, says Atia, referring to Israel’s ambiguous nuclear
program. “But change it to absurd, to a kindergarten, to a symbol. I see
the political issue in Israel as a metaphor – it’s part of your life; it’s like
The other mockumentary challenges Holocaust invocations in
justifying an attack on Iran. Labeled Rambo in Yad Vashem, the film shows
Israeli fighter planes bombing Auschwitz. A so-called Holocaust mentality
continues to haunt Israel’s leadership and general public, says the
mockumentary, with past threats haunting us in the present.
synopsis takes issue with “Israeli hysteria and fear of destruction, the
never-ending quest for a new Hitler-Nasser-Saddam at all costs.” The statement
also faults the never-ending existential threats, stating that they are
manufactured psychological neuroses.
“There is actually no need for
Ahmadinejad, the current hero of our psychosis,” the curators say. “He is no
more than a provisional extra… Any existence involves a threat, and any threat
is no less than a threat to our existence.”
Despite public polling that
indicates hesitation among the Israeli populace about going to war, the
exhibition may undermine itself by pushing the envelope far beyond the
mainstream. At “Iran,” conspiracy theories abound, and legitimate skepticism is
transformed into artistic radicalism.
“Iran” attempts to provoke the
viewer into political action, questioning the obedience of the silent majority
following alleged intelligence reports. But does the exhibition merely preach to
the converted? Can the exhibition provoke unsettling questions about the threat
In conversation, curator Arad says he doubts that civil defense
preparations are in place.
“I’m sure if there’s a war there will be a
commission like Winograd asking, ‘Where were the shelters? Why didn’t you plan?’
The country is not ready for war,” he says.
Despite the curator’s logical
points, “Iran” makes few serious, inflective points. A winning political
argument needs more than ironic and comic relief. The exhibition does not
address the threat of war in a serious manner.
“Iran” delves into
advocacy without a basis in political reality. But the curators would say the
same of the architects and planners in the lead-up to war. The exhibition
beguiles and intrigues but does not offer a practical political
“Iran” is on display until April 19 at the Spaceship
Gallery, 70 Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv. The hours are Sunday to Thursday, 11 to
7; Friday, 11 to 2.