The great repression

Today we are still occupied in constantly repressing ideas and notions or at least accusing others of doing so.

March 21, 2012 22:27
3 minute read.
AN IMAGE from the show, blurriness is intentional

Don't reuse 370. (photo credit: Thomas Ruff, Germany,” Jpeg NT04”, 2007 Courtesy o)

Try to imagine an all-out nuclear war in the Middle East. Or even worse – a terrorist organization that gets hold of a nuclear bomb capable of destroying a whole city. Frightening thought? This is exactly the point where repression and denial take place, yet we are all no strangers to repression for repression is deeply embedded in our society.

This is the point where imagination ends and the Beyond Memory exhibition at Jerusalem’s Museum on the Seam begins; the point where we dare not imagine anymore and where the repressed is carefully placed in the abyss of the unconscious.

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If we could undergo therapy as a society, repression would probably be exposed during our sessions on the “collective couch” as one of the building blocks or survival mechanisms that are bonding Israeli society today and allowing us to follow our daily routines and maintain a façade of “normal living.”

Since its establishment, repression has played a key role in the shaping of the newborn Israeli society. It started with the formation of the image of the “Sabra” – the native Israeli super-Jew that shunned the stereotypes of the “Yehudi Galuti” – the Jew of the exile, who was seen as weak and submissive, who could not control his own future and was subjected to the whims and mercy of others.

One of the more troubling aspects of this kind of repression manifested itself in the early days of the state, when Holocaust survivors were sometimes looked upon as living examples of the “Yehudi Galuti” and had to hide their identity in order not to be ridiculed by the “Sabra.” In an ongoing effort to repress all traces of the galut (exile), foreign-sounding names were changed to Israeli names and the many Goldbergs (Gold Mountain in German) who immigrated to Israel, were now Har-Zahav (Gold Mountain in Hebrew).

Today we are still occupied in constantly repressing ideas and notions or at least accusing others of doing so: the political Right in Israel is blaming the Left of repressing and overlooking anti-Israel incitement and indoctrination in Arab society and the lack of a true desire for peace, while the Left is accusing the Right of repressing the changing demographic situation whereby the Arab population growth and the lack of partition of the land with the Palestinians into two state is seen by them as a one-way street to a binational state in the land of Israel.

Yet the major repression of our time, that penetrates through political beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds, is the fear of a new kind of war that has not been seen yet in the region and whose implications are unimaginable – a nuclear war.

Beyond Memory, which opens on Friday, March 23, sets out on a memory-aided journey to the future, to face works of art which expose us to images delved from the archives of repression and denial of fears and anxieties from our past experiences. It attempts to examine through them future scenarios awaiting us and to learn from them how to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Themistocles, who lived in the 5th century BCE, deliberated on his desire to learn the art of forgetting rather than the art of memory; “I remember things I wish to forget,” he said’ “and cannot forget things I wish to remember.”

Beyond Memory is another attempt to raise these questions, not by way of browsing through picture albums of the events and horrors, and without animating the problematic images stored in the memory reservoirs and in humanity’s consciousness, but rather “in an effort to cleanse dangerous sentiments,” as Aristotle defined the role of art.

The curatorial work focused on reaching the viewer’s subconscious through metaphoric images beyond memory, rather than through the documents stored in it. Before it is too late.

Frances Ferguson explains the inability to imagine the potential future disasters or total destruction, naming it the “nuclear sublime,” since knowledge and intelligence cannot grasp it, and unlike past disasters, we can only define its extent and meaning by way of metaphors and analogies, since no one will survive to testify its occurrence.

Exhibition Beyond Memory, opens at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, March 23 at the Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem.

The writer is the spokesman for the Museum on the Seam, a socio-political contemporary art museum in Jerusalem.

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