Often we discover ourselves when we are put in new or different contexts. Fresh situations cause us to evaluate who we are and what is important to us. For Danielle Heiblum and Or Tshuva, arriving to study in London afforded an opportunity to truly examine their Israeli origins. It also allowed them to meet one another and to begin a joint journey that brought to life the book Alternatives to Narrative: Necessary Political Practices in Visual Culture, which will be released tonight in a celebration in Tel Aviv.
“We hadn’t met each other before we arrived at Goldsmiths University of London,” explains Tshuva over coffee and juice in Habima Square. Tshuva, 29, was born and raised in Netanya and lives in south Tel Aviv.
Her partner in work, theory and ruminations, Danielle Heiblum, has lived in or around Tel Aviv for all of her 32 years of life, excluding her time in London.
As two Israeli students in London, Tshuva and Heiblum fell easily into step with one another. Following many of the lectures, the two would discuss the application of the ideas to the Israeli arts community and greater society.
“We were both pursing an MFA in visual cultures at Goldsmiths. We were in a course about transcultural memories. We ended up talking about the course a lot and about how to bring about a more practical approach to the topic. We brainstormed about forming a dialogue group or an exhibition that would deal with the subject. We specifically talked about it not being a book,” stresses Heiblum.
Visual culture refers to an aspect of culture expressed in visual images such as art, commercials, Internet, film and even animation or gaming.
“We started to look for writing about visual culture in Hebrew and discovered that it really didn’t exist. We both felt that it was important that there would be texts devoted to the topic, written in Hebrew. You could say that we had to move to London to discover this lack here.”
In 2013, Tshuva and Heiblum filled out an application for a grant from the National Lottery Association to develop their idea into a book. They were nothing short of shocked when they received confirmation of the grant. From there, the two moved their conversations to Google Docs, where draft after draft of text was entered, pored over, tweaked and agreed upon.
“Anyone who says that working in a pair saves time is wrong,” says Tshuva with a laugh.
The overall idea was to dismantle the way that politics are discussed, says Tshuva, using the world of visual art as an example and guide.
“It is a book that emerged from a political situation that is not a political book,” she says. “It’s about how we stop talking about politics and talk about political knowledge instead. Instead of talking about things we read in the paper, how can we talk about the systems behind those events, the larger narratives and the tendencies or histories associated with them?
“Political conversation is about content. We are talking breaking down the conversation into pieces such as form, time, place, language and narrator.”
“It is impossible for us, here, in Israel, to imagine a different future from what we are living today. If we take apart the narrative and there is no past, present or future continuum, we can imagine a completely different future, one that is not reliant or connected to what is now,” says Heiblum.
Visual art provides a good starting point for such thinking, they explain. By exploring a number of case studies borrowed from the Israeli visual art world, Tshuva and Heiblum propose an alternative approach to political discourse.
“There are video pieces in which the artist imagines a potential future,” she says. Heiblum sites a project by Ruti Sela and Ma’ayan Amir which presents alternative systems of government and finance in a series of videos.
“We look at that project and think not about how art is influenced by life but how life can be influenced by art,” adds Tshuva.
Another project that is mentioned in the book is Gaza Canal
by Tamir Zadok, in which Zadok presents a documentary, commercial video for the separation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of Israel by means of a massive digging process and the creation of a 44-kilometer canal – in past tense.
“The amazing thing about that project is that Tamir made it in a cynical way yet the idea has been raised by politicians in a serious way many times over the years,” says Tshuva.
The design of the book was equally as important to the two as the content, so they turned to local studio Grotesca Design early on in the process.
“The medium of the book is the message,” says Heiblum. “We wanted it to feel like a work book, like something that you could pick up and leaf through and not feel had to be read from start to finish necessarily.”
Here, the alternative to narrative comes to life, in the spiral binding that allows for the start to become the beginning and the middle to get lost in the shuffle.
Now that the book is designed and printed, Tshuva and Heiblum are toying with the notion of returning to their original plan, an exhibition or dialogue group.
“We are releasing the book in Tel Aviv and then hoping to move on to Haifa and then Jerusalem. From there, we will need to evaluate what our next steps will be,” says Tshuva.The release party for Alternatives to Narrative will take place tonight at Beit Hana on Ben Gurion Street in Tel Aviv at 8 p.m. The book is currently available at book stores around the country.