It’s a nice idea, and one not without interest. Take a ship, sail it into
extraterritorial waters and project video art onto the sails.
there’s a little bit more to it than that.The idea was the brainchild of
two Israeli artists, Ruti Sela and Ma’ayan Amir, for the purposes of their
project, Ex-territory – a project initiated in 2009 to serve as a platform for
art and to encourage dialogue on issues such as identity and
What made the project novel and aroused the interest of artists
and curators, at home and abroad, was that the intended forum for discussion and
the artworks for display were presented on a ship, which sailed out to a
designated neutral space – in this case, a strip of extraterritorial water off
the coast of Israel.
In the context of Sela and Amir’s ongoing project,
extraterritoriality can essentially be understood as a physical space lying
outside a country’s borders and jurisdiction – a neutral space, or a kind of
Reflecting on the idea in its early stages, Amir says, “We
were interested in notions of space and identity. The idea that if art is
exhibited in a specific location, it creates a certain context. How can art go
beyond things such as nationality and ideology? For us, this logic doesn’t come
from art but politics.”
Sela elaborates, “We are looking to create a new
context where, for example, you are not necessarily seen as an Israeli or a
Palestinian artist, you are outside of believing that you represent your
Amir refers to these definitions or categories as a kind of
“national identity theater” and ultimately limiting. “I think it’s a reaction to
specific political conditions and a need to ask how we can go beyond this
existing political context,” she says.
For the two artists, the answer
was “to take this idea of an extraterritorial space, a space that would suspend
– temporarily at least – these constraints, not necessarily to escape them but
in order to rethink them,” says Amir.
The first Ex-territory event was a
success, notable for the visually striking projections of video art onto the
sails of ships. It also helped to encourage discussion and raise some of the more
philosophical questions they were concerned with.
The next phase was,
considering the political climate at the time, a brave move on the part of its
organizers. Sela and Amir had been planning a second excursion into
extraterritorial waters for over than a year and had selected more than 20
artists to participate and organized a program for the trip. A few days before
their departure, the Mavi Marmara incident occurred.
affected our event,” says Amir, not least because it “took place in
international waters. We were working on this art project, and the attack
happened only days before. It completely shifted people’s opinions, and they
were afraid to come,” she says.
“We knew we were taking a risk because
the army had advised us against the trip, saying there was a possibility of more
violence. Another flotilla was on its way, and we decided to join it,” she
Despite everybody’s fears, there was no trouble. Video works
were projected onto the sails of the ship, likewise onto the flotilla’s sails,
and a series of discussions were held on board, revolving around the various
themes of the project.
All of this was broadcast and watched on the
Internet by thousands of interested parties.
Since this “event,” Sela and
Amir have extended the project to Paris and received an award for their
activities from UNESCO. The project has taken on a more theoretical and
conceptual aspect, and there is a book in the offing centred around the subject
The pair continue to hold meetings and events at
home and abroad with a view to advancing the project. The latest of these took
place on the last weekend of 2012 as a group of artists, curators and other
interested participants were taken by bus to the Red Sea for a series of
lectures, discussions, video installations and film screenings, some of which
took place on a ship in extraterritorial waters.
The event was somewhat
marred by program cancellations: the planned workshops and some of the film
screenings never materialized. To compensate for this, some of the films were
shown on the return journey on the bus.
There was also no getting away
from the fact that a ship is a difficult space to curate, and one in which it
can be difficult to hold people’s attention. After the curator’s introductions,
participants were free to view the installations, the films or simply to mingle
and enjoy the occasion.
While the art on display was unremarkable, the
documentaries, in particular Silvia Casalino’s No Gravity, elicited more
Joon Lynn Goh, an independent producer from England, curated
one of the video installations and is working towards a future collaboration
with Sela and Amir to take place in London later this year. According to Goh,
the event will be themed around a mass of territory in Southeast Asia,
historically referred to as “Zomia” – an area traditionally outside governmental
control and populated by various ethnic minorities.
If all goes according
to plan, the event will be structured over two or three days and take place in
one of the city’s YMCA buildings. People will be invited to book a room, with a
different performance taking place in each. Goh says the works will be
language-less, with a view to “experiencing extraterritoriality in a bodily,
What next for Ex-territory? Amir says, “The ties between
technology and extraterritorial epistomologies are the focus of the project’s
current phase. [This involves] TMS technology – a non-invasive method that can
cause brain activity through electromagnetic stimulation of magnetic fields in
specific parts of the brain, which produces and controls body
According to Amir, this can lead to a “suspension of autonomy
and moral responsibility.” She stresses that Ex-territory is not an anti-Israel
project but one that should include all narratives.
Indeed, it seems that
the project, as well as becoming more theoretical, is also extending its
boundaries to be inclusive of more personal and social “territories.”
don’t want to limit the project to extraterritorial spaces,” says Amir.
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