A walk down memory lane

An outstanding exhibition of video installations by filmmaker Chantal Akerman (b. 1950, Brussels) has revitalized a rather drab summer season at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

art exhibition 88 (photo credit: )
art exhibition 88
(photo credit: )
An outstanding exhibition of video installations by filmmaker Chantal Akerman (b. 1950, Brussels) has revitalized a rather drab summer season at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Divided among a half-dozen sections, each movie, video or expanded project contains a particular point of view related to family, trauma and displacement. Akerman, who has produced some 40 films and several video installations, delivers her thematic messages with a mixture of candor and resolve that is a pleasure to view. Born into an extended Polish-Belgian family, all of whom, with the exception of her mother, fell victim to the Holocaust, Akerman is a product of the psychological strain of silence and emotional deprivation that comes with being a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Yet, despite this, she has been able to move on in some respects, and her films do not attempt to explicitly confront the horrors of Hitler's Final Solution nor do they overly burden viewers with explanations of her unconventional life with cinematic minutiae. The introductory portion of the show is From the East, a spectacular video presentation projected in eight groups of three monitors each. The 24 screens contain a plethora of images extracted from three journeys made by Akerman from Brussels to Moscow via Germany and Poland. Her carefully trained camera slides along broad avenues, concentrates on domestic life and applauds cultural events in a somewhat distant manner. Akerman's involvement is that of a voyeur who tells a story of people with only the slightest narrative continuity. It's all about individuals waiting in line for a bus or bread, carrying more than they can manage in a railway station, ballroom dancing or receiving flowers after playing a cello concerto. These vignettes, charged by a heavy snowfall, green landscapes and the interior of warm apartments, are stitched together in an ultra-smooth transition from one frame to the next with few bumps and no shocks. To Walk Next to One's Shoelaces in an Empty Fridge is an enigmatic two-part video installation that traces the content of her maternal grandmother's adolescent diary, a rare document of considerable age miraculously discovered after she perished at Auschwitz. The visitor begins the experience by walking through a floor-to-ceiling tulle-covered spiral armature, upon which are projected kinetic texts concerning Akerman's feelings toward the biblical second commandment of not creating graven images, her films, motivations, family biography and relationship with her mother. Once past the transcendental atmosphere of the translucent tulle, the visitor is directed into the second part of the work: a darkened room containing a hanging tulle screen upon which passages from the grandmother's original diary are projected. A split screen, onto which a frank dialogue between Akerman and her mother is projected, contains long static shots that impose upon the viewer a hypnotic state of mind as the two women, often presented in meaningful close-up and out-of-focus frames, discuss their pasts in depth by confronting their histories, aspirations, Jewish identities and the tangible meaning of Grandma's diary. After a lengthy monologue entitled "Chantal Akerman on Chantal Akerman," the filmmaker has clipped together bits and pieces from a variety of films she has made over the past 40 years including Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, created in 1975. The 200-minute Dielman epic that ends in tragedy is a character study of a Belgian prostitute that established Akerman as one of the most important filmmakers of her generation. Virtually a silent movie, it describes in detail the daily life of Jeanne, how she manages her life down to the smallest detail from meeting clients and murdering one, the pedantic effort of putting up a kettle of water to boil to reading a letter, emotionless, to her son at the dining-room table. The entire experience of Chantal Akerman: A Spiral Autobiography is as gripping as it is informative. Akerman is a pilot navigating the rites of passage, both as a human being seeking basic truths and as a filmmaker exploring extended social views which, for her, inhabit a thin strip of terrain between reality and memory. Recommended viewing. IN THE Museum's Haft Hall an exceptional 22-minute video entitled The Landscape is Changing, 2003, is the creation of Mircea Cantor, a Romanian artist residing in Paris. Shot in Tirana, capital of Albania, the film documents a score or more of demonstrators carrying placards made from an unstable polished vinyl. Instead of proclaiming political ideals with slogans and declarations, the marching human cluster becomes a solid wall recording bits and pieces of an urban center from concerned pedestrians and cyclists rushing by to marvelous reflections of the city's varying, always changing, architectural facades. Because the vinyl sheets have a certain flexibility, they reflect the city's diverse landscape with an intensity of distorted forms, color and blinding light that is superb. The most satisfying aspect of the film comes from Cantor's editing competence. He transforms a passive stroll down the boulevard into a kaleidoscopic orgy of light and dark patterns, a visual event that, with a smidgen of imagination, can be converted into social concepts ranging from apocalypse to hope. (Tel Aviv Museum of Art, King Saul Blvd). No closing dates announced. WHAT CRITERIA must be met by an artist in order to be rewarded with a one-person exhibition at the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art? The question is raised in light of two incredibly mediocre shows recently installed there: The Original Nature, paintings by Eli Petel and Tardemon, an installation by Adam Rabinowitz. The answer, hopefully, should come from Dr. Motti Omer, Director and Chief Curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and its annex, the Rubinstein Pavilion, who wields his authority with a firm hand. If the visitor can make sense out of the introductory remarks (no catalogues available), written in artspeak gobbledegook by curator Ory Dessau, it might help understand what these two artists are up to. The Petel display of oils, watercolors and drawings, whose content ranges from floral bursts bordering on abstraction to arcane figurative compositions replicated from candid photographs, is arranged on two floors in enclosures constructed from industrial corrugated panels. Unconnected, the spectator weaves in, out and between the four walls of each cell confronted by a slew of passionless images that have no relation to each other in time or place. More problematic, Petel shows little talent as a draughtsman, colorist or painterly technician - preferring to smear rather than brush. The photographic element he relies on so heavily reduces his figures, landscapes and interiors to static and unconvincing works of art. From the banality of Petel's panels one moves into a mysteriously darkened hall where Rabinowitz has installed a pair of solid globes, one black, one green, floating atop hefty altars, undoubtedly captives of a magnetic field. Not to disappoint his public with a simple sleight of hand, Rabinowitz adds puffs of smoke to the mise-en sc ne billowing up from the confines of the black cubes. From Merlin's escapade the viewer is directed to a couple of enclosures, one containing a group of funny-looking ducks set in a vinyl sea tinted by an erotic violet light and the second, a toy monkey suffering from a nervous twitch sitting on a ledge while baying at a bright white full moon. To explain it all Dessau says: The point of departure for Tardemon is based on an act of disorientation, generation of aspects of infinity and their juxtaposition with various forms of obstruction. In addition to the inner divisions of space, Tardemon contains manifestations of cracked, perforated surfaces, of materiality directed at the viewer's body, engulfing him like a border and a medium. I didn't understand that either. (Helena Rubinstein Pavilion of Contemporary Art, 6 Tarsat, Tel Aviv). No closing date announced.