The Story I Want to Tell is the Story of Perspective
Interviewer: Yael Shenker
I had many reasons to interview you for the "Border" issue. Perhaps the first one has to do with the fact that quite a few of your works deal with that kind of space. "Sarah Sarah," "Abraham Abraham," "Ishmael," even "Sabbath 2008," they're all works that ostensibly document spaces that are borders in themselves or are located "on the border," or the border they represent is clear and built-in. But at the same time the borders in these spaces are also borders that disintegrate. Your work simultaneously observes both the permanence and the disintegration of these borders. The borders you observe or point out are simultaneously stable and unstable.
But your work also interested us because of the medium itself. Through it, in this issue, we wanted to think about the documentary medium itself, about its borders or its other possibilities. We were also interested in looking at the use you make of documentary material in this context. The relationship between video art and cinema, between sound and image, between directing and editing – all these are part of what we sought to consider in this issue.
But maybe we should start from the beginning. From the space and what concerns you about it. You film many "spaces" over time. What happens within them is often very understated or repetitive, and you observe the thing itself. How did you begin to film them?
What first interested me about the space I visited was how they're operated. How the space became what it did – what it consists of, who runs it, who enforces discipline. You arrive at some "condition" of a "landscape" and you ask yourself, hold on, how did this landscape come to look the way it does, and that, of course, always leads you back to people.
Where did it start to interest you? Where did it begin?
In terms of my work it might have begun with Canicule. There, I'd say that the impetus for the work had to do with the condition of climate as a behavioral domain. In the summer of 2003 I went to Paris for a three-month studio residency. The day I arrived a tropical heat wave began which swept France, and Paris in particular, for the first half of August. I arrived on the first of August and my suitcase only arrived a week later so I had one dress, a camera and a computer, and I decided to go down to the Seine, sit there and watch everyone who couldn't afford to leave town for summer vacation. Mostly elderly immigrants and heat-stunned tourists. It was the second year of "Paris-Plages" – the artificial beach that the Paris municipality created on the banks of the Seine. It was a fantasy that got out of control. Part of the concept of creating a sense of being at the beach were drizzly showers that sprayed clouds of cool air. Against all expectations these showers became a huge attraction and all Paris came to walk through the eight meters of cool clouds along the shore.
I sat there for ten days and started to observe the way people conducted themselves in that space, how people related to it, how they were disciplined by it, in which direction they moved, how fast they walked, how they touched each other, what actually happened in those eight meters where all Paris gathered.
In the technical sense it was quite a find – something that occurred that I bumped into and chose to linger on. I wasn't looking for it. It came as a surprise, it made me stop. Today, 13 years later, I know what I'm looking for, but I'm still willing to bump into things. I still walk around, stay in places, hope to be surprised. I feel like one of those toy cars that flip over and bump into things. I search, bump into something, turn around, flip over, linger, and then I stay.
Can you give me another example of a work of yours that began by bumping into something?
I think all my works so far began just that way. Sabbath 2008 began with a Polaroid snapshot that I took in 1999 and found again in 2008 in a box in my studio. Kept Alive continued from there, and the story with the Cave of the Patriarchs began with roaming around and continued as a sort of field-surprise. In these works I lingered on the behavior of people in the Israeli public domain, how they block it and how they recreate it, how they destroy it and structure it – not necessarily in that order. I went to Hebron as part of my research on different visibilities of borders in Israel. Official and unofficial borders, external and internal borders. Hebron was a difficult place to get to in the first place, and I knew I didn't want to portray what was happening in Hebron's public domain – mainly since it had been portrayed so much already. But Hebron has the umbilicus of the Cave of the Patriarchs so I went straight there.
There you filmed the way that part of the Cave of the Patriarchs, the space itself, functions as a Jewish prayer-space part of the time and a Muslim prayer-space the rest of the time. You filmed the preparations for reorganizing the space for Muslim or Jewish worship. What interested you about it?
That it's a border. I realized I'd reached… That I could go no further… I can enter the Cave of the Patriarchs but I can't come out on the Palestinian side. It truly functions as a border within a border within a border. Since it's divided – and since the Baruch Goldstein massacre it's very strictly divided – the space is administrated by the IDF and the Israel Police in Hebron according to government policy. Naturally, a lot of it has to do with how the Jewish side is guarded and how the Palestinian side is run, as well as how much space and time each one gets for its prayer-space. When I got there I saw that the chairs are made of plastic, the partitions are on wheels and even the holy ark is on wheels. Cheap and temporary but clearly made to be moved. I asked the workers on the Jewish side why everything was like that, and they answered: "We have to be able to pack up and clear out in two hours." That's when I found out what "irregular" means in army jargon. And that's when I decided to stay there and I started to figure out how to film them packing up and clearing out. I waited for an "irregular" incident to occur.
But you crossed the border, you crossed over to the Palestinian side.
At first I only filmed Abraham Abraham, and Ramadan is an "irregular Muslim time" when the Muslims also get the Jewish part of the cave – where the synagogue is – to pray in for 24 hours once a week during the month of Ramadan. I really only filmed the Jews packing up the Jewish holy implements and preparing the space for the "Muslim invasion" in the synagogue space. That's the status quo which has existed for quite a few years.
Did you get permission "to cross the border" and film from the Palestinians or from the army?
From the IDF – from the Brigade Commander, from the Wakf and from the settlers. After getting many, many authorizations, on the Sabbath of the "Life of Sarah" Torah reading, I was given permission to film an "irregular Jewish" situation where the Muslims prepare the mosque for Jews to enter for 24 hours.
There's a crazy kind of cooperative effort in the cave between the Palestinians and the army, between the army and the settlers and between the settlers and the army. The Palestinians and the settlers have no interaction in the cave – maybe only through the army, and maybe through me, a little. I had to get authorization from the "holy trinity" – the IDF, the settlers working in the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Wakf in the Mosque of Ibrahim. When I finished filming the piece I came to show it to them and that was the first time they ever saw the others enter their space. The Jews had never seen their space in its Muslim condition. They clear out.
Did you also show the Palestinians "the Jewish space"?
Of course. Both sides find it hard to see their space stripped down and disappear and suddenly taken over by a different esthetic. It was a fascinating and moving experience to show it to them.
It's as if you're revealing something here. After all, for religious people, sanctity is part of the space. It's intrinsic to it. A synagogue isn't used for another purpose. A mosque isn't used for another purpose. And entering a religious space means entering a place which is ostensibly imbued with sanctity. But this piece reveals something else. When we see the "Jewish space" on screen it looks whole and permanent, yet within minutes we see that that's really a fabrication. The space is choreographed. Even when we used the term "Palestinian side" or "Israeli side" that was a fabrication, or a fictitious use of terms which describe sides of a "border," since they're both actually in the same space.
That's what I found interesting – the form the place takes on. Because I don't believe in space. I don't believe in claiming space. Even if there were some proof, from somewhere, that someone is buried there, that still doesn't tell us about everything that happens around it. And in the case of the Cave of the Patriarchs even that's pretty dubious. It's not quite clear what actually happened there. The whole burial space is 20 meters down and it's sealed off with concrete. That was Moshe Dayan's decision. What we see in the cave above may be the markings of the tomb. After all, we're living in the story of a place here – a place whose claim is based on a historical, religious story which is backed up by evidence and aligns itself according to that evidence. It's the story of this place, Israel/Palestine. I come to see something anew, the truth of this thing today – based on what do you run the place like this?
And then you discover a story.
And then I discover a case. I wouldn't call it a story.
Why not? What's the difference?
A story has a form, a beginning, a middle and an end. It usually has a cause. When I discover a case I can look at it afresh. When I neutralize the context of all the madness surrounding Hebron, it's like removing the causality from the impetus and looking only at the impetus. Take us, for instance. We're sitting in a cafe. We don't see the causes. We only see the effects. The series of choices that were made at one time or another. And that's a condition that I'm very interested in working with. These surfaces are a condition that I run into all the time, but with very few "effects" did I stick around to discover the "causes." Very few of the places I encounter grab me. But that's the challenge – to be in a situation or to see something from the corner of my eye and to remember I saw it and say, "Okay, since this stuck in my mind, I'm going back to film it." In No Wind, for instance, after three weeks I said, "Okay, this is alive."
That's a work, like other works of yours, which not only features a place but the people themselves are "on the border." When I looked at your work again in preparation for this issue, besides your dealing with spaces which are "on the border," I was also interested in the "borderline people" you meet.
Who are the "borderline people," I wonder?
Francis, for instance, the street artist you filmed in London, he lives "on the border" in many senses; in his work, in his domesticity and non-domesticity, and also in his emotional ethos.
You could also see the people in Sabbath 2008 as borderline people.
That, too. And also the immigrant from Congo in "Souvenir." I want you to talk about your choice of those people. Because along with your interest in spaces, you film them differently than you film spaces.
How do you choose the people? There are people in your works who stand right in front of the screen and talk, and there are people whom you observe. "Souvenir," for instance, the work in which you filmed a migrant worker from Congo in Tel Aviv, is a veritable portrait.
Yes. Souvenir really is a portrait. That was my decision. This was in 2003, there weren't so many foreign workers in Israel yet, and the presence of the Africans had just begun to be felt. I remember I was so glad when it began. Because the Tel Aviv hegemony was finally breaking down a little, or at least cracking. The fellow I filmed cleaned my studio which is how we met, and then we actually started working together. He came and studied film editing with me and it was a sort of exchange, I'd teach him editing and he'd tell me his story. Then the work grew and grew and grew. But the other people were simply there. Fayez, who works at the cemetery in Givat Shaul, who's shown speaking in Kept Alive, was simply the contractor at the construction site. We connected since he really enjoyed the fact that someone was following what he was doing in such a linear, precise way. He was just someone I met, and I meet a lot of people, but with him there was a connection, too.
A dialogue was created with him.
Yes. Maybe because of the foreignness he brings, and his presence, which I think were extremely important. His generosity toward me was unexpected and not to be taken for granted. The shot where Fayez reads off the names of the workers working there from a salary list he has in his pocket was filmed during Operation Cast Lead. There were days when I felt ashamed to go down to the construction site and face the grief and hardship of many of the workers I filmed there, and that shot was taken at the very moment when I stood there with Fayez and together we observed the situation from the outside and I asked him to snatch them from their anonymity and recite their names aloud. Suddenly it sounded not so far from the recitations of the names of the fallen on the next mountain over… the people I met making Kept Alive really touched me.
There's a guy from Sudan there who grows tomatoes in one of the cemetery plots. It's a surrealistic image.
The place invited many such things which is why I lingered. Surrealism, the absurd, these are fascinating constructs within "real," everyday, functional situations. Everything is constructed in the context of conventions and mini-conventions of various status quos.
In another work of yours called "And Melancholy" you film people leaping off roofs in Tel Aviv. But you don't film the leap itself, you observe the space from the viewpoint of the people who leap and cross the border between life and death. A viewpoint which usually can't be recreated. How did you film the viewpoint of people leaping to their deaths?
It's called And Melancholy because it was filmed at the same time as Kept Alive as a sort of different aspect of the same subject. At the time I was reading Mourning and Melancholia by Freud where he talks about the concepts of mourning and melancholia which I interpreted in the sense of the relationship between fiction and reality. Melancholia, of course, is fiction.
Why is melancholia fiction?
That's the way I read Freud. I'm no expert, but as I understood it, melancholia is a story that we tell ourselves. It's a way of looking at things. It's a certain atmosphere. We "decide" that something is melancholy, that there's something sad about it. We can go around with a melancholy take on life. Sometimes we can also not go around with it and then it comes back to us. That's melancholia, and in that sense it's fiction. Mourning is something else. Mourning has its own rules. It's "real." I don't know if it ever really ends, but you deal with it, it's supposed to end, and it can also turn into melancholy. But mourning is sensible/healthy in a certain sense.
When it crosses a border it becomes melancholia.
Right. When it crosses a border it becomes melancholia. But in essence it's part of reality.
In "And Melancholy" what did you want to film and how did you film it?
I filmed it with a Russian stunt man. I asked him how I could simulate a leap to death from a Tel Aviv apartment building. There was a certain very clear structure to the choice of locations, and this is where melancholia comes in as a fictional construct. It's autobiographical; they were all the buildings in Tel Aviv that I'd lived in. The piece was filmed at the same time as the Jerusalemite Kept Alive, and I had a commission from the Tel Aviv Biennale – they asked me to do a Tel Avivian piece and that's what I came up with while working on the piece on Har HaMenuchot [cemetery] in Jerusalem. I'd go to Jerusalem every time I had a chance, and alternate it with a shooting day in Tel Aviv. Together we built a device that rolls the camera down, sort of like a fishing rod. And I realized I was actually fishing for the image. And suddenly it became a documentary act again. I didn't know what it would capture there. I actually fished, we pulled the camera up, and only then did we see what it filmed, what the camera found. At a certain point I realized I was simulating cinematography, not a leap. I was simulating the moment that the camera captured – but as a mixture between fiction and something totally automatic and arbitrary.
You basically free the camera from your viewpoint and let the camera have it.
Exactly, totally. That's why it isn't exactly about death, among other things, because it comes back up. It doesn't stay anywhere. It leaps from one frame to another to another.
Why the "and"? Why "And Melancholia"?
Because with Freud it was Mourning and Melancholia. That's a remnant of my research that remained. And also because it isn't only melancholia. It really is other things. To me it isn't that sad, but I realize that other people interpret it that way. My grandmother's sister, I think this was in the early 2000's, leapt from her roof on HaNeviim Street in Tel Aviv. An elderly woman.
And then I started thinking about the fact that for years I've walked around Tel Aviv and never seen anyone jump. Statistically, someone must be jumping today. The urban domain is also an optional domain, you know, you can do all sorts of things with a building. Not just live in it.
Jumping is personal in that one jumps from one's one building, but it's also a public decision; one can also commit suicide at home. It's a distinct decision to make the most personal thing public. Of course, it's also a certain echo of Kept Alive, of buildings as things that preserve us. Because the "kept alive" is my next home. It's a pensive look at what it means to live somewhere.
Now I understand the "and" better. Could it be because it also referred to other things?
Yes. There's something to that. I don't know many people who never considered suicide. And most of us won't do it. But it's a thought. I wanted it to pass through the piece, and it does, it comes with us, it goes, it goes from building to building, from period to period, from year to year, it looks different, I don't think the same way about it now, I won't think about it again, it will be, the solution will be different, let's say. Each time according to the border of drama you're simulating.
You let the thought be filmed. You crossed its border.
Yes. I really should show Kept Alive and And Melancholia together, it could be interesting.
"Kept Alive," which was filmed in the cemetery in Givat Shaul, isn't a saddening piece. There's a nice statement in the Mishnah [Talmud], I don't remember the exact wording, that says that if you're walking down the road and you see a cemetery, know that you're approaching a city. That it's the first sign that there's a city nearby. And I watched the piece and saw that it's about urbanism in general. The high-rises and the workers and the gardens.
Right, it's very similar. The way it's run is very similar. The considerations, too. It began with the phenomenon of "kept alive" – people who buy burial plots and put up signs. The shots are portraits of someone who is still alive and walking among us. And it's also a portrait of the choice of inscription – once again the personal that turns out to be public, everyone did it for himself, it's not something that someone does for someone else. It began with a series of stills, and this was the only time I said, "Okay, stills are appropriate, it doesn't move." And when I realized I was sticking to the word "alive," I stayed with everything that moves in a cemetery. And then the shooting process began, which was fascinating and long; the work took a year to make.
You mentioned that you shot "Kept Alive" and "And Melancholia" at the same time, in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. What do they have to do with the urbanism of each city?
One reason I started making the piece was my attempt to study the difference between Tel Aviv as fiction and Jerusalem as documentary. Tel Aviv as the city where I was born and my grandmother was born and my mother was born and we have a long history here, and it's also a city that I don't really like.
But you live here.
I live here. But I don't really like it, I run away from time to time, to New York for a long period of study, to Jerusalem, to other places. I have a complex relationship with it. Essentially I like the city. Over the years I've realized it's too structured for me, too predictable, it doesn't excite me.
Tell me more about the difference between Tel Aviv as fiction and Jerusalem as documentary. You say as if it's obvious. Because "Sabbath 2008," for instance, a work in which you filmed the closing of the Sabbath barriers, in the sense of structuring, isn't it what you call fiction?
Yes, but still it's different. Maybe it could be connected with Freud's Mourning and Melancholy again. The realization that Tel Aviv is image-driven, and it creates its own image more and more as the years go by. Jerusalem has an official image, and in a certain sense that's fiction, of course. But it's a script that rebelled against its writers. Any attempt to create an official narrative will end up the same, so it doesn't really work, because there are obviously several other narratives which are no less relevant and sustainable. So it's a mixture of so many things which create friction, and there's something real about this friction and these arrangements. There's something unpredictable there because the structuring can't really work. If we define documentary as something beyond our control, then Tel Aviv is less beyond my control. It's a city that behaves more predictably.
I'm surprised to hear you say that documentary is beyond our control. Not your documentary – it's all about control.
Why? In Sabbath 2008, for instance, everyone closes the gate differently. That's the only interesting thing about it. It's the subtleties of singularity that excite me. Everyone runs differently. These actions are repetitive but always unique.
But your intensive, precise style of editing is all about control.
True. It's choreography, that's exactly what I find interesting. Between the real and the fictional. I actually want the authority of the document to be questioned, I want to be asked, "Did that really happen or did they act it out for you?" When I get asked that question I start to enjoy myself.
You often maneuver between reality and fiction through sound. In your recent works, "The Right to Clean," for example, it's very pronounced. The obvious contrast in the fact that the sound you add isn't the original sound that was there when you were shooting but it could have been. Can you tell us how you work with sound?
First of all, most situations don't allow for that clean, original sound. But besides that, I think it began with 67 Bows. That was the first time, I think, that I mixed in fictional sound with the original sound. There was still some admixture there, and after 67 Bows, from Sabbath 2008 on, I started working with a soundman, Nati Zeidenstein, whom I still work with. He's an incredibly gifted man and a friend and we think together. In 2008 we decided on total mute as a background, which was also a result of my relationship with him.
Explain that a little further.
When I went to shoot Sabbath 2008 I started by looking around the barriers in Jerusalem. I was interested in where they were located, who closed them, why the person who closes them closes them, how they open them, whether it's the same person… I started asking all these naive questions and nobody answered me. They didn't want to talk to me.
The people who set up the barriers wouldn't answer?
That's right. The people who set up the barriers wouldn't answer. Maybe they didn't want to talk because I had a camera, and maybe my questions didn't interest them. What's so interesting? Other things are much more interesting. By the way, that's something I've come across a lot. Why are you interested in how they clean the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? Why are you interested in how they pack up the Cave of the Patriarchs? It's much more interesting to film circumcision and wedding ceremonies. Whenever I come up against people I'm working with the question is: "What kinds of questions are these? What's so interesting about it?" Maybe that's why I'm able to film in uncommon situations, because they don't understand what I see in them.
You mean, for instance, the nun cleaning in your last work? She looks happy to cooperate.
She was also very dubious at first. But I think part of the cooperative effort lies in the fact that it was a long-term relationship, we had a lot of conversations that aren't on film. As far as she's concerned, when I film her cleaning I'm not filming her in an intimate situation. She cleans all the time, sometimes in front of other people. As I see it, a situation that asks a question about material and spirit – a secularizing situation, meaning it secularizes something sacred – isn't a revealing situation. It's much more revealing to sit and talk about Jesus.
Yes. But let's go back to sound. That's when you started using mute.
Using mute came from the realization that my perspective is mute to begin with. My perspective is mute and so is my conduct in the field, in a way. This goes back to cause and effect, to the difference between story and situation, or story and case or act or performance. Using mute came from my aversion to narrative fiction, as well as from the realization that this is why I can't get any closer. I also think that personality-wise I'm not cut out to get any closer, and in terms of the situation I can't get any closer.
But then, in "The Right to Clean," you added different sound.
True. Besides one case in the piece, which kind of undermines the stringency of the decision, there are cases in a few works where this occurs. The decision was to keep sound only where materials overlap.
The opening of the doors in "Sarah Sarah" or in "Ishmael" must be real.
I'm glad to hear you say that, but none of it is real, it's all done in the studio. It's all recreated. Recreation is also part of the choreography. Recreation is also part of this approach. I don't record sound at all. By now I work so well with Nati and he understands me so well that he wants me to bring him my work without sound. He doesn't want to hear the original. On the contrary. He wants to make the sound up himself. We want to create a situation of distance.
Super-control. But you can't create without the illusion of control, or a desperate attempt to control the uncontrollable; ultimately this is art – the products of the failed attempt.
And for you it's documentary.
I'll try to describe these concepts precisely as I relate to them, not in the terms of a documentary filmmaker but more in the sense of a document. I work in a real domain where I don't initiate the events that take place. This act can be documentary in a broader sense. So I create works in whose DNA are real, physical conditions. I make all sorts of decisions in order to hone the relationship between myself and the situation. For example, the camera is almost always stationary, which creates situations in which reality is the stage for the event. The camera only moves when the event requires it to, for instance, one shot in Ishmael. The sound is composed later. All sorts of methods that I've adopted. They may change, but so far they've worked for me. And within this structure that I build there can be many things that are out of my control. And I find that interesting.
So the footage is really raw material, raw material in the most primary sense of the phrase. The real work is the editing.
Absolutely. The event is rebuilt during the editing stage and then again in the exhibition space.
And that's why you don't do actual documentary cinema?
Yes. I don't think I'll ever do actual documentary cinema. I think the story I want to tell is the story of perspective, not necessarily of the place. Perspective as standpoint, which is why the exhibition space plays such an important role in the reading of my works. This standpoint testifies to something that disturbs me. I'm currently working on Tati's films. Which are all about control, isn't it? But control is part of the story, part of his narrative – and it's part of what he's fighting against. The nascent fascist society which controls every single situation, and yes, he used this absence of happenstance to create his character, Hulot, whom Tati portrays as clumsy, out of place, a person who creates unforeseen events and challenges the structure with happenstance.
So control is an inseparable part of the content. I can't tell the story of a power struggle, personal, social or political, without taking a very self-aware standpoint regarding how I do things. There's no distinction between the how and the what. So I can't tell the story nonchalantly, or in a clumsy or shoddy way. As I see it, the story of control must be told through control.
When I saw your latest works now being shown at Anna Ticho House I also engaged with the way they're positioned, the way you works with the screens. You see the exhibition differently when you stand at the side of the gallery than when you stand in the center. On one screen the piece is projected on both sides. Among other things, video is different from cinema in terms of positioning and screening options. When you look at one piece you can't help seeing another piece from the corner of your eye. As if the intermingling of one piece and another is important to you.
That's the huge difference between cinema and the context of video art as an installation. Perhaps it's also asking the viewer to go from being passive to active. For instance, I often ask that there be no benches where I exhibit my work, so the viewer has to stand. The pieces are often short. The truncation between the three screens allows you to be more active. And the real purpose of this kind of positioning is to create tension – tension that exists between cuts, tension which is a result of the fact that things are happening simultaneously. Creating simultaneity may be the closest I can get to creating a real-life situation – a pre-camera, pre-crop situation – a situation which I can never achieve through photography but I can aim for through complex positioning. This can occur not only in a particular work but in bigger exhibitions in which I exhibit more than one project and I really don't care that the sound from Avraham Avraham and Sarah Sarah bleeds into the sound from Ishmael and Sabbath 2008 which bleeds into the sound from… I see the space as an arena for these actions and collisions, be it a collision between material and material or a visual collision – as far as I'm concerned it's the same work repeating itself, the same thing that's happening. One supports the other and enhances the other.
You also decide from what height the viewer views the work, whether we sit or stand.
That's right. It's crucial.
You say "control" as if it's a bad thing.
No. I'm just going back to your statement about documentary cinema.
But that's why I insist on working with a pixel of truth. Even if I stage/create something, which is a new process I'm now working on, there will still be an element to it which isn't under my control. Meaning that in this encounter, the tension that exists and the questions we ask regarding the truth are questions that I ask. Whether it really happened, whether it didn't really happen, why it happens as it does, and I don't provide answers knowing that there isn't only one – there are many pertinent questions involved.
Such as: What's supposed to happen?
Yes. What's supposed to happen, if it could have happened differently – these are essential questions and they can only come up through an encounter with reality.
One thing that's been written about you in the context of borders and spaces was that your works deal with liminality, i.e. spaces which are in between, which are "beyond space" or "beyond time." But actually it seems to me that you're almost opposed to liminality in your works in the sense that for you, at least in your work, there's a border before you. You bump into it, you point it out, you pierce through it, and in many places there's no intermediate space. Part of the story is that there is no intermediate space.
When you leap to your death, for instance, do you have it?
For the few seconds that it takes.
A few seconds – that's far from liminality because you're already in the middle of an act which has become momentous. I wondered where the space between your works is. Because if the Cave of the Patriarchs could have been a liminal space to begin with, not only for a day under massive military supervision out of a need to maintain the status quo, maybe our lives here would be totally different. It's our insistence on setting it up as a border. The space is either "Jewish" or "Muslim." To set it up as a border, to change ownership for two hours, as long as the border is clear, to declare whose it is right now, who's allowed to go in. And maybe if we could create a different space in the Cave of the Patriarchs, a space which is both, then the space in which we live could be different. In reality, when you document it, it doesn't happen, but in the gallery, when you position the screens next to each other you actually recreate the space in the gallery. That's the possibility you open up.
Yes, that's the simultaneity that positioning allows for. In The Right to Clean, for instance, cleaning can exist simultaneously with the addition. The removal that occurs when she cleans exists simultaneously with the people who add oil and wipe it, thereby adding of themselves. I find the complexity of this simultaneous situation much more interesting than telling the story in an inevitable, linear way. The exhibition allows me to break the linearity.
You also free the viewer to see in his own way.
That's the experiment. From that point I'm less in control. I'm not in control at all.
How do you manage to do everything? You have so many works and so many that take place simultaneously – not by chance, if you ask me.
True. One leads to another. Sometimes I don't have the patience to wait for one to finish and I start another. I don't know, that's what I do.
What do you do? How do you describe what you do?
Work in space? I don't know.
Working in which sense? Acting? Or in the Marxist sense?
Both. The Marxist sense is obligatory. After all, everyone who's made a documentary knows that in order to film you have to talk to the workers, not the boss. So you put yourself in a subservient position. You always enter from the bottom. I've found myself going places much more often than I had to in order to film. Firstly, in order to feel confident and honest with myself that what I'm filming is real, relevant, it gives me something, a very concise sense of a place, of its quality. And also in order to inspire trust in the people who are exposed or let me film part of their space. You turn into someone who comes as a worker in order to act. And that's the acting part.
One other thing interested me. You say, "I work on two pieces because when I run out of patience with one, I film another at the same time." Observing your work, I've seen that you have a need to work in several spaces simultaneously. It seems like it's almost impossible to live in a single space.
Yes, that may be true. It takes a personal toll, but it also offers options… I don't know, it's just the way I live.
Yes. It really is true. I really do work on several projects simultaneously but not all of them come into being. But I can reach out to five different places and try to act in them and see if there's a response. My sketchbook is Google Maps since I use it to mark all sorts of places and times for myself. I think between places.
You also work on each project for a long time until it ripens into a piece.
That's right. I think that's because the process can be very long sometimes, it requires research which ultimately isn't all relevant to the piece since the piece itself is meant to act. It isn't meant to explain something to you. As I see it, the piece may be meant to teach you something, but that's not the right word either – it's supposed to give you something you didn't know before. You could also define it in the broader context of what art in general is meant to do. What its purpose is. How it's supposed to contribute.
There are all sorts of things. I can't think of a single thing it's supposed to do.
Right. But that's one that interests me, how I reveal something to you. But I can reveal the tip of the iceberg to you, I can reveal it in a way that you know that something has been revealed to you. And that's an experience. The experience of revelation that I want to recreate since I'm there all the time. I have to be in a position where I reveal something to you. Because that's the story of my work. The story of my perspective.
Seeing something else that we haven't seen before.
Yes. And seeing it again and again, but differently, that is, Hebron can be shown through many different events, through many things, but Hebron itself isn't the subject. When you asked me why I don't make documentary films, I don't know if I answered clearly, but I'm really much more interested in the perspective behind which I stand. Documentary films often represent something else. They represent the event. They have an obligation to the event, they have an obligation to the truth. I don't, I have no obligation to those things. My only obligation is to the discourse, a tremendous obligation to the artistic language I deal with, and, ultimately, to myself. It's an inner dialogue that comes out, and it's a dialogue with the world that comes out. And it's also a dialogue within the language of images as well as the context of a museum, in the context of the art of making something move. And bringing voices into a museum is also a fascinating story.
You want to stretch or tests the boundaries of the medium.
Yes. The medium, its presence in the museum, which wasn't self-evident until 20 years ago, which some people still have trouble accepting – dirty reality in a neutral, sterile, clean, pretty museum. I think my insistence on reality has to do with that, too. How to raise up the lowly, how to make the dirty clean, which is also a dialogue which takes place between sound and image in which the image is much dirtier than the sound, filmed by a far inferior camera. These types of constant contrasts, these types of clashes, may not be obvious to someone who views the piece, but to me they're the stitches that comprise them.
I've also discovered over the years that I really enjoy the process, I enjoy traveling, the encounters, not only the choice moments that come out in the few condensed minutes that result. I'm glad they come out and they're very, very important to me and they also enable me to carry on. If I weren't armed with a camera and passion and the intention of extracting something, quoting something from the place and bringing it out, I wouldn't be…
You wouldn't be?
No. I don't think I'd move. I'd have leapt a long time ago. From one particular place.
So you sent your camera in place of you.
Yes. In place of me.
Works – A partial list:
The Right to Clean (2015)
Abraham Abraham (2012)
Mandatory Passage (2012)
Kept Alive (2010)
Sabbath 2008 (2008)
67 Bows (2006)
Made in France (2003)