Review: Yael Bartana at the AGO.

March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Art Gallery of Ontario is showing … And Europe Will Be Stunned. Composed of a trilogy of shorts by Israeli filmmaker Yael Bartana, which invert the concepts behind Zionism and reflect the cultural landscape of the 20th century. The series raises questions about displacement and homeland as it takes the viewer through an exaggerated depiction of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland. Rather than communicating a positive or negative view of the movement, Bartana explores the aspects and connotations of the call for Ashkenazi Jews to return to their European homeland. Drawing from propaganda and a history full of militarism and nationalism, she presents an idea for a utopian future, while at the same time criticizing it.

The trilogy starts with Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), in which the young visionary urges three million Jews to return to Poland. Addressed to the empty National Stadium in Warsaw the only other figures featured are a series of youths dressed in scout-uniforms. These figures and the manner of speech reference the propaganda of World War II. In contrast, the second film Mur i Wieża (Wall and Tower), more directly references and subverts the propaganda of the Zionist movement from the last two centuries. The Jews here return to create a new settlement where the old ghetto once stood in Warsaw. However, it soon becomes clear that this kibbutz more readily resembles a concentration camp.

The final and most compelling film, Zamach (Assassination), depicts the funeral ceremony of Slawomir after he was assassinated. Presented like the live newscast of a memorial, it unifies the myth of this new political movement. Though each speaker at the memorial presents a different view — some support the movement while others reject it in favour of the old Zionism — Bartana creates the stage for the possibility of a concrete project in the future.

The presentation of the three shorts is a bit incoherent due to the overlap in sound from one room to the next. While they function well together as a trilogy—and the installation of the manifesto for the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland adds to the viewing—the timing between the films is difficult to achieve. Since all three were intended to be seen in their entirety, and in order, it may have been a more successful if the films were presented on a continuous loop.

Despite these difficulties in presentation … And Europe Will Be Stunned is an interesting exhibit that address issues of the past and present and leave the viewer contemplating the ideas presented long afterwards.

… And Europe Will Be Stunned runs at the AGO until April 1.

– Sophia Farmer

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