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Whirlwind



Kites, 2018 (Excerpt)
Single-channel HD Video, four sound channels, 6 min 45 sec, looped



Sunset Over Gaza, 2018 (Excerpt)
Single-channel HD Video, 2 min 28 sec, looped
Videography: Roee Edan, Ynet

Whirlwind

The “Whirlwind” project by Gaston Zvi Ickowicz (b. 1974) was created in a series of visits by the artist to the northern part of the “Gaza Envelope” area between March and October 2018. That period saw the beginning of a new stage in the struggle by the residents of the Gaza Strip against the Israeli siege of the area: tens of thousands of people took part in “marches of return” and demonstrations near the fence, in which Palestinian kites and balloons carrying flammable materials were released toward the Israeli side of the fence. After preliminary tours of the area, Ickowicz began photographing lands that had been set on fire by these burning kites near the kibbutzim Or Haner and Gvar’am, and the ruins of the Palestinian villages of Simsim, Najd and Al-Mansurah. The fire destroyed the vegetation surrounding the rubble and building ruins of the Palestinian villages, making them stand out; the scorched earth left behind by the fire gave them new visibility. A stray whirlwind of wind that suddenly passed by seemingly encapsulated the essence of the project: unexpected, at the mercy of the whims of nature and time, trying to capture the air currents and their attendant winds; a documentation of an event that is at once unfolding in real-time before the camera and eluding it; an attempt, through the image, to grasp the past and the present that co-exist at the same time.

The series of photographs, “Untitled (Simsim, Najd and Al-Mansurah),” documenting the ruins of the villages that were destroyed in 1948, was photographed by Ickowicz with a simple film camera, using film stock that he had collected over the years. The unexpected materiality of the film – a product of the length of time that has elapsed since its production and its storage conditions – is well suited to the material nature of photographed objects, as it gives the history of the destroyed buildings a grainy and tactile quality. The past is apparent in them not only as content, but as material. Although most of the surviving original inhabitants of the villages currently live in the Jabalia refugee camp (not far from their destroyed homes), Ickowicz’s photographs give the remains an a-historical status and metaphysical quality – much like many mid-nineteenth century photographs of ruins, or perhaps Roger Fenton’s seminal photograph, Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855). The history that emerges from these photographs appears to be inaccessible, seemingly detached from the present.

This mode of photography is at odds with the politically charged overtones that erupt from the pictured landscape: while Ickowicz was working on the project, the area in question was at the center of news attention in Israel. The burned tracts of land became the new front of the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Kites and balloons – which previously had been linked to notions such as childhood, innocence, and play – became devices of armed struggle. The here-and-now are present in the photographs, and convey a sense of unease. As historian Boaz Neumann notes, Ickowicz “knows how to focus his camera not only at geological, archeological, and historical time, but also at the conflict-ridden present. The emotional ambivalence and critical distance that characterize Ickowicz’s photographic work serve here to render present, in a single image, the tension between the past and the present.

The video work Kites (Simsim), intensifies this tension by explicitly alluding to the movement of a burning kite as it sets fire to a field. Here, the kite (an uncontrollable aerial device that is entirely at the mercy of the wind) is replaced by a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) – a remotely operated aerial device, equipped with vision technologies developed for military purposes, designed to monitor, supervise, and control a given space. In the video, we see it taking off from a well that stood at the center of the village – for a moment you can see the jets of air created by its small but powerful propellers – and surveying the scorched earth and the ruins of the houses with its camera, re-marking the impacted area. The view from above flattens several layers of history – an archeological mound of violence – while contrasting the tangible spatial features against the abstract image created by the aerial perspective. It is a view that orders the space for us as much as it conceals it.

The Whirlwind (Simsim) series of photographs traces the whirlwind of air that formed during the filming. We watch as it flits between the scorched land and adjacent agricultural areas. Chasing while being chased, it introduces a dimension of uncontrollable drama into the seemingly static space. The lingering nature of Ickowicz’s photography renders the whirlwind a kind of symbolic expression of invisible forces operating in the material space, among the ruins and scorched remains, overshadowed by signs of violence.

Ickowicz edited the video titled Sunset Over Gaza from one of the live broadcasts put out by the Israeli news website Ynet as part of its ongoing documentation of events along the border with the Gaza Strip and the surrounding region. These live broadcasts are characterized by unusually long duration, which allow unexpected elements to suddenly appear in the picture, without prior planning and completely unrelated to the event the broadcast sought to record. From the sequence of broadcasts, Ickowicz extracts certain shots which cannot be described as anything but landscape photography: a sunset over the Gaza Strip. Like the Whirlwind (Simsim) series, this work, too, is an observation of a scene of violence which seeks to render present precisely something that crops up seemingly at random and then slips away. Like the shimmering haze that rises from the ground, or like specters, the works in this exhibition create a whirlwind that swirls together the visible and the invisible, past and present, return and war.

Exhibition Curator: Gilad Reich








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