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feAture Yael Bartana
which Israeli, Palestinian and European artists and academics examined While Sierakowski speaks with zeal and sincerity, the stadium is
the function of land management and development in disenfranchising empty but for the Scouts, and the film is rife with sad ironies. Bartana
Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. “I was interested in ICAHD’s based the call for return on an assertion of the thirteenth-century Polish
initiative, in which international volunteers worked with local groups”, king Boleslav, that ‘if you want to develop your country economically
Bartana explained, “and that the form of resistance was construction, and culturally, who do you need? You need Jews’ – a reference which
a reversal of my understanding of protest. But I did not want to do a alludes both to the cultural richness of Jewish life and to Poland’s history
documentary, which other people had done.” of anti-Semitism. More cuttingly, the film’s setting, the centrality of the
Instead, she based her piece on Helmar Lerski’s 1935 film impassioned speaker, the movement of the camera and the smiling
Avodah, which celebrated a central tenet of Israel’s settlement, the Scouts quote Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, that apotheosis
redemption of the land by Zionist pioneers. Carefully tracking the of National Socialism filmed at the Nuremberg Rallies in 1934. As
structure of Avodah, and lifting passages from its heroic soundtrack, in Summer Camp, Bartana uses the structure of one propaganda
Bartana opposes the triumphant settlers who build villages in a to advocate for its opposite, creating a reversal which suggests how
desolate land with the new activists who oppose Israeli policies of the legacy of the first renders the second both radical and perhaps
house demolition and land appropriation: where Lerski features ruins, impossible.
Bartana shows armoured vehicles retreating from a bulldozed building; In a final twist, Sierakowski’s speech recalls the Zionist call for
when his immigrant settlers build, her volunteers pass cinderblock and world Jewry to immigrate to Israel and the state’s offer of citizenship
haul refuse; and where he concludes with images of new towns, she to all Jews, an openness which has not created the enlightened
ends with a shot of a new home. state Sierakowski envisions. Rather, description of the fundamentalist
By casting this act of resistance in the form of a Zionist narrow-mindedness of Poland might be as valid for Israel: ‘with one
propaganda film, Bartana creates a tension between content and form, language, we cannot speak; with one religion, we cannot listen; with one
exposing the dynamic of possession and dispossession which underlies colour, we cannot feel’. But Israel is as far as Poland from opening itself
Zionist settlement and revealing the fictions which are used to justify it. to the other, the people on the opposite side of its traumatic history,
Central to these are the myths that Jews flocked to an empty land, and the Palestinians. “These are depressing problems”, she said sadly at
the equally mendacious assertion, a Western judgement, that Arabs the end of our evening. “Sometimes I wish they would all go, or we
forfeited their right to their territory by failing to improve it as the new would all go.”
arrivals did.
More significantly, Avodah evokes the credo, “We came to build
and to be built”, the belief that in constructing towns and kibbutzim
Works
the settlers were also creating a progressive, socialist society. Just
(In order of appearance)
as common cause once built the state, Bartana shows it binding the
Mary Koszmary, 2007
ICAHD activists in a new order. Summer Camp suggests, then, that the
Both images courtesy the artist and foksal Gallery foundation, Warsaw
true act of pioneering courage today might be the acknowledgement
When Adar Enters, 2003
of an alternate claim to the land, and asks whether the land can now be
courtesy annet Gelink Gallery, amsterdam, and
reclaimed through the pursuit of peace and social and political redress.
sommer contemporary art, Tel aviv
Mary Koszmary, commissioned by the Foksal Foundation and
Summer Camp, 2007
Hermès, expands this consideration of history and possible change
courtesy annet Gelink Gallery, amsterdam
to a broader consideration of the complex legacies and realities of
Trembling Time, 2001
European anti-Semitism and xenophobia. As the film begins, a young
courtesy annet Gelink Gallery, amsterdam
man in a leather coat, played by leftist author and politician Slawomir
Mary Koszmary, 2007
Sierakowski, strides into an empty and dilapidated Warsaw stadium.
all images courtesy the artist and foksal Gallery foundation, Warsaw
Mounting a makeshift platform, he delivers a startling call: “Let the
3,000,000 Jews that Poland has missed… return to Poland, to your
country.” He proceeds to acknowledge his nation’s tradition of virulent
bigotry and argues that Jews and Poles together can overcome the
trauma of their entwined history of hatred to create a new dynamic,
diverse nation. “With one culture, we cannot see”, he claims, but putting
aside narrow-minded nationalism, “a future will open for us”.
As he speaks, the camera pans the stadium and circles his head,
isolating his bright face against the empty seats and the sky. A small
group of Boy and Girl Scouts stencil the slogan ‘3,000,000 Jews can
change the lives of 40,000,000 Poles’ in chalk on the ground. They
applaud when he finishes and present him with flowers.
69 Artreview
Bartana.indd 69 4/2/08 14:30:26
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