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Yael Katz Ben Shalom | Show your Wound


"Zeige Deine Wunde Show your wound" Joseph Beuys

What kind and how many roots, cultural values, and a sense of belonging to a certain place does a human being need today? As Michele Foucault declared, My geography lies in the heart of what occupies me. In a post-Holocaust age it is no longer possible to observe from the sidelines. We are called on to imagine a new concept of humanity, and a future that requires us to devote constant attention to the fragile social texture of our world. That world is a place in which the self submits to the judgments of the Other.

At the philosophical base of dialogue, the self's existence is always an existence that takes place with others. The human character of men and women lies more in responsibility rather than in knowing. In a world that has become an arena of consumption free of ethical limits, ethics is a relative concept. That relativity is revealing of contemporary contradictions between abstraction and definition, control and surrender, mastering and submitting, between guilt and geld.

A new art is required that will engage the social-political fabric of our lives. Contemporary photography and video artists seek to realize such engagement, that is, to act in relation to society and politics. This means to act as an artist in the social-political sphere. Show your Wound is the title of a series of art seminars held in Germany and Israel that invited German, Israeli, and Palestinian artists to engage in a free, democratic, and unmediated meeting of sensibilities. The project was born out of a recognition of the significant changes that have taken place in the artistic-cultural field since the second half of the twentieth century until today.

Show your Wound exposed the personal wound while, at the same time, it became testimony to the open wound of the world, that in which we must articulate our identities in what is called "reality." According to Lacan, this reality is a symptom that embodies a specific obstacle in the process of symbolization. In 2003 we met in Israel for the first part of the art seminar, Show your Wound I, which began with an exhibition. This was the first step of a process: each of the participating artists - Israelis, Palestinians, and Germans - contributed a work that he personally chose for the exhibit.

It was the taking-off point for becoming acquainted with each other. The exhibition was followed by a common journey. We traveled together over the course of ten days through the Negev desert in the south of Israel. The decision to "discover" the desert together was most meaningful in light of the heavy burden of myths and ideals associated with the desert: as a symbol of transition and wandering; as an integral part of the Zionist dream; as an ascetic space; as a holy place; as a space of mystery, spiritualism and mysticism; as a crossroads between Orient and Occident; as a place from which both religious and secular persons draw inspiration; as a place which is a non-place. The Israeli Negev is still an undefined place, open to processes and to change. The Negev is like an open wound in which things appear with unusual clarity, revealing their problematics through the manner of their appearance. We were exposed to the complexities in the lives of immigrant "development" towns, to orthodox Jewish communities, to kibbutzim, to Bedouin communities, to experimental ecological and new-age communities situated alongside "burial sites" of pollution and industrial waste dumps, to university and academic communities, to military and national security zones. The journey to the desert became the subject of a video-text by Yael Katz Ben Shalom, entitled "The Archeology of the Gaze," another expression of the discourse that came into being as a result of the shared experience of artists.

We sought in our journey to understand how communities imagine themselves and how they are imagined by the Other. We had the opportunity to wonder about and explore the relationships between forms of representation and their narratives. The seminar was a call to invent a thinking process among Palestinians, Israelis, and Germans, who were all artists. The result was a dialogue and collaboration that re-examined identities, histories, cultures, and memories. The experience provoked confrontations which, in turn, raised fundamental questions and debates regarding the relationship between Art and Culture, Art and Society, and between the local and global. The seminar's examination of questions of cultural identities gave rise to an evolutionary perception, born, in part, from the view of subversive art as being capable of leading one towards social and political involvement while acknowledging that the role of the artist has changed.

Artists now assume the role of critic. Art is not for itself. Art is in service to society. The seminar functioned as a post-modern attempt to challenge traditional modernist structures. It was a call to art to invade the cultural-social-public arena. It was a democratic initiative seeking to free itself from the position of the "self" and replace it with the creation of social action. The twentieth century unified and standardized particularist identities. The world's population was becoming ever more integrated. Specific kinds of identities were assigned greater significance more traditional ethnic or group identities.

This can be seen as a process of disassembly of the collective identity into multiple identities and multi-cultures within the context of globalization. In 2005 we met in Germany for the second part of the art seminar, Show your wound II, which was entitled, "Means of Art". This meeting was designed as a continuation of the collaboration in Israel and was carried out in cooperation with the Kunstpraxis group, whose members are artists from East Germany who participated in the first seminar.

Both seminars focused on the subject of movement and transition: the desert and yellow sand of the Negev as a route of a journey, to be contrasting to the blue waters and green foliage of eastern Germany. We live within a conflict, or tension, between the ability to "perceive" something and the ability to "represent" it. The attempt to establish a different discourse, to locate the muted speech and the unseeing gaze that lie at the foundation of what we eventually hear and see, exposes the mechanisms of habitual discourse. In place of habits we identify scattered fragments within fragile textures.

This is where narrative is presented as something that reveals only when it conceals. The two meetings that constitute the art seminar can be thought of as journeys among images, sequences, and symbolic links that need to be deciphered. This involves the creation of codes of communication, effects of the gaze born of various experiences and fantasies. The discourses born of both journeys generated texts and images that testify to this attempt to recalibrate the eye, to deconstruct the gaze and then use it as a tool of differentiation. Both journeys are characterized by their eclecticism, by their praxis as a collection of fragments. That eclecticism is ground zero for today's culture. The search for art is threatened by cultural politics and the forces of the art market. Today, art enslaves thought to the gaze, diverting it from the unrepresented.

The gaze examines new representations, seeking to show the existence of the unrepresented, and thus make the existence of such a different texture, a different discourse even possible. The journeys were conceived to be a format for process in movement, one free of rules and thus one that would allow for the creation of new rules about what should be done with art. The Show Your Wound seminars have been experienced as a process that mediates between the varied levels by which we engage reality, a mediation that reveals how each level is folded into the level underneath it and above it, thus showing their loss of autonomy and emphasizing that each is a part of a whole, a holistic texture, a modular mosaic of discourses and reflections. Indeed, this vision of modular mosaics is what led to the founding of Artneuland in Berlin as a unique place for experiencing art and culture, thinking about art and culture, and making art and culture as a social project.

The seminar experience became a reality within a reality, a virtual reality that effected a radical reduction of our sensual experience while, at the same time, underlying the tempting power of images. Our liberty is realized in relation to the Other while the Other always exists in order to allow for that realization. Cultures realize their liberty by defining themselves. If we were able to reach this realm we will come closer to asking: What is the relevance of art and what can the means of art be today?

This last paragraph is devoted to acknowledging the support for the Show Your Wound seminars offered by the Federal Culture Foundation, the Kunsthaus Dresden, the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv, the Goethe Institute in Jerusalem, the Goethe Forum Berlin, Kunstpraxis, and, of course, by all the participants and guests who took part in the seminars themselves.

(Yael Katz Ben Shalom | Show your Wound)

// Octocer 2004
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