Eyal Segal | Release: Return
Since the spatial turn that has occurred in numerous fields of science, space – as a construction created and brought to life by the movement of the human body – has received considerable attention. This is especially true for cultural-political situations where observations directed at the landscape and the built environment point to unresolved historical issues, as it is the case for Israel. In recent decades, a notable number of artworks and exhibitions have addressed the manufacturing and conquering of physical and cultural spaces, as well as the power exercised over – or through – these, bringing to the foreground social and political connections.
In the videos of young, Israeli-born artist Eyal Segal, physical space not only serves as an almost exclusive departure point for dialogue (with both the self and the audience), but also explores memory, the legacy of the past and the possibility of self-understanding. In other words, the artist seeks out “memory places” (“lieux de mémoire”, Pierre Nora); events occur in spaces that manifest as a system of relationships encompassing various – in the Foucauldian sense, heterogeneous – places that bring into play social, national-historical, local and global contexts. As it is suggested by the title of the present exhibition, the artist’s activity can be grasped through the concept of returning, even if it is a place he has never been to before. As a third-generation Holocaust survivor, he seeks out places that carry meaning in terms of ancestral or collective memory, where he either records a repetitive action of a unique aesthetic or, as the protagonist of the scene, fills the symbolically loaded (living-)space. He creates personal memorials of sorts, which mark the place of remembering in people (Jochen Gerz).
Approaching the works from the history of video art, Eyal Segal employs gallery installation forms that have, by now, become standard. He uses the multichannel and installational arrangements of motion pictures as “a law unto himself” in the sense that, instead of regarding the medium itself from a critical standpoint, he places it in the service of what it seeks to communicate. Thus an organic relationship between the thematic of the artwork and the form of the installation can be established, as the videos projected on the floor and walls, as well as the flat screen monitors installed in a cube-like fashion, also double the individual elements of the videos in terms of form. In Turgor, the shape of the glass container is repeated by the back to back position of the monitors placed on plinth, thus – as has been the practice with video works documenting the artist’s performances – offering viewers the opportunity for identification.
In the video series entitled Moon, Mars, Jupiter, which was shot in Japan and which articulates an external – and thus observational – viewpoint, the effect of projecting the image on the floor and walls evokes in the viewer a sense of the physical space which ensures the temporality of perception, and stepping into which further disturbs the system of spatial relationships. In the video entitled Columba Riot, we see the artist at an abandoned site: in a silo that has never been used and is now inhabited by pigeons. In the enormous building of the multi-storey storage facility, the artist attempts to chase the birds away. The industrial – and, at the same time, surrealistic – environment, the activity of the artist and the interaction between nature and the silo make for a poetic and metaphoric effect, while the struggle to scare the birds away can be interpreted as an internal mental activity.
Time Container seeks to explore personal memories through the story of the father who had formerly worked as a seaman. The juxtaposition of the two screens – the documentary-like presentation with an opposing, painterly portrayal of the seaport – represents the various layers of memory. At the same time, the duality of the diptych could also stem from the split attention of the artist during his visit: on the one hand, the father talking about his memories, on the other, the aesthetic spectacle of the seaport, the slow movement of the cranes. The film was shot in Ashdod, one of the most significant commercial ports of Israel, where the artist’s father worked as a seaman when he was young. This is also where the Israeli politician Rafael Eitan died. The personal and collective stories are thus tied together by the place itself.
Similarly, in Turgor, the separateness of the past and the present is dissolved: the location of the unedited performance documentation, which was shot from a single camera position, is the park in front of the old city fortification of Zwinger in Münster, which once served as both a Nazi gaol and a Gestapo place of execution. (The artist’s grandmother was born and spent her childhood in Münster.) The dramaturgy of the scene evoking a well-known form of torture, as well as Harry Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Cell, is provided by the fear of submersion apparent in the artist’s face, his mimicry reflecting his struggle, and the singing voice of the grandmother, while, in the meantime, we see part of the structure of Zwinger in the background with cyclers riding and passers-by walking across the park loud with birdsong. The concept of turgor pressure – taken from biological terminology where it signifies the distension of plant tissue due to adequate fluid content – here alludes to the condition of being full of life and is a manifestation of the quality of absence characteristic of Holocaust representations, as well as the filling of space.