States of Migration

[…] The title of the exhibition, Mother, I have reached the land of my dreams, bring to mind the finishing lines of a legend, the moment where a long journey comes to an end and daily routine sets in; where the hoped-for destination, once arrived at, makes way for the renunciation of fantasies and dreams. It also marks the starting point of a journey of a different kind – this time, not across geographical distances but an internal journey, no less excruciating than the first; a never ending journey, perhaps, troubled by perennial self-questioning: Have I arrived already? Can I start over, relax, sit back and let go of the past, of a country left behind?

Despite the extreme connotations of refuge-seeking, this current exhibition approaches the different states and circumstances of migrations as touching one another, despite their apparent disparities. All participants reside in Berlin permanently – some for decades or since infancy, while others are, relatively speaking, newcomers to the German capital – but none were born in it. Some of the works address the pressing issue of the dire fate of African refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean, while others rework personal histories and family biographies entangled in a tormented past; others still deal with foreignness in its universal dimension, along with its attendant misconceptions and prejudices.

(excerpt from the curatorial text, Mother, I have reached the land of my dreams, the art exhibition at the 2016 edition of ID Festival, October 21-23, Radialsystem V, Berlin

On the works:

Amir Fattal, Untitled (Synagogue)Untitled (Tomb of Jonah) (2015), from the series Frieze, 3D printed PLA coated with industrial dust

(c) by Yannic Pöpperling

Images and historical narratives of destruction and ruin have long been an interest of Israeli-born Amir Fattal (b. 1978), who has been based in Berlin ever since his studies here. Fattal's work – from video and installation to two-dimensional artifacts – is heavily centered on the different facets of German history from WWII and on, a theme that offers a near-infinite depository of the morbid and of the ironical turns of history.

In a recent series of reliefs produced in 2015, Fattal has turned his attention to more recent scenes of destruction and devastation, this time from a war-ravaged Middle East. Fattal used photographs of Babylonian and Assyrian world heritage sites that suffered severe damage during the armed conflicts of the recent decade – the second Gulf War and ISIS attacks – and turned them into medium-sized, framed reliefs. The ochre-tinged plates seem to emulate an aesthetic typical of 19-century photography or prints from the Holly Land, but were in fact obtained using an advanced 3D printing technique, later to be treated with industrial dust, to achieve the patina of age.

It is hard not to view these ghostly images of war-ravaged sites through the lens of Fattal's habitual subject matter, such as the Reichskanzlai, atomic fallout, Leni Riefenstahl or a Wagner aria sung backwards.

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Amir Yatziv, The German Village (2011), single-channel video


The works of Israeli-born Amir Yatziv (b. 1972), predominantly in video, are based on historical research and archival material in the intersection between myth, history, architecture and archeology. As many Israeli artists of his generation who have chosen Berlin as their base, his work too is often dedicated to the tangled histories of Jews and Germans.

The German Village is dedicated to two very different projects built by Erich Mendelsohn, a German-Jew who was one of the leading architects of the Weimar era: The Einstein Tower in Potsdam, an observatory completed in 1924, and a mock "German village" built according to his instructions in a desert in Utah in 1943, as part of a US Army bomb testing facility. Yatziv crops out the observatory tower from its lush Potsdam surroundings and implants it in the desert. As a camera hovers around both structures – first the tower, then the village – we hear a text written by Mendelsohn while he was sailing to America, in 1924.

Interestingly enough, the two structures, though heavily bombed during the war, survived. Another interesting superimposition offered by the video is that of the ship – the topic of Mendelsohn's text – and the streamlined curves of the observatory. Read in English, by a German accented narrator, the text seems to point to a fundamental contradiction between form and function – once inhabited by humans. Fittingly, the film shows both structures completely devoid of any sign of life.

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Bettina Allamoda, Wall Wear (2006), collage, from the series All Dressed Up


Bettina Allamoda (b. 1964), a native of Chicago who moved to Germany in her early 20's, is noted for her work in sculpture and installation, often involving shiny arrangements of fabric and ready-made fixtures in site-specific settings. Allamoda has also produced a number of series in collage, where she addresses pressing political issues by superimposing them with themes derived from pop culture and fashion.

Her work in the show – from the series All Dresses Up – brings together a fashion spread shot at the separation wall in Israel together with a stylized typography taken from a 1970’s architectural magazine, reading "habillez vos façades" ("dress up your facades"). However equivocally, both elements project the bright optimism of better things to come. The politically-engaged spread, taken from a photo project commissioned by upscale Israeli brand Comme Il Faut in 2004, and shot by Miri Davidovich, is seamlessly transformed into the subject matter of an additional act of appropriation, which highlights the subtle irony at the crossroads of fashion, architecture and political conflict.

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Eldar Farber, Tempelhof (2011), pencil on paper; Tiergarten Berin (2008), Felled Branches (2012), Fröbelplatz (2015), oil on canvas mounted on wood


It has been 10 years now that Israeli landscape painter Eldar Farber (b. 1970) has been coming to Berlin each summer to paint, benefiting from a light far more forgiving than at home and from landscapes far more vast, lush, engulfing and at the same time tranquil. Farber works from life, setting up his easel and support at the very site he paints – a European tradition that goes back to the Barbizon school of the nineteenth century, in France.

However, when he first visited Germany, it wasn’t the lush landscapes that he was after. As the son of two holocaust survivors, he was inhabited mostly by uncertainty and fear. Yet being able to paint the views of Germany – apart from becoming something of a coping mechanism – gave way to an ongoing and superb body of work, which makes the most of his refined skills as a landscapist.

The four paintings on view were painted in various locations in Berlin. The small formats frame their subject matter like distant memories punctuated by the tinge of the real, doing justice to the nuances of light and atmosphere. The soft, voluminous contours of an airplane parked at Tempelhofer Feld, in a pencil drawing from 2011, bring to mind a toy airplane – turning an originally unsettling context into an image that is almost nostalgic in its beauty.

– – –

Ella Littwitz, Eucalyptus (2011), single-channel video


Working in a multitude of media, Israeli-born Ella Littwitz (b. 1982) addresses tense political situations and charged histories through archeological fragments – real and recreated – found objects, and recomposed environments. Her installations often feature organic formations with which she channels her subject matter, whether with regard to the complicated history of her homeland or other locations abroad.

Her work in the show, a short video titled Eucalyptus, shows the eponymous tree hanging from a chain hoist in what seems to be an artificial crater or a building site. Part of a series of works titled Sirius, the work frames the tree as it floats mid-air, its roots completely exposed. The static vertical frame registers the slight movements of the tree, slowly tilting and revolving; but mostly it appears arrested, like some expressive composition of a work in drawing.

Littwitz's works channel a sensitivity that doesn’t lend itself easily to a straightforward interpretation; however, in the context of the current show, her contribution comes to represent a state of uprootedness, painful but strikingly beautiful at the same time.

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Francesca Fini, Gold: Looking for Oz (2016), single-channel video


Italian-born artist Francesca Fini (b. 1970) transposes the story of The Wizard of Oz unto current-day Jerusalem. Made up of a sequence of episodes and performances by the artist herself and a list of collaborators, all performed on location in the summer of 2016, the all-American tale of self-seeking / god-seeking lends itself all too well to a city already crowded with god-seekers, a politically-contested site of holiness that is in and of itself prone to absurdity and madness.

As she harnesses the creative power of local and foreign performers and captures a public space where the unexpected is weirdly expected, Fini strives towards a surrealist aesthetic that is likewise marked by its cinematic qualities. Equipped with a map, and in search of Emerald City, she interacts with unsuspecting passers-by to give birth to more layers of absurdity.

Is Fini a grown-up Dorothy Gale, joyously cavorting in shiny red shoes through the streets of Jerusalem, or is she the witch? The hour-long film confronts us with these and other performance-based actions, such as a woman struggling to burst a host of balloons filled with black paint; a face made of melting ice, held up like a mascot and sometimes drank up; a silent, submissive god shrouded in gold but still wearing his sneakers; and a self-defeating gliding-down by an oily, yellow path – a gesture that forevermore problematizes the notion of 'arriving'.

– – –

Natalia Ali, Haram-Halal (2016), sound installation

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The contrast between two opposing words in Arabic – halal and haram – is at the center of the sound installation presented by Natalia Ali (b. 1985), a young artist who was forced out of her native Damascus some five years ago, and moved to Berlin. Ali works in various media, documenting her close family environment and tackling issues of self-image, identity and femininity. The experiences of young adulthood find their expression in ways that are arguably common to many in her generation the word over, yet as a young Syrian, these preoccupations are tinged by a dark, horrific civil war whose shadows keep creeping in.

A cluster of mouths made of burnt clay are hung on the wall, uttering the words halal and haram; the former signifying "permissible" and the latter "forbidden". Both have a cultural and religious significance that goes far beyond mere definitions. In the accumulated whispers, this pair of opposing words seems to merge into a single verbal unit, blurring the harsh and restrictive gender connotations attached to them in Arab societies.

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Nezaket Ekici and Shahar Marcus, Sand Clock (2012), single-channel video


Turkish-born German artist Nezaket Ekici (b. 1970) has been collaborating with Israeli artist Shahar Marcus (b. 1971) since 2012. The two share a deep commitment to an established tradition of performance art as the focal point of their artistic practice. Their joint work in the show was shot in the Judea Desert in Israel, with participants of both Jewish and Arab backgrounds.

Eight performers are deployed across a desert landscape. Each holds a giant translucent bowl over their head, containing sand that pours down on his or her forehead in a steady stream before piling up in a second, identical bowl placed at their feet. The desolate landscape and silent, meditative action of this group of life-sized, human hourglasses channel an image that could have been taken from a science fiction film; yet the issues that Ekici and Marcus wish to raise pertain to multicultural identities in the context of time – that greatest of equalizers.

Ekici and Marcus employ the term "video performances" to refer to their videos. This terminology further inscribes their work in the tradition of performance art, lending extra significance to the actions recorded. As in other works the two have collaborated on, here the sand that pours down on the performers' faces reads like an endurance test.

Nezaket Ekici, Papa's Poem (2016), 3-channel video


Ziya Ekici, Nezaket Ekici's father, arrived in West Germany in 1973 as a "guest worker," together with a large population of foreign nationals brought to the county to be employed in its booming post-war industry. Ziya, originally a teacher, settled in Duisburg and was followed by his family, which arrived later that year.

In Papa's Poem Nezaket pays homage to her father, a man of letters who continued writing poetry after his arrival in Germany. The poem she performs, taken from a collection of his titled Balik Bastian Kokar ("The fish rots from the head"), deals with feeling of estrangement and the difficulty of integrating into a society of "self-important Europeans". Originally written in the poet's – and the artist's own – mother tongue, here it is performed in three languages simultaneously, on three separate screens.

Ekici's impassioned delivery attests not her strong feelings towards her father (who passed away in 1995), but equally to the great difficulties raised by his poem, which have now again become relevant with the new waves of immigration.

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Alona Harpaz, My darling we have reached Europe (2016), neon, glass; Pass Control (2016), single-channel video


"My darling, we have reached Europe!" are the tearful words a Syrian father uttered to the child he thought he had lost in the dark night, while crossing the Mediterranean. Alona Harpaz (b. 1971), an Israeli artist who has been living in Berlin for the past 15 years, had chosen those word for the eponymous work of her most recent solo show, where the themes of immigration, displacement and nostalgia towards one’s homeland have grown explicit more than ever before in her work.

Harpaz makes the case for something of a universal experience of migration. The words of the Syrian father, which went viral, were spelled out in neon and greeted visitors to her show. Stories of flight know no end and they are translatable – from Arabic into Hebrew into English and back. Rewritten in saccharine-pink neon, these words are turned into pertinent commentary on the existential, never-to-be-resolved state of migration – of residing in the in-between.

The captivating glow that characterizes her work in painting has crossed over to her most recent projects, mainly in video. This short video vignette hangs on the wall above the passageway connecting the two exhibition spaces, contrasting the architectural form of a passage with the familiar apparatus of control and regulation known from airports.

The nearly static, continuous loop shows the sign of a passport control booth at the Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, its bright LED lettering, directing passengers with "foreign passports" now flickering and partly discolored due a faulty LED display. With its indecisive flicker and uneven Hebrew and English lettering – half white, half alarmingly red – this airport sign, shot with a camera phone at the spur of the moment, turns the minor sequence into to an emblematic moment of passage between past and present, like a border crossing that never ends.

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Alona Rodeh, The Carrier (2015), M.D.F, aluminum and Plexiglas


Alona Rodeh's sculpture in the show, titled The Carrier, is part of a series of three large-size cubic figures that were presented in her 2015 show at the Grimmuseum in Berlin, Safe and Sound. An Israeli artist who over the past several years relocated to Berlin, Rodeh (b. 1979) often works with themes related to the visibility of security mechanisms, in an effort to distill something akin to an "aesthetic".

The large, semi-abstract sculpture is poised on two geometric feet and seems to be gazing upward. The weird gesture is derived partly from anti-missile launchers deployed in the Israeli landscape – a system that in Israel is known by the dramatic name of "Iron Dome" – while the lower part of the feet is reinterpreted from the human figure sometimes seen on emergency exit signs. The odd hybrid is installed alongside a light-box that has been left blank – an object that likewise belongs in Rodeh recognizable vocabulary of pop culture, nightlife and the heightened state of alertness proper to security systems.

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Angus Massey, All People Look the Same to Me (2015), mixed media


The work of Irish-born Angus Massey (b. 1973) draws on the spiritual and the esoteric, which he reinterprets through figurative sculptures in combination with texts, hieroglyphs and geometrical shapes. With a background in both graphic design and classical sculpture, his work is apt at projecting ideas that are both spiritual and philosophical while still maintaining the edge of an enigma.

Massey's work in the show, All People Look the Same to Me, makes use of a signature typeface developed by the artist, and which reoccurs in his work. The Latin lettering – partly dented, like some ancient-mysterious script – forms the sentence of the work’s title, with a blank where a designated racial or ethnic would have been. With the graphic interplay between the dented lettering and the white space left open, Massey pointedly addresses commonly-held racial biases and preconceptions.

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Anina Brisolla, Lost (2013), inkjet prints on paper; Migration (2014), confetti, spray paint; European Security Fencing (2014), single-channel video


Working in various media from video to object-based art, artist Anina Brisolla (b. 1976) often uses digital editing techniques to produce images that, under a surface of painterly beauty, harbor dramatic events.

Brisolla’s three works in the show form an ensemble that addresses the plight of migrants attempting to enter Europe, especially by sea. As in many of her works, the topic is concealed through manipulation and transformation: in the series of 14 digital prints, press photos of immigrant ships taken at the moment of their interception were manipulated to edit out the ship every time, leaving only smoke and flames to remind us of the humanitarian drama that took place.

Printed on hand-made paper, the bluish rectangular prints appeal to us in their painterly beauty – just as they reduce human lives to an inanimate substance. This is also the case with Migration, a rectangular arrangement of confetti all dyed in black. The size of the rectangle matches that of a EUR-pallet – a bitter, silent reminder of lives lost and of the dire outcomes of international border regulations. The ensemble of works is completed by European Security Fencing, a promotional video for security systems that is played as is.

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Olaf Kühnemann, Ermitage (2005-2007), oil on canvas


Olaf Kühnemann was born in Switzerland (1972) to German parents, but he grew up in Israel and identifies as an Israeli. Kühnemann's work in the show, Ermitage, is hardly a new one; completed in 2007, it seems like a faint echo from the past, especially when compared to his current work, which is vibrant to the point of messy. Yet through its subject matter, technique, and the body of work it belongs, it marks a turning point in his work – even for an artist who essentially never stopped experimenting.

The painting is based on a family photograph taken by his father in 1977 at the Ermitage gardens in Arleshiem, Switzerland, where Kühnemann lived until the age of four, and it shows him, his mother and three siblings. At a crucial point in Kühnemann's early career, turning to a familial subject matter had freed him to seek and explore his painterly idiom; and it is certainly true that, throughout his artistic trajectory, his painting remained deeply entangled with the topics of family and biography.

In the context of the show, the painting arrests a distant moment of what appears to be familial bliss. His parents were to separate shortly hereafter, and through their subsequent remarriages, separations and relocations Kühnemann can claim relatives in many different parts of the world.

Mother, I have reached the land of my dreams was exhibited at the second edition of ID Festival, Berlin, 2016

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