Death and the Maiden
Introductory speech before the video screening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, July 2001
as part of a video-art night organized by The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Good evening. First and foremost, I am indebted to Yanai Toister who survived my crazy editing demands, and what's more – voluntarily. Without him, I would not have been able to make the transition from idea to realization. Thanks to Rami Fichman from Disk-in, the company that made and contributed the conversions to DVD, to BETA, and back to VHS. Both invested endless time and work, all this with exceptional generosity.
The turn my work has taken in the last decade, from conventional painting to painterly room installations, is inherently linked to its growing affinity with photography and cinema. In a way, one may say that today I paint "frozen screens." It has to do with arrested movement, withholding off, with the stiffening of an action occurring at the heart of my wall paintings, and ultimately also in the video works that are literally "frozen screens."
The work to be projected here, Death and the Maiden, closes and re-opens a thematic circle that began with the Tel Hai Cycle in the 1970s. This fact may become evident to those who rethink that cycle.
I painted the film's joined image – the bent head of a young soldier (here he is also wounded and dying under the helmet) and a girl's legs – over and over again throughout the 1980s in four different painting cycles. It means that I choose to work with cinematic material always from within and vis-à-vis my painting. The space is one of painting, of pause and suspense.
Let me introduce a few examples: The Tel Hai Cycle is based on a televised documentation of a State decoration-awarding ceremony for the 1967 war heroes, both dead and alive. The figure of Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film was the basis for the hero works from those years. Recently, I used material from two films by Leo McCarey, The Awful Truth and My Son John, for my installation Fit to Stand the Gaze of Millions and the video work Murder Story and Games – both dealing with political assassination. The installation Twenty New Hooligans at the Haifa Museum of Art was made of fragments extracted from Sergei Eisenstein’s October, and here, in Death and the Maiden, I used tiny fragments from Georg Wilhelm Pabst's war film Vier von der Infanterie (Four Men from the Infantry), which is a terrible story about the Western front of 1918.
In Death and the Maiden I prolonge a few seconds of a dying soldier and a few seconds from a dance performed by soldiers' entertainer into more than 12,000 frames showing only head and legs. Similarly, in Hooligans, I segmented a sequence of an ecstatic Cossack dance into forty painted fragments, likewise head and legs only.
Death and the Maiden was conceived in the course of my work on the drawings recently featured in the exhibition Go at Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv. It was followed by a series of drawings by the same name, executed with my eyes blindfolded. As in the video, the "blind" drawings also explore the image's suspension and delay.
What I am describing here is a process and a tactic: from video to paintings or drawings, and vice versa.
Death and the Maiden is a part of an installation that opened to the public last week at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Outside the projection space, there is a floor-to-ceiling wall piece consisting of twenty fragments, once again featuring the video images, rendered with rubbed squeegees. This is the first time that I disclose the act of deconstruction that I apply to the cinematic material, alongside a painterly deconstruction of the same material.
The video is accompanied by the musical piece, Befreiung, by Heiner Goebbels, in its entirety. A political piece composed in 1989, it addresses the structure and rhetoric of ideologies, radical slogans, and social utopias. I heard it in Frankfurt in the spring of last year, and loved it. I felt a strong affinity to its choice of materials and its approach to art.
The political in art, according to Heiner Goebbels, necessarily questions our ability to introduce a cautious and meticulous analysis of floating contiguities confining our actual and literal listening to the world, and our seeing it. It is, in essence, a matter of designating the fluidity, and more so – the dangerous fluidity, connecting ideas, sights, and voices. What is the range of an image, what is the potential resilience of an association – these are also my questions in Death and the Maiden.
The musical piece Befreiung and the video work Death and the Maiden do not share any immediate subject matter. They are two independent works bound together. And yet, both deal with a man and a woman, placed in an implicit yet tense erotic relationship. It is also significant for me that the "couple" in my film articulates my voice: that of a woman, an Israeli citizen, today, reflecting on war and history, much as the "couple" in Goebbels music articulates his voice: that of a man, a German citizen, thinking on similar issues, today.
Death and the Maiden inevitably alludes to the medieval allegory, a story which does not offer an unequivocal resolution to the question who seduces whom, whether it is the maiden who seduces death, or death – the maiden; I thought that imposing my present political concerns on such material necessitates reconfiguration of the traditional depiction of both Death and Desire according to associations different in range and accent, hence the dislocation of the images' placement and the different "roles" suggested by the dress, rifle and helmet. I felt that similar intuitions pertaining to work with source materials influenced the dislocations occurring in Goebbles's music. Heiner Goebbels himself shared this feeling when he saw the initial draft of my video work, and in his enthusiasm, kindly allowed me to incorporate his entire piece into my work. I am indebted to this wonderful composer, without whom this film could not have materialized.
Heiner Goebbels is also a partner in the film itself, in his suggestion to play its visual material in reverse, an offer which I embraced with gratitude immediately.
Finally, let me comment briefly on Befreiung: A man cries out a set of rhetorical questions to a woman named Hannah. A sequence of desperate calls. He is shocked at the nonsense THEY utter. He is horrified by the stupidity and shallowness of the freedom slogans THEY produce. We do not know who THEY are; possibly THEY are several entities, in some historical montage. But Hannah – she knew, she knows, she will know. And this is a woman named Hannah who is supposed to understand.
A German man stands in the Ruhr District, crying out loud to Hannah. There are quite a few reasons to recall and think of Hannah Arendt. Our miserable days in Israel, the state of liberated Jews oppressing the Palestinians at their own homeland of Palestine, gave rise to an irresistible urge to have my Death and the Maiden couple with Heiner Goebbles's Befreiung.