This is Not Halfway: Gal Amiram and Shasha Dothan

Curator: Rotem Rozental

May 3 – July 1, 2018

“There are many LAs,” noted Chris Kraus in 2005.[1] A city that is not a city, an immigrant capital, a sanctuary haven, a disparate county that harbors endless ways of living, nestled in the hills, in the valleys, in dynamic pockets of social resistance and engagement, in upscale suburban neighborhoods, in rapidly transforming urbanscapes, in countless artist-run spaces, in homeless shelters and under bridges. It sustains its own fantasy, unveiled in its reality-TV, star-like appearance, in the fake maps to celebrity homes, in tour buses and vans, in the impossible coexistence of the stench of urine and wonderfully addictive neon lights of Hollywood and Highland boulevards, where soaring rent prices and developers are redrafting demographics and access. L.A. is defined by its own routes and junctions, its own codified meeting points and decorum. No one and nowhere are never halfway in L.A. Every engagement is a commitment. Life is seen through rear view mirrors. In late 1960s, long before Waze fixed our vision, and shortly after angry locals splashed paint and scattered nails across the newly created Diamond Lanes, Joan Didion described the “freeway experience” as “the only secular communion Los Angeles had.”[2] She differentiated those who drive and those who “participate” in the highway, who “think only about where they are. Actual participation requires a total surrender, a concentration so intense as to seem a kind of narcosis […].”[3] To “participate” in L.A.’s communion, one needs to shift their perception, to locate the idiosyncrasies that define their L.A., and remain intensely focused on the route.

This is Not Halfway begins in the transmutation of conditions of vision and experience that define local living: in the eclectic sprawling architecture, the never-ending horizon line of mountains and deserts revealed in the unseen edges of the highway, diverse communal lives, endless congestions, and exceptional cultural richness. Observing works by emerging Israeli artists, this exhibition delves into the junctures of personal and national identities, and their fluctuating transformations. Specifically, it examines the impact of Los Angeles on the viewpoint of alien artists that have made it their home. Suggesting the urban landscape is a central protagonist of the artistic action, this exhibition traces the city in the work, and the work within the city.

Shasha Dothan unravels the emotional process of submersion in a new environment, the physical resonance of alienation and the desperate–at times awkward–desire to be absorbed somehow in a foreign cultural experience. In the three channels of Going to LA, the artist is facing the camera, wearing her signature black, which emphasizes her presence and seemingly contrasts her surroundings. Her long hair lightly breezes. She is at the center of the frame. The viewers are then faced with her times three: serious, pensive, sober. Behind her, a drilling field, the entrance gate to International Arrivals at the Tom Bradley Terminal of LAX, a Wells Fargo ATM. Pierces of CNN Breaking News momentarily erupt to replace the ATM, as though someone else flipped through the channels: the money repository switches to John Kerry, outlining a vision for peace in the Middle East, and ideas of two-states solution. Strangers are moving in reverse, re-entering the airport, walking backwards with their luggage. They are suddenly replaced with a snap of soldiers arguing with a civilian, who immediately disappear. More people are coming in and out in reverse from the airport. And swiftly, for a brief second, emerges a snippet from the video captured of the Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, shooting an incapacitated man lying on the ground in Hebron. Azaria was hailed by many in Israel, awarding him the title “the son of all of us.” It might sound better in Hebrew. It might not. The artist is then replaced by her father in the oil field. And then her mother. The fragmented inserts emerge like conflicted arrows of the artist’s memories, penetrating the viewer from beyond her gaze. Her eyes, the backdrop, her motionless stance, the movement of strangers, all create diagonal lines of movements – back and forth, inward and outward, from her eyes, her perception, to what she can’t see, and seemingly cannot forget. She is indifferent to her surroundings, to the people crossing her path, walking backwards, and forward. She is isolated, haunted, unable to immerse in what is suggested to be the right direction.

A similar regard toward her environment is revealed in I Never Felt So Apathetic. Situated at an anonymous branch of a chain store, the artist is again quietly facing the camera. People around her are slowly pushing carts “I used to be angry, I used to have fire in my eyes,” reveal subtitles, “[…] but now I have nothing. Only the perfect surrounding, everything is beautiful.” Dothan seems to reflect not just her emotions, but also of those surrounding her, as a totem or a lightning rod of inner conflicts. The interior is then replaced with a sunny, busy boardwalk, heading toward the beach. “I miss being aggressive […],” the subtitles tell us, “I know how to be a conqueror, and I know how to be a victim, but I don’t know how to just be.” In this play on the tourist and the immigrant experience, the artist is increasingly isolated, disconnected from her origin point, from what she thinks she remembers, from what she forgets, remaining on the verge of her new found home.

I never felt so apathetic Video segment from shasha dothan on Vimeo.

Remnants of these haunting presences are perhaps revealed in the second projection in the space.” Talk honestly about my going to L.A.,” she asks her father. He pauses. “The first thing that comes to my mind is a song,” he laughs. “What song?” she asks, suspiciously. He then proceeds to annoy her with some of the songs that have become a Californian cliché—all the leaves are brown, you will be leaving on a jet plane, L.A. Woman is walking down the street, and the skies were grey. The artist blames her father for lying about his emotions concerning her upcoming departure. “You are here now, so I am happy,” he tells her, “I am not responsible for the past or the future, only for now.” She does not believe him, and tries repeatedly to get him to admit he feels conflicted, as his second daughter is about to leave the country. Dothan remains behind the camera, as we focus on her father’s expressions and gaze. “Enough with the whining!” he finally says to her, switching back to Hebrew, breaking away from a foreign language that have potentially allowed him to disguise emotions, and argue for a complete disregard toward what is yet to come.

If Shasha Dothan re-examines the shift of perspective, or the passage from her inner world, and her conflicted domestic-national space to new localities, Gal Amiram seeks to undermine the paradigms of vision, to decenter and reconstruct the ways in which we view and perceive ways of seeing. In her work, ideas of transition into a new physical space also necessitate the transition into new modes of seeing, of perceiving, decoding and making meaning. Take a Spin begins with the artist’s excursion through the New York Times 360 VR videos, focusing primarily on The Jungle, a migrant and refugee encampment in the vicinity of Calais, France. Isolated images from the videos were then transformed into three dimensional objects or flattened prints that occupy various positions in the space. They either force us to look down, or they dismantle and abstract the ability to recognize them. The viewers are left with textures, residues, and decontextualized scenes of wreckage that function within a new form of visual and spatial logic. The artist plays on our perspective as viewers, on the presence and location of our bodies in the space.

In The Trick that Has Never Been Done, Amiram offers a different reflection on seeing and unraveling our surrounding. The work begins with magic, or more accurately, with the inherent failures and illusions our perspectives might conjure. Here, the artist amalgamates elements of Paul Klee’s 1937 Picture Album, with Jasper Maskelyne’s 1936 Book of Magic, a manual she found at AJU’s library, which guides beginners through various illusory tricks involving cards, coins, and other daily objects. The juxtaposition of Klee’s playful, flattened perspective and Maskelyne instructive suggestions, allows her to venture in the footsteps of another well-known magic trick, often referred to as the “Indian Rope Trick,” which appears to have originated in late nineteenth century. It consisted of a rope curled up in a bag. The rope – on its own! – would rise up to the skies, as a young boy climbed up and down.

The different stages needed for the trick are dismantled and rehearsed in Amiram’s work, shared and outlined as a journey in the footsteps of the perfect, non-existent illusion of vision and seeing. This possibility of deconstruction, of dismantling illusions embedded in vision, are further explored in Artisanal Magic. Upon entering the gallery, viewers are invited to shift their perspective and bodily experience, by climbing on a wooden platform and encountering an unexpected positioning of an image—beneath their feet. Additional elements of visual deceptions are explored here, juxtaposed with modernist ideas of perspective, or the surrealist emergence of objects in our view. Navigating a magic trick that is both argued to have never been performed, although there are claims it has been photographed, as well as rules of vision that derived from a Western viewpoint, Amiram creates a new space of illusion, a visual feat that challenges our assumptions.

[1] Chris Kraus, “A Walk Around the Neighborhood,” in LA Artland: Contemporary Art from Los Angeles, edited by Oriana Fox and Catherine Grant (London, UK: Black Dog Publishing, 2005).

[2] Joan Didion, “Bureaucrats,” 79-85, in The White Album (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979).

[3] Didion, “Bureaucrats,” 83.