“3 For 10″. Masha Rubin, Maria Pomiansky, Irina Birger

26, July 2011 · Events / Exhibitions

Masha Rubin, Maria Pomiansky and Irina Birger are three artists and friends who immigrated
to Israel in the early 1990s. They studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and worked on interrelated and mutually influenced projects throughout the decade.

This exhibition is a retrospective overview of twenty years of artistic activity, starting in Moscow and St. Petersburg, continuing in Israel and then, after the split, in Zürich, Amsterdam and Tel Aviv.

For twenty years, many of their photography and video artworks feature a group of young friends who immigrated to Israel at that time and worked in theater, music, cinema and fine art in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This group features repeatedly in the three artist’s works, in various situations, creating a real and imagined community. In many of their works the artists move from city to city, from Tel Aviv to Zürich, from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv and from one language to another with perfect naturalness, so smoothly as to suggest a new territorial space that is not centered on a single identity and locality, but becomes integrated in a hyphenated Israeli-Russian culture that operates in direct artistic relation with East Europe’s communist and post-communist past and with the immigrant culture in Israel, as well as with the contemporary artistic arena in the countries where they work and create.

The realistic, sociological and ironic dimensions are clearly evident in the exhibition. The biographic milestones serve as raw material for the artist’s photography and video artwork, with reality creating a joint associative photographic language. The immigration culture as a exilic culture of transition relies on a retrospective view, based on archival and album photos, clips from feature films, clips from documentary films shot at home and outside in the city, which form a spatial and temporal sequence designed to overcome the recurrent geographic splits.

These multiple video artworks feature Hebrew, Russian and English as both spoken and written languages in the various narrator voices, titles, the voices of the artists themselves and the group of friends. This artistic multi-language represents the migration moves between cultures and countries and retains the translation gaps between the languages.

The artists’ video artworks may be interpreted within the framework of accented cinema, as defined by Hamid Naficy with reference to exilic and diasporic filmmaking. Naficy distinguishes among three definitions of accented cinema, distinctions based on its locational reference: exilic cinema is dominated by its focus on “there” and “then” in the homeland; diasporic cinema by its vertical relationship to the homeland and by its lateral relationship to the diaspora communities and experiences, such as those of naturalized Jewish immigrants in the Israeli context; and postcolonial ethnic and identity cinema by the exigencies of life here and now in a the country in which the filmmakers reside.

These definitions open up a broad range of possibilities for analyzing feature films, documentaries and video artwork of contemporary émigré artists. Accented cinema borrows its name from the definition of “accent” as stress, intonation, emphasis and articulation of a mother tongue which predates the spoken language. However, it is also broadly referent to the history of the artists’ own uprooting and displacement, as well as to their artistic means of production.

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3 For 10 creates excess, a multiplicity of visual, vocal and linguistic texts, a multiplicity which attempts to capture a diasporic system grounded in migration, wandering, and exile. In Naficy’s terms, inter-textual art is described as textual multiplicity which denies the text’s status as a single and natural text, therefore requiring the art consumer to perform several activities simultaneously: observe, read and translate. Nevertheless, since these techniques are not necessarily mutually supportive due to their asynchronicity, and since they are juxtaposed in critical proximity, the observer’s (reader’s, translator’s) activities do not merge into a single consistent interpretation.

The asynchronicity of interpretation, perspective and language typical of the three artists’ work creates a sense of deconstruction. The artists create an esthetic of migration where, side by side with discontinuity and incoherence, a deceptive stability of home is constantly recreated.

Tal Ben Zvi, 2011.

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1 Hamid Naficy, 2001. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking, Princeton University Press, pp. 124-125.

2 Ibid. p. 15.

3 For more on this approach to the interpretation of feature films, see Gershenson’s article on “Paper Snow” (2003) (dir. Slava and Lina Chaplin – Haya o lo hayah/Paper Snow): Gershenson, Olga (2009). “Accented memory: Russian immigrants reimagine the Israeli past”, Journal of Israeli History 28(1), 21-36.

4 Naficy, p. 4.
5 Naficy, p. 124-25.

The exhibition at the Israeli Center For Digital Art, Holon, is open from July 2nd till September 3rd.

IRINA BIRGER

Irina Birger exhibits the tension between Diasporic Cinema grounded in migration and wandering on the one hand, and essentially universal, abstract artwork which tend to avoid any particular cultural identification.

In the biographic film “Irina Birger Thinks: Drawing is Important” (15 min. 2010), the artist returns to her childhood, to the album photos and family testimonies, to produce a contemporary text about her life as an artist and the way her work is affected by the experience of continuous migration. The film starts with a sequence of still photos – hundreds of self-portraits with family and friends centered on the rapidly changing face – backed by a laconic voice summarizing the chronology of the artist’s life in English. Hebrew titles accompany the still photos, with the mother tongue’s voice completely absent. The transitions from communist Russia to the former Yugoslavia on the verge of civil war, to Israel during the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, and then to post-unification Germany and contemporary Holland are fast-paced, sharp but sentimental. Irina Birger documents routine migration, ongoing migration, migration experienced in constant tension between the personal and political. However, she refuses to do political art, such that refers directly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather adopts a more universal critical stance from a curator’s point of view, as in the Amsterdam immigrants projects depicted in the film. Nevertheless, despite her comprehensive public project, she eventually chooses to end the film with the sentence, “The circle is closed and i can’t get out of it. Maybe I’ve never wanted to. Irina Birger thinks: drawing is important”. Thus she goes back to square one, forging an immanent link between the beginning of her biography and the origin of artistic practice – drawing.

This ongoing migratory experience is also articulated in Birger’s animation piece “Tuning” (12 min. 2006). This film’s imagery is composed of Christian, Muslim and Jewish spaces, with the silhouetted skylines of Amsterdam, Istanbul and Tel Aviv in the background. The silhouettes then merge into one, forming a continuous geographical sequence. Unlike landscapes which represent a stable territory with familiar boundaries, this work represents an abstract conceptualization of landscape as a utopic objective. The elongated silhouette in the distant and blurred horizon is accompanied by the colorfulness of sunrise-sunset-night, emphasizing the metaphor of romantic landscape and the cyclicality of nature.

Central to this work is the soundtrack composed by four sound artists: Eli Shargorodsky (Israel), Liron Lupu (Israel), Brian McKenna (Canada) and Jan Kees van Kampen (Netherlands). The artist remixes their compositions into a unified whole which accompanies the sunrise-sunset cycle, with the loop turning the work into an infinite space of cyclic migration, reinforcing the romantization of the migratory act.

Migration, belonging, and friend groups are demystified in the abstract video installation Venus Telenoia (12 min. loop, 2008). British artist and theorist Roy Ascott defined telenoia as follows: “Instead of Paranoia we are interested in Telenoia. Telenoia is a much more positive emotion. It’s about the celebration of touching one another, either in tele-distance or in physical proximity. Telenoia hopefully will increasingly replace the paranoia of the old industrial culture”.

In a new cultural system, the artist locates a pseudo-scientific, pseudo-solar system reminiscent of a large stellar system. In such a system, we are technologically aware of the existence of others, akin to other stars or planets, and we seek temporary contact, momentary space-time interactions. Sometimes the visage is human as the artist’s face, which appear in one star only to immediately fade away to the sound of an old 1980s’ synthesizer. The relationship between retro and future seen in the horizon is reminiscent of the astronaut culture or the science fiction animations where people meet in parallel universes, in spaces lacking in any specific geographic or cultural identity.

This ahistoric abstract world is brought to an extreme in “Analogia” (animation loop, 2003). This work is based on two binary images: a button with two modes, red and black. At first glance, this work is echoic of the memory of the cold war during Regan’s presidency. However, it is also largely a reductive view of two extreme arbitrary situations, binary situations of black versus white, true versus false, yes or no.

IRINA BIRGER was born in Moscow in 1972. She immigrated to Israel in 1992 after studying art in Belgrade. In 1993-1997 she studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. In 2002 she left for MA studies in Amsterdam. Her current artistic activities include video installation, animation and drawing in Tel Aviv and Amsterdam.

MARIA POMIANSKY

Diasporic Cinema is at also at the heart of Maria Pomiansky’s work, represented by two short films shown in the exhibition. “Sunny from Inside to Outside” (24 min. 2006) is an experimental hybrid straddling the fields of documentary film and video art which posits the question, “what is beauty?” The artist addresses this question to a group of friends in Tel Aviv, Zürich and Moscow in Hebrew, Russian, English and German. The dynamics in the films shows interest in the beauty of (local) cities, music and people, with the dynamic that most interests the artist is a definition of beauty in the space between people. The answer is given in the film’s title – “from inside to outside”.

The film moves across multiple characters. Maria creates a dialog, addresses each interviewee, if you will, in his or her mother tongue. The answers in the mother tongue, she says, are the most important, offering the possibility of delving deeper, rather than losing part of the language. The artist seeks beauty across national or geographic borders, looking into universal values of beauty and esthetics. Despite globalization and the beauty of the cities shot in the film, Vadim Khodakov takes her to the demolished areas of Jaffa. He describes in Russian the beauty of a fishing boat “graveyard” at the edge of the harbor and tells her he finds beauty in destroyed, deconstructed space. Destruction, he says, is also a way of conceiving beauty, which can be more interesting than the beauty of fashion models or Dutch landscapes.

“The End of the Light” (22 min. 2009) is based on the question “what is fear?” In a series of interviews, the artist returns to the same group of friends – some of them in Tel Aviv and others in Zürich – who answer questions about their fears. The film discusses the possibility of facing fear head on. The artist discovers, to her surprise, that some of her interviewees are afraid of daylight and the sun. In Russian, the end of the world sounds like konza sveta, which means the end of light/daylight.

As in the first film, the interviewees each answer the artist’s questions in their mother tongue, be it Russian, Hebrew, German or English. The interviews move from intimate conversations about relationships and loneliness to existential fears in the complex local political reality. Thus for example, Vadim Khadakov takes the artist to a graveyard of bombed-out, blackened busses. “Can you imagine one of your relatives going out to buy some bread, going on a bus and getting blown up?”, he asks laconically. Later he states: “Sometimes I am afraid of waking up in the morning. I have a real fear, true phobia of daylight. When it becomes rainy, dark, overcast, I feel much more at ease”. The interviewees discuss fear of woman, fear of nature, fear of work, fear of being out of work, fear of bureaucracies, fear of working from the age of 17 to the age of 67. The film ends with the question: “Do you let yourself invite fear into your life?”

In both films the titles as well as the artist’s voiceover are in English. The interviews are conducted in English, German, Hebrew and Russian. As in Masha Rubin’s film, viewers who are not Russian speakers miss the textual nuances as well as various cultural codes. This diverse addressive experience respectively creates groups of viewers with shared language, history and culture. The artist creates a multi-vocal, multilayered esthetics representative of the various identities she negotiates, resulting in a multilingual and multicultural space far divorced from the Zionist melting-pot ideology.

As opposed to multi-vocal, multilingual and multi-spatial nature of the films described above, the artist chose to make a completely different localized film in Zürich. In Spring Strawberries in Zürich (8 min. 2003), shot like a cliffhanger, an actress character secretively wanders about the city in an attempt to obtain the object of her passion – spring strawberries – as a metaphor for something that’s forbidden, somewhere between sex and drugs – a world of pleasures, of strawberries. Unlike the verbal overload of the other short film, this one is accompanied by rhythmic music and the sounds of city streets.

The film presents images of double standards: on the one hand, we see people demonstrating against strawberries, and on the other we see them hold parties where strawberries are sensually applied onto their faces. An underground erotic, sensual world is hereby opposed to a public space of signs, demonstrations and prohibitions. What is prohibited, what you may be punished for, is not ideologically charged nor otherwise significant, but rather completely arbitrary. This sarcastic irony emphasizes urban alienation with its complete lack of any historic, political or cultural context.

A similar lack of spoken languages in general, and Russian in particular, is also evident in a series of earlier works by Maria Pomiansky, which were exhibited at the Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon almost ten years ago. In her video artwork “The Future Sound of Holon” (5 min. 2002), the group of friends stands in postures reminiscent of European sculpting, with no soundtrack and the camera moving across the landscapes of public parks in Holon. In “Spritz” (5 min. 2002) the friends posture as municipal water fountains, with the sound of water trickling in the background. Despite the rich European symbolism, it is the drabness of urban landscapes in Holon and Tel Aviv which stands out above all.

The same group of friends is featured in a series of works from the turn of the century in Israel: “Headwash” (2 min. 2001); “Iron Eyes” (1 min. 2001); “Glasses” (4 min. 1998); “Collar” (2 min. 2002); and “Nose” (2 min. 2001). These were shot around Maria Pomiansky’s and Vadim Levine’s house, with the group of friends acting as “extras”, in recurring images, wearing pig noses, jabot collars, etc. In these works, the artist avoided using either Hebrew or Russian, whether in speech or in writing, so that the extras communicate – in their postures and accessories – in universal and ironic symbolism.

Maria Pomiansky

was born in Moscow in 1971. She immigrated to Israel in 1991 after studying art in Moscow. In 1993-1998 she studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. In 2003 she went to study for her MA in Zürich. Her current artistic activities include painting, photography and video art in Tel Aviv and Zürich.

MASHA RUBIN

Masha Rubin’s first short film is undoubtedly Diasporic Cinema at its best. The pseudo-documentary “Three Short Stories” (15 min. 2000) was shown in Bezalel’s Final Exhibition. The film is a manual for the (native) Israeli viewer trying to fathom the “mysterious Russian soul” – an ironic manual which tries to mediate and communicate the cultural diversity of young, cynical and amused immigrants.

The three speakers talk Hebrew; there are no subtitles and the film moves from Hebrew speech to clips from Russian movies. Akla starts off with a bemused discussion of vodka, and the editing cuts sharply to Russian TV clips which include folk dancing. Next, the film documents a new-year’s dancing party featuring the artist’s friends. In the second part of the film, Rosa, the artist’s friend, describes the character of the witch Baba Yaga. The third part is opened by actress Nadia Kucher who talks about dominant Russian women, and then cuts sharply to TV clips of communist military images and other revolutionary imagery. The artist uses the ready-mades to represent the Russian culture in complete awareness of the cultural reduction to a limited number of stereotypes. This is translation and mediation of Russian icons into Hebrew, well aware of the limitations of intercultural transfer, which is often unable to encompass cultural nuances. Ultimately, however, the film communicates a diasporic experience which is full of irony and self-confidence.


The group of friends seen in the short film also features in many photographs included in Rubin’s Personal Diary, 1994-2011, which will be exhibited here for the first time. This photography project is actually an archive of thousands of photos shot over many years as part of daily routine. The persons photographed include family members and close friends, who are shot from up close, with intimacy based on love and respect.

Masha Rubin defines the archive created during the years as interior photographs. Indeed, the series starts off with indoor photos shot inside houses, including home parties, kitchen scenes, rooms in rented apartments, etc. There are hardly any outdoor photos which betray the surrounding geographic space. One landscape photo stands out as an exception: “Untitled (Julia)”, shot in a pine grove near Latrun, Israel. A young woman stands by the road with the pines in the background in the only photo shot in the Israeli landscape and printed as a burnt-out picture whose colorfulness creates a fictional landscape, with the colors connoting happiness and euphoria.

The sequence of portraits features various friends, mostly immigrants from the 1990s. These are not directed shots, but rather random and intimate ones – everybody knows everybody. The photos document a group of immigrants who came to Israel, traveled on and returned, before and after home visits (to Tel Aviv) and return visits (to Moscow) and trips to the new world (Amsterdam, Berlin, London), again and again. Every photo tells a story and shares an event occurring at a specific point in time on the diasporic sequence of migration.

MASHA RUBIN

was born in in St. Petersburg in 1973. She immigrated to Israel in 1994 after studying art in St. Petersburg. In 1996-2000 she studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Her current artistic activities include photography and video art in Tel Aviv.


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