While walking the concourse of the Giardini in the 2013 Venice Biennale, you hear a hypnotic drone followed by an infectious beat, which lures you into the Israeli Pavilion where you are confronted with The Workshop by Gilad Ratman: a 5 channel HD video installation with sculptures and sound. Because of the layers of complexity, Tania Romero, Shadieh Mirmobiny, Nancy Bookhart and I have chosen to focus on the concepts of unity and community of this single work.
Levinas says that friendship develops out of need which goes back to Epicurus who considered his students friends. Their need was to learn and his need was to educate them in order to raise them to a level in which they could contribute to the discourse. Ratman did precisely this when he learned that he was chosen to exhibit at the Biennale. He asked his friends to share in the experience with him in order to shape the work and participate in the discourse. This is witnessed in the audio component. Primitive cries and utterances were recorded by the workshop participants, captured by microphones embedded in the sculptures along with cave noises and studio sounds were then mixed together by a sound man into a homogeneous fusion of immersive sound that invites the viewer into the community of The Workshop.
The video installation of the documented journey consists of five widescreens – one on the lower level, two on adjacent walls, and a double projection upstairs. This non-linear presentation of the group’s journey, welcomes the viewer to construct the narrative through the juxtaposition of fragmented images as they travel through the pavilion. Relevance to the Lacanian mirror is evident: the images document the participation of the group members as they create clay sculptures of themselves. Additionally, the jump cuts in the elliptical montage on the various screens reveal the fragmented temporality of the narrative which the viewer must assemble, as if suggesting that the creation of art involves the Kantian play of both disunity and unity of time in order to create a universal space of creation. There are layers of representation in these images, and the viewer is situated in a dialectic between self reflection of the artists and active contemplation of the viewer.
Image © Shay-Lee Uziel
It is easy to see in the installation titled The Workshop how Gilad Ratman, using the age old metaphor of the “Cave,” has put forth a profound concept in his work. While the exhibit offers a multi perspective / multi channel view of a group of people who, through hardships (via the cave reference and underground journey) reach a place of free expression (the Israeli Pavilion at the Biennale), one can only speculate whether the artist’s reference is to the historic progression of man toward freedom. Their journey ends with the members of the group each forming a sculpture head, incorporating a microphone in the clay. In the process of working one’s way out from the cave and underground, where there is no enlightenment or freedom, one arrives at a place to create what seems to be his desire to connect and communicate with others, but judging by the products of their labor in this installation, it is not clear if the freedom can be achieved through representation alone. None of the heads seemed to be engaged with the other, and none seems to have the microphone, the means to reach out to the others, in the right place. Although capable of recording, which they actually did, the sounds do not reach beyond chaotic disarray to a level of harmony or understanding. If Bakhtin’s utterance is true as a necessary means to connect, without oppression or hierarchy, this particular part of the exhibition as the materialized form of the reconciled solution, appears to fall short.
Image © Shay-Lee Uziel
“The Unity of the Object is the unity of us.”—Tom Huhn on Hegel.
The Kant and Hegel Divide (the title of the IDSVA seminar in Berlin) is most evident in the work of the Israeli Gilad Ratman, and the Argentinian artist, Nicola Costantino. Ratman’s film depict sculptors creating a like image of themselves, starting out as logical, sound, resolved being, but as they continue to work on their image, it reveals their inner sensuousness, and primordial selves. It is in this recognition that perhaps they groan, and utter. In complete contrast is the work of Costantino who in his panoramic presentation of the everyday actions of Eva Peron exhibited her alienation from herself as active subject. While in Costantino there is a Kantian irreconcilable subject/object, and therefore no true reckoning of the great divide of the sensuous and the rational, the reconciliation is illuminated most succinctly in Ratman’s multi-imedia presentation of installation, film, and sculpture.
In both works we are confronted with ourselves, but one in knowing and the other in never realizing though passing close to recognition in the same space and time. In Kant’s theory of the disinterested in aesthetics there is no convergence of content, or subjectivity of object. In the Hegelian sense though there is the evolution of self in the history of becoming as the subject creates the object (art) reflecting him. Perhaps, more eloquently noted by Huhn stating, “… the absolute divides itself, and produces the opposite of him.” This appears perhaps as a type of Lacanian distortion, but most certainly awareness, nevertheless.
So, in Hegel’s theory of the phenomenology of the mind he is utilizing the placemarker of Kant’s postulations of subject/object to overreach into the realm of otherness, the otherness of self, not fully exercised or realized in Kant. Hegel uses Christian theology to demonstrate the various stations of being — part to whole, and particular to universal — to examine the ordering of the mind to be both subject and object, with art as mediator.