19 November 2012, European Travellers in Palestine: The Issue of Trust and “Political Correctness” in the Otolith Group’s Nervus Rerum and Ursula Biemann’s X-Mission, ICS Cinema, the University of Leeds.
In this talk I perused the visual traditions utilised in Nervus Rerum (2008) and X-Mission (2008) with a view to investigating what support they offer to the informative and political values these two video essays diffuse. Both the Otolith Group and Biemann’s work focus on the perceived physical, political and existential conditions shared by Palestinian refugees. Nervus Rerum is explicitly preoccupied with the challenge of representing people who have no formal political representation. Likewise, X-Mission employs pseudo-scientific informative conventions to portray an incoherent Palestinian reality, isolated from the realities of any other refugees. I suggested that in both of these cases, the Palestinian people paradoxically emerge as “modern heroes”, engaged with political thought and in global politics while recognising a necessity to obliterate these if they wish to earn political emancipation. Yet, as the Palestinian people have been internationally deprived of any formal representative political agency, the Otolith Group as well as Biemann’s video essays cannot be perceived as loyal to the Palestinian cause or experience. Instead, I proposed to think of them in line with the nineteenth-century representational conventions used in colonialist travellers’ diaries. As such, Nervus Rerum and X-Mission are understood as audio-visual documents that give expression to European post-colonialist desires in the era of “political correctness”.
I gave this talk as part of A Thing Like You and Me, a four-part screening and talks programme supported by the Arts Council England, PVAC and Pavilion arts organisation. The screening programme explores the relationship of the documentary ‘real’ and essayistic ‘fiction’ in contemporary artists’ video works, in both their analogue and digital form. The series re-examines the politics of representation, and the question of looking ‘at’ and ‘to’ one another in the twenty-first century. A Thing Like You and Me has been conceived and organised by Amy Charlesworth (a doctoral student at the University of Leeds) in collaboration with Director of Pavilion, Gill Park.
6 October 2012, Scabbed Pictures: On the Familial Birth of National Postmemories, Urban Encounters: The Image of Public Space, Tate Britain, London:
This talk revisited a body of research that I completed and published in 2009: Pasternak, Gil, “Covering Horror: Family Photographs in Israeli Reportage on Terrorism,” Object, 11: 87-104, London: Routledge, 2009. Focusing on the presentation of family photographs in reports on politically-motivated violent attacks in the leading Israeli dailies since the first intifada of 1987, I further elaborated upon the role such images play in the revision of Israeli history and historiography. How should the Israeli media cover terror attacks carried out against the Israeli population and within the environment of its daily life? What kind of images should it circulate? How explicit should these be? Such questions have concerned a variety of professional members of the Israeli society since the mid 1990s. Having realised that a too explicit coverage of attacks might damage the morale of the Israelis, Israeli dailies virtually agreed in 1997 to refrain from publishing explicit photographs of corpses, expressions of panic, hysteria, grief and anxiety. Instead, the Israeli media turned to what eventually became the only valid, indisputable means to represent the dead victims: their family photographs. These pictures, however, refer to a different space, time, and occasion; they draw attention to more pleasurable moments and biographical highlights, whereas the nature of the reported event and the report itself inevitably focuses on violence and death. This talk aimed to provide a greater insight into the social and professional perception of this phenomenon in the context of the Israel-Palestinian struggle.
Drawing upon my talk at the Photographers’ Gallery - “… And I will Live Forever” – this talk expanded my investigation into the practice of family photography and its interrelationship with politics and the social domain. I questioned the political agency family photographs may contain within and beyond the narratives of family life and the domestic sphere. I looked into the visual formation and manifestation of cultural and social difference within the domestic environment, and the role family photographs play in the creation of knowledge, familiarity with the Other, and the enhancement of one’s social status. Addressing some visual examples taken from popular culture as well as from less conventional sources, the talk engaged with the fragmentary histories of family photographs, and aimed to challenge the commonly naive perception of this vernacular genre. A close attention was paid to advertising campaigns for point-and-shoot cameras, and the modes of photographic production they tend to propagate. By exposing family photographs as inherently connected to state and social politics, I expanded the current understanding of family photography and layed the groundwork for further studies of its potentially radical and subversive properties.
19 September 2012, Artistic Occupation: Camouflaging Difference in Photographic Imagery of the Middle East, Visual Communication and Globalization Symposium, at the University of Leeds.
In this invited presentation I looked into processes of cultural exchange and hybridisation carried out in and through photographic practices and images. It focused on nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first century visual negotiations of social identities in the Middle East, in the light of colonialist expansion and military conquest. I demonstrated that these inform the visual vocabularies and subjectivities in question, complicating normative narratives about, and the perception of the peoples living in this geographical terrain.
18 September 2012, “… And I will Live Forever”: The Intimate Politics of Family Photographs, The Photographers’ Gallery, London:
This invited talk investigated the practice of family photography and its interrelationship with the social domain, with state politics, and issues of cultural difference, class, nationalism and racism. Addressing some visual examples taken from popular culture as well as from less conventional sources, my talk engaged with the fragmentary histories of family photography, and challenged some of the most prominent historical and sociological debates about family photographs. I questioned what political agency family photographs might contain within and beyond the narratives of family life and the domestic sphere.
This talk coincided with Fiona Tan’s exhibition at the Gallery, whose artistic practice makes use of family photographs to explore private modes of representation and their meanings in broader social and cultural contexts.
7 June 2012, Jewish Soldiers of the Time: Ethos, Pathos and Logos in Rineke Dijkstra’s “Israel Portraits”, as part of the conference Insight Palestina: Images, Discourses, and the Image of Discourse, The University of Leeds.
Co-organised by Lior Libman (the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and myself, and featuring Prof. Griselda Pollock, Prof. Sander Gilman and Dr. Ihab Saloul as keynote speakers, Insight Palestina was a one-day international conference which investigated visual and textual images produced within, and in relation to, the circumstances of the Israel-Palestine struggle.
My paper, Jewish Soldiers of the Time: Ethos, Pathos and Logos in Rineke Dijkstra’s “Israel Portraits”, focused on the photographic series Dijkstra produced following her 1999 invitation by the Herzliya Museum of Art in Israel to create a photographic series on Israeli subjects. It looked at how “Israel Portraits” undoes and renegotiates the iconic model of Israeli soldiery, openning up a representational space which permits historically repressed images of the Diasporic Jew to reappear. This representational reincarnation of the ‘helpless’ Jew within Israeli visual culture thus calls for a more rigorous investigative social proposition. It complicates national and political dogmas, and bridges by means of visual identification, the perceptual abyss between ‘ordinary’ Israelis and Palestinians.
6 June 2012, Yael Bartana, Leeds Art Gallery (in collaboration with Pavilion and the University of Huddersfield).
This event extended the activities of the Insight Palestina conference (see 7 June 2012 above), co-organised by Dr Gil Pasternak (University of Huddersfield) and Lior Libman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). Pavilion presented a screening of short films by Yael Bartana. In her photographs, films and installations Bartana critically investigates her native country’s struggle for identity. Her early work documents collective rituals introducing alienation effects such as slow-motion and sound. In her recent work the artist stages situations and introduces fictive moments into real existing narratives. The programme of films was introduced by Gill Park (Director of Pavilion), Gil Pasternak and Lior Libman. It included Bartana’s Kings of the Hill (2003), Wild Seeds (2005), Trembling Time (2001), Low Relief II (2004) and When Adar Enters (2004).
2012 in University of London Research Skills Intercollegiate Network (ReSkIN), University of London, UK
2011 An Innocent Politics?: Investigating Family Photography in Modern Israel, The Photographers’ Gallery, London.
2010 Emerging Landscapes: Between Production and Representation, University of Westminster, London. Paper: “The Brownies in Palestina”: Politicising geographies in family photographs.
2010 Supplementary Conflicts: Domesticities and Life Histories in War Time, AAH10 University of Glasgow. Convenor and chair of a one-day international conference held as part of the 36th annual Conference of the Association of Art Historians in April 2010. Supplementary Conflicts explored private visual responses to conflict, defined as the activities of any armed grouping prepared to use lethal force to achieve political aims.
2009 Playing Soldiers: Posing Militarism in the Domestic Sphere, Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London.
2009 Supplementary Histories: On the Subversive Power of Family Photographs, Chelsea College of Art and Design, London.
2009 Covering Horror: Family Photographs in Israeli Reportage on Terrorism, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
2009 Visual Conflicts: Art History and the Formation of Political Memory, University College London. Co-organiser and chair of a one-day international AHRC funded conference. Visual Conflicts developed links between issues of memory formation, the politics of violence and visual representation.
2008 Annual Conference of the Association of Art Historians (AAH), Tate Britain, London. Paper: Posthumous Interruptions: The Political Life of Family Photographs in Israeli Military Cemeteries.
2007 Posthumous Interruptions: The Political Life of Family Photographs in Israeli Military Cemeteries, University College London.
2005 Research Spaces: Materialisations of Practice in Art and Architecture, University College London. Co-organiser of the second annual research conference hosted by the Bartlett School of Architecture and the Slade School of Fine Art.
2004 Cinephilia, University College London. Presenting and discussing my video-art piece Untitled 2003.
2004 Cake or Cherries: a lecture/performance, Westminster University, London.