Israel Meets Berlin In This Political Dance Performance

"The Burnt Room" is the dance performance commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz

Ohad Fishof / Noa Zuk, The Burnt Room (2016), dance performance, Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 2016 © Asaf Saban

 “My teacher told me never go to Germany,” a man says into a microphone. And yet here we are, both of us, performer and audience, the Israelis and the Berliners, though one person seems to be missing. It’s burning, and yet the performance begins on time, completing its full rotation as if on a programmed, militant schedule. A performer comes up to you, dwindling her thumbs as if to ridicule herself—and you as well.

“The Burnt Room”, the title of a performance by Noa Zuk and Ohad Fishof begins in the middle with no perceivable beginning, just intensity and chaos, and a distinct absence of darkness. As one descends into this monochromatic grey, one enters into a realm of video game music and action. Consisting of two dancers, Carmel Ben Asher and Kalvin Vu, and the choreographers Zuk and Fishof, the piece immediately reads as a page out of Kafka, that is, full of hysterical laughter with bureaucratic resonances. Using a simple rectangular space to orchestrate the dance, which the audience sits around, a dialogue of four unfolds. This dialogue is of course not traditional but consisting of bodily gesticulation, altered vocal readings of Allan Kaprow’s manifesto on happenings, and gestures that hint towards militarised violence of corporate industries. Since this violence isn’t particular to a certain conflict or region, the performance’s implicit question is: how do you make a long durational occurrence that reflects multiple deadlocks?

Ohad Fishof / Noa Zuk, The Burnt Room (2016), dance performance, Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 2016 © Asaf Saban

“The Burnt Room”, part of Neuer Berlin Kunstverein’s programme “Conditions of Political Choreography was commissioned as part of a program to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Sophie Goltz, one curator of the program, explains how the exhibition took its starting point from the granting of funds to commission work about Israeli/Germany relations using art as a conduit to talk about diplomacy. Thus, the NBK took up an exchange with the Center for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Tel Aviv. Of course, this binary immediately brings to fore the Israeli/Palestinian dualism, to which the exhibition dance, at times, around, creating a large looming polemic: why is it that it is easier to talk today, in the here and now, in Germany, about the eradication of European Jewry, when it is almost impossible to visualise in a dignified manner of other casualties? Nothing in art is abstract, every gesture is political and so it was when Poland fired its director of its Berlin Culture Institute for “too much Jew content” last December for showing the film Ida, it was clear that the damages of the past had not been put to bed. Yet, in Germany, talking about the eradication of the European Jewry will not get censored but any criticism against the Israeli state will be swiftly redacted, as is detailed by Jewish Antifa in Berlin. What gets censored or talked about always has a mechanism of power, or statehood behind it. This is important to remember in an exhibition that is devoted to an exchange of art between countries in the name of casualty and reparations, difficult and bold subjects to take on.

The strongest points of the programme are this visualisation of the connection of corporate tactics to fascism, to gestures that speak to the wider instrumentalisation of Nazi tactics beyond WWII. One can see this in Christian Falsnae’s “The Lead” where Falsnae, himself, acts under the guise of a fascistic, corporate white business leader. In a series of videos that resemble a type of corporate, cult training with a crazed Falsnae in the lead, the artist uses a metal chair as armour against his colleagues, who he is meant to discipline.

Noam Enbar / Yonatan Levy, Antigone (2016), performance, Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, 2016 © Asaf Saban

Other performative works that took place during the almost month-long duration of “Conditions of Political Choreography” are Noam Enbar and Yonatan Levy’s performance “Antigone”, which takes its form as a Jewish ritual that compels the audience into a series of tasks, such as singing and elongated cries. The audience is asked to read a scene from Antigone when she is condemned to death and stands judgment. Anje Majewski’s “Landscape Painting” performance consists of an Old Testament verses sung in German operatic style, which intended to show the networks behind agriculture, naming, and geology within the Israeli area.

As the media shows us more and more violence that become conversely illegible and nonsensical, it is important to remember that the mechanic system of mediation and organising of information is part of the activity of fascism itself. In order to talk about these types of organisation, it doesn’t help to speak out loud—one would have more luck in stretching the gestures of authority out piece by piece.  Perhaps the best tactic to mime the persistent systems of Nazism today is to turn back to the language of pure gesture, as in the case of Noa Zuk and Ohad Fishof’s “The Burnt Room”. As the dancers quickly and obsessively stared into the audience’s eyes dwindling their thumbs as if the act would cause a self-combustion, I was reminded of the title of Thomas Hirshorn’s 2011 installation “It’s Burning Everywhere”. It’s Burning Everywhere, and yet only certain conflicts will get mentioned in official art spaces. It’s Burning Everywhere and yet within the art world, in certain nations, some traumas are easier to talk about than others. In Berlin, we enjoy the free reign of being able to speak, yet it has never been more difficult to find solutions to structural, corporate violence than ever.

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