Magazine article Artforum International

Openings: Doron Solomons

Magazine article Artforum International

Openings: Doron Solomons

Article excerpt

If any subject seems intractable, polarized, and at this point almost beyond reasonable commentary, it is the battle in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians. The two factions have been embroiled in a dispute over land, religion, claims to historical truth, and the moral righteousness of violent acts ever since Judea, the ancient home of the Jews, was conquered by the Romans and renamed Palestine. Predating modern history and territorially grounded in a sliver of land, the conflict lately embodies what New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, in his study on globalization, terms the "olive tree": a metaphorical shorthand for the local, traditional, and culturally specific that, according to Friedman's schema, is now clashing with the homogenizing and modernizing tendencies of globalism. Given the current state of international affairs, this age-old struggle has never been more urgent or of greater geopolitical significance--a putatively regional discord that leads not all that circuitously to al Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

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In the work of Tel Aviv-based artist Doron Solomons, the terms of this conflict are played out in deceptively simple, stark videos. Father, 2002, which was included in last year's Venice Biennale, intersperses newsreel footage with staged scenes and home videos to form a fragmented, truncated narrative. The apparent theme is the importance of truth transmitted from father (Solomons) to child (his young, bright-eyed daughter). Yet what should be a simple moral lesson becomes, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a poignantly acute dilemma in that its metasubject is death--a reality so present that the father cannot shield his daughter from its inevitable surfacing.

The video opens with grainy images of the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Children scream, paramedics tend to bloodied victims, and the daily order of life is reduced to turmoil. In a voice-over, Solomons remarks, "You once asked me, 'Daddy, if I die, will you make magic?'" The scene introduces the elements that will become the structure of the piece, whose alternating scenes include Solomons performing magic tricks, his daughter playing, and documentary footage of suicide bombings and of a Palestinian father mourning the loss of his child. Here Solomons's games serve a metaphorical purpose: representing the ultimate futility of any effort to avoid the constant death and violence that loom over the inhabitants of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The slapstick nature of Solomons's magic is in direct contrast to the weightiness of the context. In one "trick," the word DEATH emerges from his mouth and circles around his head until Solomons snatches and swallows it. In another, set to a musical beat, the artist's nose, seen in profile, grows to Pinocchio-like dimensions; and in yet another, he flexes his arm, which sprouts a cartoonishly inflated bicep. These episodes, while comical, are presented in a chillingly deadpan manner, as the artist performs them with the methodical detachment of an assembly-line worker. As such, comedy serves as a tool not of distraction but of engagement, requiring the viewer to negotiate the gap between the expressionless nature of the artist's performance and the disturbing circumstances to which it refers. Moreover, the vignettes are interrupted by horrific news footage of a would-be suicide bomber whose explosives have failed to ignite, lying in the street still alive. Against the genteel music of classical strings, a robot pointing a gun directly at the bomber's torso slowly drags his body across the pavement, as a crowd looks on from behind a police barricade. The freakish scene repeats at the end of the video; the bomber is probed by a large robot, its claw-like arm tugging at the Palestinian's supine body, this time to the tune of "Suicide Is Painless" (the theme song of the television program M*A*S*H). …

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