Magazine article Artforum International

Uriel Orlow: LA RADA

Magazine article Artforum International

Uriel Orlow: LA RADA

Article excerpt

It was an unusual postage stamp that first set Uriel Orlow on the trail of a bizarre episode in political history, whose many facets he explores and details he retells in changing installations. It is well known that the Six-Day War of I 967 led to the closure of the Suez Canal. Less well known is the fact that in the midst of the conflict, fourteen ships from different countries, laden with a variety of cargo, were trapped in the blockade between the Egyptian and Israeli fronts. Considering the brief duration of the war, it initially seemed as if the closure would remain merely an episode, but if lasted eight years, during which time the ships--sometimes known as the Yellow Elect--could not move. Rotating crews staffed them, whiling away the time with games. Specially crafted stamps bore the emblem of a "micronation" created out of necessity: GBEA, the Great Bitter Lake Association, as the crewmen of the Yellow Fleet called themselves. Orlow tracked down and visited several of the crewmen, recording their stories and archiving their photographs and films. He learned Arabic in order to be able to accompany fishermen on trips into the canal, taking unauthorized photographs in an area that is still a strictly guarded military zone.

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The first version of the installation The Short and the Long of It was shown in 2010 at Gasworks in London; the presentation in Locarno was its fourth incarnation, and further variations in Alexandria, Egypt, and Porto Alegre, Brazil, among others, arc set to follow. The work contains a cornucopia of information, where artistic codes seep into the codes of the sea and vice versa. For instance, two white diagonals cut a blue square into four isosceles triangles--a geometrical abstraction. But in the code of international maritime signal flags, this abstract image is the sign for "M (Mike)" and means "vessel is stopped and making no way through the water. …

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