YAIR BARAK - immersion

 

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YAIR BARAK - immersion

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To Alona Yair Barak | Immersion Dan Gallery for Contemporary Art April 2011 Exhibition Curator: Ravit harari Catalog texts: Menahem Goldenberg, Ravit harari Catalog design: Yanay Nir Production: Abir Moshe Print: h.S halfi English translation: Talya halkin Prints: Photography house, Rea Ben-David Sound editing: Rivka wiesenfeld Thanks: Abir Moshe, Ravit harari, Menahem Goldenberg, Talya halkin, Yanay Nir, Rivka wiesenfeld, Keren Bar-Gil, Rea Ben-David, Danya and Yossi Barak special thanks to hadass Marder @ All Rights reserved to Yair Barak www.dancontemporary.com

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The Temple of Culture Menahem Goldenberg ‫״‬Master, do you think this is a place abandoned by God?‫״‬ ‫״‬Dear Adzo, do you know a place where God would have felt at home?‫״‬ (The name of the Rose, Umberto Eco) 1. During the 1990s, the house in which the wansee Conference took place was transformed into a holocaust memorial site. 2.The technology of capturing, reproducing and disseminating images enables the public at large to constantly consume culture. At the same time, the images that nourish our culture have become unexceptional and banal. Moreover, it is worth noting that up until this turning point, which took place in the course of the 20th century, the creation of cultural products was not motivated by any rational or existential necessity. On the contrary, most cultural products were the result of liberation from existential distress and proof of the creator's "free time." (One should take care not to confuse "free time," which does not contradict the creator's existential distress, with "leisure time," which refers to a form of temporary pleasure, and is characteristic of contemporary, "existential" culture). 3. One may think of culture's enslavement to photography in relation to our perception of photography as a mere technology for the production of images – that is, of culture. At the same time, the cultural enslavement of photography is related to the privileged status of the visible in our culture, so that photographic or other images are perceived as facts, or as the real. In this sense, the cultural hegemony of the 20th century is characterized by the transformation of the imaginary into the real. Silence envelops Yair Barak's photographs, yet this is not the silence preceding a storm; if anything, it is the silence that follows in its aftermath – like that pervading the stately seaside houses deserted at the end of a noisy summer, or the silence of the trees standing naked in the white snow, or of the house stripped of its architectural details and reduced to a white geometric form. This silence, which is inherently related to the idea of a storm, is similarly alluded to by the terrifying skeleton of a deserted soccer stadium – a vast, vacant space in the process of becoming a "white elephant." This is also the silence of a reading room. And one may, indeed, read: For instance, that the house cloaked in white is Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, an icon of modernist architecture; that the lake is the Wannsee lake on the outskirts of Berlin, and that the summer house on its shore was used during the Second World War by top SS commanders, who assembled there in 1941 to draft the Final Solution for the annihilation of European Jewry1. Barak's photographs are pervaded by the silent charge of both history and culture. More precisely, we could say that the silence that envelops Yair Barak's exhibition, the silence into which his images introduce us, is that found in the eye of the storm: silence in the eye of culture. The immediate, general affinity addressed in Barak's work is thus the underlying affinity between photography and culture, which is related to an understanding of the revolution brought about by photography as a "cultural revolution." Photography does not merely play a significant role in shaping contemporary culture; it is also the technology through which culture (or culturalism, or perhaps actually multiculturalism) has transformed the current age into such an unbearably "cultural" one. Photography plays an active and central role in rendering our existence cultural, while simultaneously making our culture into an existential one2. Or, as the title of this exhibition seems to imply, the photographic image is defined by an inherent shortcoming that stems from its gravitation towards culture and assimilation into it, and from culture's gravitation towards, and assimilation into, the photographic image. Photography is a technology that was conjured up by the imagination, only to encounter a reality that surpasses the imagination. In this sense, we could say that the "silence in the eye of culture," which is also the "silence marking the absence of culture" – that silence captured by Barak's photographs – represents a critical stance. Seen from this perspective, photography does not merely offer an arena for examining the relations between the photographic image and culture; it is also a medium capable of producing images that undermine the limits within which culture and photography engage in a process of mutual enslavement3.

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An aging couple is seated at a reading table. One would assume that both the man and the woman were born close to the end of the Second World War, or were perhaps already young children during its course. The man is immersed in reading a large, thin volume. The light burns its pages. The woman's bag has been set down casually at the edge of the table, close to the window, within arm's reach – as if pushed aside with the back of her hand so that it wouldn't intrude. In contrast to her husband, who sinks back in his chair, his attention devoted entirely to his reading material, the woman seems to have no intention of remaining seated for long. She too has a thin volume spread out before her, but she seems to have momentarily stopped reading. Or perhaps she has yet to begin. She appears to have just put on her glasses, and to be attempting to adjust her eyesight. And while her hand reaches towards the glass case, she gazes out from one space of silence into another, momentarily staring into space. Is she gazing at the water lilies at the edge of the lake outside the window? Can she see, through the lush vegetation, the pedal boat leisurely making its way across the lake? Or has her attention been caught by the group of men who have taken off their shirts, and who are busy applying lotion by the van? Is she attempting to conjure up an image of what she was just reading about, to imagine that fateful conference that took place in the same room in which she is now seated? Or is her questioning gaze perhaps merely the by-product of the failure to conjure up such an image, the failure to grasp the historical turning point related to this place? The video work Big House (Yair Barak and Hadas Marder), and especially the image of the couple sitting in the reading room, may serve as a key for understanding Barak's work. To begin with, this video seems to present a series of images planted into a temporal continuum – not so much in order to be transformed into a film, but rather in order to establish an affinity between history and the photographic image, in distinction from other modes of producing images. More specifically, this video work points us towards a historical moment of crisis in Western culture: a crisis that may be understood as stemming from the parallel evolution of technologies designed to capture, reproduce and distribute images, and the commitment of atrocities that could be contained by neither history nor culture. These are atrocities that could not be reduced to signs or represented in images – ones that neither necessitated nor demanded representation4. The image of the man and woman in the reading room draws a parallel between their relationship and the relationship between photography and culture, which literally evolves on two different levels within the image: What appears "on the table" is related to culture: to reading, remembering, and reflecting, to conscious awareness, to the gaze, to leisure, to estrangement, to solitude. Then there are those things that take place "under the table," such as the movement of the man and woman's legs – which perform an unconscious and spontaneous dialogue that is both sensual and formal; an aesthetic dialogue. This dialogue is echoed by the leg of the marble sculpture, and is further echoed by the concrete columns surrounding the soccer stadium – that modern amphitheater, or temple of display. Finally, we may identify the gaze of the woman, who is (nevertheless) attempting to see something while the man across from her remains immersed in his book, with that special gaze produced by Barak's photographic project more generally; a gaze directed at a selfinvolved culture, with which it shares an intimate relationship. A gaze that attempts to operate at the highest resolution possible in order to try and conjure up a legible image, despite the experience of estrangement and sinking with which it is faced. This is a form of photography that attempts to capture and engage in an aesthetic dialogue that will support and enable the operation of a critical gaze vis-à-vis all that is taken for granted (culture, photography, reality). 4. In this sense, one may note that the same reciprocal gravitation and assimilation of culture and photography towards one another, and their assimilation into one another, have led – following the moment of historical crisis – to largely perverse practices.

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It is no coincidence that the photographs featured in this exhibition are all related to buildings – or, more precisely, to houses. For it seems that the space in which Barak situates us – that space of silence in the eye of the storm – is both a space of intimacy, beauty, and peace, and an estranged, impenetrable space threatened by extinction. The American summer houses on the Jersey Shore have been left to face the encroaching darkness on their own, the little remaining sunlight illuminating their outlines as they are about to be swallowed into the surrounding black expanse. Barak's images similarly maintain their form, their sense of decorum, their affinity with tradition. They too await the exposure to light necessary to illuminate their immutable contours. The silence surrounding them draws its power from the thrust towards both abstraction and simplicity; it stems from the encounter between the sensual and the formal, which are brought together by the aesthetic gesture. This silence seems to counterbalance the visual image's repeated attempts to touch upon the concept, while the aesthetic gesture enables Barak to capture the moment in which the image becomes equal to the concept, in which image and concept come to entertain a literal relationship. When I speak of the literal quality of Barak's works, I am referring to the manner in which his images capture moments of complex – or, more accurately, sublime – simplicity5. The photographer's gaze does not travel or wander through wide-open expanses. Instead, it examines domesticated spaces (a reality that is the living room; the public sphere that we treat as if it were private). His photographs are as simple as a scientific law or a geometric form violently severed from the future and propelled back into its own past, to its point of origin, as if cast back upon the "white on white" expanse from which it emerged6. This mode of action, however, does not "bolster" the concept of the home; on the contrary, the house effaced by whiteness and placed on a blanket of white snow is now hovering in space. The background that once supported it – as a background is supposed to do – is no longer clearly legible. Is the house situated in front of the trees or in back of them? One could determine the answer to this question with no great difficulty, but that is not the point. It is not the role of the image to resolve the existential distress that accompanies the sense of intimate belonging to a given place. The literalness of the photograph, which casts the image back onto itself, is not designed to offer any form of respite, or clarification, but rather insists on what is pertinent to the present moment, what depends on the changing seasons7. The series "American Houses" – which includes the photographs of Farnsworth House and of the stately seaside homes – presents two different ways of treating the same historical term – namely, modernism. This is a term that Barak seeks to identify with, to call home, insisting on its relevance to the present. And while Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House constitutes a point of reference to "modernism" as a historical, artistic and cultural term, the dramatic photographs of the summer houses relate "modernism" to its origins in Caravaggio's chiaroscuro, and in the later Romantic play of light and shadow. They relate modernism to the birth of photography. The paradoxical character of the recently constructed summer houses, which appear as imitations of images from an architectural magazine, stems from the ambivalence underlying modernism – from the dissonance produced by a historical period that attempted to sever its relationship to history. This ambivalence is related to the union of history, or culture (as an aspect of history) with technologies designed to capture, reproduce and distribute images, and thus to undermine their historical status. And memory, in this context, is paradoxically exchanged for remembering. Yet while the stately American houses seem to have been created in order to remind us, in some vague way, of something "traditional" – that is, while they flaunt their relationship to tradition – Barak's photographs plant them back in a (concrete) historical sphere, so that their silent presence itself appears as a form of protest. These are images that do not simply remind us of something, but ones that actually participate in the process of remembering. Stamped onto our memory, they 5. In his Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), which lays the foundation for modern aesthetic thought, Kant argues that although the sublime is a powerful and even destructive force, its nature is simple (much like moral law). This definition of the sublime may also serve to explain the immediate and explicit affinity between the image of Farnsworth house and the dramatic images of the summer houses. 6.In this sense, Barak's photographs are shaped by an inverted temporal structure, in which the future determines the outcome of an occurrence in the past. This structure, which was first discussed by Kant, was later described by heidigger as the subject's existential experience of time (Dasein), and examined by Freud in the context of his analysis of trauma and repression. 7. In this sense, one may argue that Barak's photographs participate in creating a new and critical definition of photography as a technology designed to create scientific images of historical concepts.

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transform it into a stately house – albeit one that is not regularly inhabited, which may at times exist only in an abstract manner, as a possibility awaiting realization, a place where one comes to rest, to make contact. Like the stadium whose location may have been forgotten, yet whose function is still remembered3. The eclipse towards which Barak's work directs us, the eclipse in the course of which the photographed image and culture cast their dark shadows upon one another, is an existential eclipse. This eclipse is related to our belonging to this culture, to the present time, to what is taking place right here – in the house overtaken by concepts severed from history and images produced and consumed without any form of discernment. In this hour of darkness, both images and concepts disappear, leaving us caught between the tyranny of judgment and sentimentalism as we confront a reality abandoned by culture and a culture abandoned by reality. Yair Barak's images "respond" to this state from within the silence at the eye of the storm: Do you know a place in which images and concepts could feel at home? 8. in contrast to the instances in which memory settles down and is transformed into a house, into the site of a melancholic form of nostalgia and sinking

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winter houses Ravit harari Yair Barak's works combine direct photography and manipulated images that are subjected to various forms of disruption and erasure, inviting the viewer to engage in a process of deconstruction and decoding. Barak's photographs are distinguished by a crisp, streamlined elegance; in order to explore their historical and cultural charge, one must engage in sustained observation. The three series of photographs featured in the exhibition Immersion center on abandoned architectural structures devoid of human presence. Barak makes use of the dramatic, even majestic architecture of these buildings, which were mostly photographed in the United States, as a tool for raising a range of cultural and historical questions. The series Real Estate was photographed in the winter of 2008 in Spring Lake, a wealthy resort town on the Jersey Shore whose stately homes are temporarily abandoned at the end of every summer. Driving along the shoreline, Barak captured these desolate seaside mansions as they face the winter season. Although most of these houses were built in recent decades, they represent an eclectic mixture of different architectural styles – ranging from imitation Victorians to modernist designs. Although these dark photographs seem to have been taken at night, they were in fact shot in midday; it is only later that they were enveloped in a black, semi-transparent veil, out of which each image emerges. The name of this series alludes to seductive, commercial real-estate images; yet the technical manipulation of the photographs, and the artificial darkness that surrounds these mansions, transforms them into sinking luxury ships, icons of capitalism and of a pastoral lifestyle in the process of dissolving into a dark, threatening void. The fact that these houses were photographed at the height of the recent financial crisis endows the images with an additional layer of meaning, which is related to the decline of American symbols and dissolution of capitalist fantasies. Another form of technical manipulation appears in the series Missing Mies. In this case, Barak processed archival photographs taken during the 1950s, which feature Farnsworth House in Illinois – an icon of modernist architecture designed by architect Mies van der Rohe. Like the mansions in the series Real Estate, this transparent, geometric glass and steel structure, which seems to hover above ground, was designed as a summer resort house. It too was photographed in winter, with its interior empty and its exterior covered in snow. In this case, Barak erased every single exterior detail – including the antennas, stairs, chimneys, etc. – by covering them in a blanket of white. The process of "painting" the house the color of the surrounding snow, however, only serves to underscore its contours, lending it the appearance of a full, perfect structure. The erasure of the trees located in front of the house similarly pushes the architectural structure into the foreground. Barak thus offers a commentary on modernist architecture, and on its indestructible presence in the face of post-modernist doubt. The disappearance of the house, moreover, humorously alludes to one of van der Rohe's best-known adages, "Less is more." The series Arena similarly features an abandoned, majestic structure – the skeleton of a monstrous football stadium in the Israeli city of Netanya, which remains incomplete due to a decade-long conflict concerning the construction process. Here too, one may note recurrent elements characteristic of modernist architecture – exposed concrete, geometric forms, and a colonnade reminiscent of Le Corbusier's columns. In this case, however,

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the "modernist" elements are due to the structure's suspension in an intermediate state between construction and destruction – and to the fact that it has yet to be completed and whitewashed – rather than due to an architectural agenda concerning the exposure of building materials. On one level, it calls to mind a public bomb shelter that has fallen out of use; on another level, it is reminiscent of a luxurious palace, such as the summer palace designed for King Hussein of Jordan, which was constructed and abandoned on the outskirts of Jerusalem during the first half of the 1960s. Like the temporarily abandoned American resort homes, this structure is captured in a state of suspension, in which it does not fulfill its function. Another structure whose original historical function has been transformed appears in the video Big House. This work was filmed on the outskirts of Berlin, in a summer house located on the shore of a pastoral lake, where top SS commanders assembled in 1941 to draft the Final Solution for the annihilation of European Jewry. During the 1990s, the house was transformed into a Holocaust museum that documents its wartime history, and includes a library and archive that are open to the public. This work, which is composed of a series of frames that seemingly restore the house to its original function as a lakeside resort, is shaped by the tension between the pastoral landscape and the unimaginable horror associated with this site. In one frame, an elderly couple is seen reading by a window, as if glancing at the newspaper headlines at their own breakfast table. In reality, however, these are visitors to the museum who are immersed in the study of historical documents. Another frame captures a boat slowly making its way across the lake, while yet another image features two men applying sunscreen lotion to their naked torsos. In this manner, Barak attempts to detach the house from its current museal function, to efface the acts of commemoration and remembrance that divest it of its historical charge, and to underscore the horror and shock of what is invisible to the eye, yet is known to the viewer. Stately vacation homes emerge out of the darkness like threatening shadows, symbols of a vanishing world; an architectural icon is swallowed by a white, opaque form that effaces its details and captures its place like a white elephant; a local stadium is featured as an imaginary palace; a pastoral villa transformed into a museum is gradually divested of the layers of oblivion that surround it, and which camouflage the site's deeply unsettling history. The processes of veiling, camouflaging, and erasing to which Barak subjects the architectural structures in all three series thus serves to undermine a range of cultural and historical concepts, while examining the tension between a pastoral beauty and evil, construction and destruction, luxury and emptiness.

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