Qalandiya, solo exhibition, The Artists House, Tel Aviv, 2014. Academic research: Maayan Roichman,
curator: Dr. Ktzia Alon
Text by Dr. Ktzia Alon
The exhibition "Qalandiya" comprises three bodies of work: photographs of the Qalandiya checkpoint and works that correspond with the postcard format, taken by Nurit Yarden and photographs of children who work in the checkpoint area, taken by the activist Tamar Fleishman.
Qalandiya checkpoint is a transition area: between Jerusalem and Ramallah, between the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories. Transition from a state of law (purportedly at least) to a realm where all the rules are broken, a place where military law and civil law are applied haphazardly, a space where people are distinguished from one another due to their national affiliation.
This point of transition lies between territories that have different aesthetic characterizations. We move from one regime of aesthetic signs to another. It seems that almost no one would identify Nurit Yarden's arenas of photography as an Israel-Jewish expanse. The landscape is too scarred, too battered. The huge billboards planted with a makeshift attitude at the heart of the city bustle, the garbage scattered on the ground, the food on the road, the vehicles that progress with no orderly traffic rules.
Moreover, the perception of the "other" landscape inversely brings to the fore a poignant aesthetic examination of the configurations of Israeli landscape that encompass us, habitually catalogued under "the obvious". Yarden's photographs are a documentation of landscapes that have been violated, breached and corrupted. They are constructed of a provisional patchwork, a mélange of delimited areas designated to provide an immediate solution for a pressing need: a spot to display the meager merchandise – why not hang it on one of the roadblocks? You need a corner for coffee? Let's put together a bunch of plastic chairs and arrange them in the middle of nowhere. Those who are subjected to occupation are deprived of a long term perspective, of planning, of enforcing. This landscape is a disgrace that had been dispelled from memory.
In what is essentially an act of ironic rectification, Yarden seeks to expand the boundaries of conventional aesthetic as it is formulated, for instance, in postcards of European landscapes, and apply it to the views of Qalandiya. This action is performed via two ruses: first, the format of the postcard itself casts its light on the torn landscape, and in addition, the composition of the presented European landscapes echoes the configuration of the landscape photographed in Qalandiya, which Yarden has turned into fictional postcards.
In the exhibition Yarden hosts the photographs of children taken by the activist Tamar Fleishman, who is part of the team that goes to the Qalandiya checkpoint on a regular basis, which Yarden has accompanied for four years. In this act, two "feminine" perspectives on the "masculine" space – the military checkpoint – coalesce. Fleishman's photographs document portraits of Palestinian boys who work in the checkpoint area, taking advantage of the bustling traffic. The warm relationship she has with her subjects imbues these photographs. Recently, the Israeli media was horrified by the legitimacy of child labor in Bolivia; however we ourselves are witness to child labor every hour of every day. In her essay "Photography Without Borders" Ariella Azoulay addresses the way the Occupied Territories as a whole have turned into a large photography studio, stating: "The existence of a photography studio across an entire territory attests to the flawed civil status of the population residing in that territory" (The Routledge International Handbook of Human Rights, p. 669). Aware of the ethical question entailed in photographing someone who is subjected to the constant monitoring of the other, Yarden nevertheless chose to include the photographs of Fleishman in the exhibition, since they were taken especially for the children who receive a copy every week. Consequently, two types of coping are offered here, two modes of observation – of the landscape and of the people. The artistic ensemble Yarden formulates is art that gives shape to a landscape that signifies a fraught iconography, which manifests a reality that we choose not to acknowledge.
The limited space of the gallery corresponds with the concept of the barrier or checkpoint, with the notions of "inside" and "outside", while suggesting a laboratory for the way we move physically from one realm of signs to another. The introduction of the representation of the landscape into the "white cube" tackles the inherent difficulty to critically observe the landscape, and allows a different space for observation and reflection, not only on the other landscape but also on the essence of Israel as an occupying country.
With the assistance of the Arts Department, Culture Division, Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and the Joshua Rabinowitz Tel Aviv Foundation for the Arts, Tel Aviv