Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Student Paper #2 Reflecting on Ariane Littman's Work "Wounded Land"

Geetika Baghel

Professor Shandler

History of Jewish Art


Ariane Littman and the Wounded Land

What is a border and how is it significant? Can borders be erased, changed, or crossed?

Does crossing a border eradicate it or draw attention to its existence?

Borders are spaces where center conditions cease to exist. Yet they highlight the conflicts

of center conditions based on which side a person exists relative to a border and present a

challenge to cultural identity. Borders impose an isolating role upon the individual, both defining

and deconstructing ones sense of self. Through her work with cartographic maps, Ariane Littman

explores the sociopolitical and constitutional significance of these ideas in relation to the Holy

Land of Jerusalem. She presents to the audience a new, almost spiritual realm that exists beyond

the physical reality of her land in an attempt to convey a profoundly personal level of suffering

and a desire to heal her home from within.

Inspired by the long-term oppression and violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict upon

its citizens, Ariane Littman deconstructs the power of borderlines by presenting an alternate,

utopian reality where many of these borders are dissolved. The dissolution of these borders

is particularly apparent in her project, The Shredded Land. Using West Bank and Jerusalem

Closure maps from 2004, Littman shredded and recreated the maps based on rules she devised.

Every arrangement is intentional, and there is a “slow breaking up of lines, of borders, of Israeli

settlements and of Palestinian neighborhoods” (Littman, Shredded Land). The dissolution is

indeed “slow,” as the assimilation of fabricated rules is particularly significant in symbolizing

Littman’s gradual despair over Jerusalem’s internal turmoil as well as the dim embers of

hope that exist for the land’s citizens to someday overcome the oppression they face under

sociopolitical regulations.

Littman addresses the pivotal nature of gender—particularly the role of women—

in preservation of heritage. This idea is fundamentally depicted in Erasure 2006. Here we see

Littman sitting in a minimalist setting with a 1947 Map of Palestine projected upon her body and

the ground around her. A woman in the corner prepares small balls of dough and throws them

towards Littman, a gesture reminiscent of the domestic tradition of bread-making in Um El

Fahm (a neighborhood that has disappeared since 1955). Littman uses the balls of dough as

erasers, frantically trying to erase the borders of the projected map but to no avail. As the

performance continues, the gesture of erasing transcends physical attempts at ridding the

boundaries and instead delves into a psychological dimension of selective preservation. Why

selective? The specific map Littman used serves to illustrate the shifting borderlines of Israel that

simultaneously create and eradicate traditions by creating and destroying neighborhoods.

Littman’s action itself, enacted by a woman in a domestic setting, serves to exhume traditions,

forgotten memories and feminine gestures; while her incentive is an attempt to erase memories

of pain and trauma caused by the ever-shifting borders of Jerusalem.

The importance of the female in Israel continues in Littman’s project The Wounded

Land, transforming her role from one of preservation into one of healing. Inspired by her own

daughter’s injury, Littman began bandaging and sewing shredded Closure Maps in an effort to

symbolically heal all who have suffered from Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. In the exhibition at the

Mabel Smith Library, one can observe a skirt “levitating” in the center of the display, surrounded

by sheets of cloth covered in white texture. A closer look at these white panels reveals that they

are actually bandages and plaster pasted over cut-outs of maps. One can recognize names such

as “Jerusalem” or “Israel” beneath the plaster. More importantly, the sheets of plastered maps

have a stitched border of green around them. The setup of these maps surrounding the skirt in the

exhibition brings up an interesting idea: the power of the female in “stitching together” cultures

that have been physically isolated. After all, Littman records a performance of herself stitching

these plastered maps in Jerusalem. Her performance is in a way a silent cri de Coeur to the

women who watch her stitch—centralizing their potential to stand against oppression and to heal

the Holy Land that has been wounded by internal isolation.

One final yet very intriguing aspect of Ariane Littman’s work is an exploration of

death and rebirth. The very act of bandaging maps that stems from a desire to heal indirectly

acknowledges the death of a part of something that had once been alive. It forfeits the entity

to a sort of physical and psychological necrosis. In her performance Surgical Operation 2004,

Littman illustrates female nurses carrying and healing shredded maps of Jerusalem at a military

hospital. The maps serve as a metaphorical representation of the “incurable pathological

violence” (Littman, Surgical Operation) that has plagued the people of her land. The auditory

backdrop of this performance is of violent clamor and news broadcasts reporting attacks on

Jerusalem. Thus, despite the nurses’ frantic efforts at healing, the violence continues and patients

further suffer. The combination of the performance with the ambiance elicits a feeling of futility,

making the overall condition of Jerusalem appear “incurable” and highlighting the notion of

death amongst the audience.

This message is tragically continued in Ariane Littman’s performance of Sea of Death.

Carried out near Qumran, a site where life, death, and healing coexist, the artist had herself

wrapped in bandages and sent adrift from the northern shore of the Dead Sea. Hauntingly

profound, the viewer sees Littman transform into a corpse that metaphorically parallels the

gradual death of the Sea, which is being exhausted by industrialization. Her message is clear: the

tragedy of vulnerability, the pain of memory, and a retreat into a sense of futility are ingrained

within Jerusalem’s culture. From the waters her body communicates to the audience, asking

whether anybody can truly tolerate the feeling of lost hope, all while calling out to be saved from

drifting away unnoticed. Her physical proximity to sacred sites within and without Jerusalem

is particularly moving as it transcends the dimensions of reality into a pang of psychological

conflict experienced by the viewer. Overall, Littman illustrates the sense of futility felt by many

citizens of Jerusalem in their current predicament.

Yet one cannot ignore Littman’s choice of media in her work. Everything she

incorporates is intentional and meaningful. In the above example, Littman’s choice of location

and time of filming are particularly important. The time of sunset is in-between day and night.

The time itself translates into the in-between state of the people of Jerusalem. What Littman

clearly conveys through her art is the present relative to the past—she merely alludes to the

future by incorporating in-between aspects such as sunsets, healing, invisible borders, and so

forth. In her lecture, Littman mentioned how she uses art as a vehicle to communicate the present

to her people. The message being communicated is left to the inherent ability of the audience

to understand. By this token, while many of Littman’s works can be seen from a tragic and

futile perspective, they can also be perceived as beacons of hope. If, by chance, she successfully

conveys her desires to an audience by highlighting their present state, she can use her art to

inspire strength within the people of Jerusalem. Essentially, there is as much potential for hope in

her artwork—as observed by the healing of her maps—as there is for futility.

Ariane Littman uses the idea of deconstruction to fabricate a new, utopian reality

for Jerusalem. Her work addresses the internal and psychological turmoil of the land due to

sociopolitical conflicts that are strengthened by the presence of borders. Through inspiring

performances within and without her studio, Littman illustrates to the audience a simultaneous

feeling of futility and a call to action in identifying the self internally and relative to one’s

surroundings. Together, these intentions propel one to find his or her identity through the defeat

of borders.

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