About the gesture: A quick glimpse of a bank robbery / Guy Hugler

translated by: Mor Kasmy Ilan

Following Noa Reshef’s performance for the 2017 Alma Program concluding event

Preparations for Bank Robbery #2

Site-specific performance in a First International Bank of Israel branch (12 July 2017)

 

Beauty thieves often work

In daylight

Keeping their borrowed images exposed

In safes of yearning

(Guy Hugler, from his upcoming book Noon)

Introduction: Preparations for writing the article

Noa Reshef is a true artist, a mythical artist, known and respected in the contemporary art and avant-garde worlds, and eminently worthy of being known far beyond these borders. I first had the opportunity  to meet this fascinating artist in 1996 when participating in her work – Fashion Show (produced with performance artist Hadass Gertman) during the Phenomena Festival. I was excited when asked to write about the gestures employed in Preparations for Bank Robbery #2 , held during July 2017 in a branch of the First International Bank of Israel for the Alma Program concluding event. Sadly, I did not actually attend. In fact, I was not present during most of Reshef’s performances this last decade. I knew of them, heard first-hand accounts of them, and had long conversations about them with Reshef herself. I think the most appropriate term to use is that I abstained from attending and being there. A confidentiality agreement with the artist has thus far prevented me from mentioning this abstention in writing. Now that contractual restrictions are eased, I think the time has come to explain why and how I avoided attending these events, what I did instead, and compensation it provided.

I was invited to “view” many of the performance works clairvoyantly, using my imagination to follow the steps taken there and put them in writing. The verb imagine, meaning imagine what transpired there, is imperfect and misleading – as my words provide a description of tangible reality, brought here as clearly and precisely as possible. I did this as part of my contractual obligations in a series of performances titled – Fake Encounters (also known as Fake Meetings), obligations which led me to writing this article. In this series, the artist and creative partner draft a contract to determine conditions designed to exchange planned meetings: the artist attends a meeting planned for the partner, where she fulfills the functions he/she would have filled, while the partner attends a meeting Reshef was slated to attend. The following presents the three agreement stages that allow for the establishment of this Fake Meetings performance series, as set forth by the artist.

  1. Define your desire and select your request.
  2. Assess both requests and negotiate terms for each party and what will be done for the other, and what remuneration will be provided in return until the finalization of a signed contract. Negotiations will include place, time limits, and (if necessary) a code of conduct and so forth.
  3. Hold both meetings.

 

About the body of work developed by Noa Reshef: Establishing the gaze machine

  1. In the description of the bank performance, I will focus on the question – Who has seen the actions of Noa Reshef in the performance? – the claim being that this question essentially holds two questions in one: What did Reshef show? – meaning, a general description of the performative gestures the artist prepared and executed, and also its natural counterpart of What was seen? The answer to the latter is also dual: What could be seen in the room? (meaning the room in which these actions were accomplished), and what could be seen looking up from the yard outside the building? These questions shed new light on Reshef’s works, as she herself focuses on relations, communication, intimacy, and seduction through the examination of clichés, behavioral codes and accepted signs, such as expectations, misunderstandings, and the confusion that may naturally ensue.

Two major approaches are evident in Reshef’s work as a performance artist. The first includes stage performances for audiences of various sizes, from a crowd of several hundred people packing a club in Barcelona to a small gathering  The Store (“Hanut” ) gallery before around twenty viewers. The second includes her research-oriented projects focusing on individual interactions with one man or woman each time. The performances described in the following are comprised of a series of events, held in various places and times, which enable a review of the process in its entirety while continuously developing it. In this way, each performance is itself unique and yet also sequential.

Striptease performances – a series of performances where Reshef researches the striptease as a genre which dictates its own rules and generates its own clichés; she examines a range of issues, including the relations between the stripper and audience, systems of power and seduction as a form of communication, and use of choreography and costumes with which she raises questions about conventions and expectations.  A classic striptease is structured in a predictable order, building towards a predetermined peak. In this series, Reshef tries to intervene in the familiar order, undermining the conclusive moment by manipulating traditional elements of the striptease world, while concurrently adding elements foreign to it. This series was exhibited in several formats, including a video work and live performances presented in different places around the world and before various audience sizes. Thus far, Reshef has created nine numbered works in the series, as well as additional performances of the same series left unnumbered (S/N). I am an avid viewer of this series. One of my favorites is the video titled Striptease number 4, exposing Reshef as a poet boasting a rich syntax of images and a clear inner metrical rhythm. The video was filmed from within Heela Harel’s apartment with a view to Reshef’s apartment, as the two women were close neighbors at the time. This is a close and raw peek into the artist’s actions in her home. The actions, along with the space in which they are carried out, exceed the time-space dimension to reach an ex-static poetic space delineated by the language employed by Reshef in her writing and recitation, its length determined by the completion of the performance.  Reshef’s poetry merits writing regardless, but one may dare to generalize a repeated theme of her performances: always too short, as is the genre of striptease, where the influence of Eros is forever curtailed by economic gatekeepers – demanding immediate payment for stimulation, and insisting on postponing gratification for economic interests. It is also worthy of note, regarding both poems and performances, that they are always plush with brilliant visual cues decrypted by Jung’s coal lantern bearers involved in mapping the symbolic associations through the submerged land connecting between Reshef’s two homelands – here in Israel and in the distant regions of Catalonia and Andalusia where she lived and worked for over a decade.

In the series FireArm, Reshef looks into the arsenal of weapons we have at our disposal for personal and social negotiations and communication. Reshef challenges the relationship with viewers by using any potential weapons immediately available – including threats, seduction, and plastic guns. These performances are site specific, meaning they are individually adapted to the space in which they are executed around the world.

FireArm, photo: Vasili Iuriev

  1. In addition to these series, Reshef has continued to develop a body of performative single-viewer works, a personalized approach she terms “personal service” as it denotes both the individuality of services provided and the ritual itself. Well-established in performance art history, this “participatory action” art form entails the artist and participant/audience in an intimate situation, such as in the 2010 work titled The Artist is Present by Marina Abramović. In this series, as well as others described in the following, Reshef subverts this maneuver to determine new and extreme rules, such as shortening the duration of interaction to the briefest possible time and increasing the emotional commitment of the participant to its highest level.

Reshef defines the work Last Wish Service as an experiment about desire, intimacy, expectations and danger”, one conducted specifically performed in cramped and uncomfortable spaces. Reshef writes that – “…every client gets one wish, a wish I must fulfill (or at least find a substitute) within five minutes. This service/ritual is provided in bathrooms of pubs, hotels and theaters, telephone booths, or similar spaces in Italy, France, Spain, and Israel.”

During the Zaz Festival (Performance Art Platform, 2010), Reshef conducted her performances in a booth designed for watching porn movies in the “Eroscenter” sex shop, located in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. The first performance was held throughout the festival, with viewers arriving to see festival events waiting in orderly fashion to enter the shop. This audience is comprised of artist friends attending a personal meeting with another artist friend with which they have personal and professional relations. Ostensibly, they have a different reason for arriving there than this place’s “natural” audience, as they may feel their privacy is violated and decide to leave in the hopes this incursion be done with. Thus, they may return to a sanctuary: a miniscule booth, protected by a screen, their only haven, a place where they can indulge in their personal Eros moment and masturbate alone. It should be noted that the space dismissed by Reshef is the designated shop “theatre”, with a capacity for several viewers, enabling them to connect to others. The Store theatre is of comparable size, but this space is perceived as respectable and elitist. During Reshef’s second performance in “Eroscenter”, the artist went beyond merely presenting her work through an instructional framework, deciding to collaborate with the shop owner to independently return to the viewing booth, receiving participants/clients sent by him after they were screened and selected for suitability for her work.

Though extremely interesting, I will not detail here the variance in wishes expressed there, and rather focus on the dissimilar gazes employed by festival guests arriving to meet the artist and watch the artistic act to those of the shop regulars expecting to view an unknown woman. One could claim that the chief difference lies in how each gaze relates to time: attending a festival versus an everyday activity. Time differences impact the initial attitude of each audience participant to the artist, both in its influence on the site-specific encounter and in the expectation for the encounter. This dichotomy can be challenged by noting that the “natural” client audience (i.e., shop regulars) also perceived this event as a kind of celebration, an event to which they were invited to meet a living and breathing woman, rather than the electronic image projected onto a screen they would see there under normal circumstances. This is a violent act that breaks open the boundaries of delusion, as well as a virtuoso artistic act undermining the distinction between true and simulated reality. Through this choice, Reshef merges with the image she presents, transforming her into a professional stripper paid for her services – a stripper that strips away the core principle of the artistic act itself, that bares the true mythical secrets governing the relations between object and subject, between Eros and Psyche.

  1. [1]Preparations for Bank Robbery #2

In this performance I pinpoint the link between the series described here and propose a new review of them. The questions who is the viewer? seems obvious at first: an audience invited to an event, standing outside the room, looking up towards the double-paned windows and built-in blinds to events unfolding below. And what did the artist show them? And what did they see in those brief moments when light flashed into the room, the very light that made seeing possible?

The performance begins with the blinds opening – a move that enables an outside view into events inside as executed by the artist, concluding with the blinds closing. In the room, the artist completes a sequence of actions that incorporates key elements from her Striptease and Firearm series. The artist alternately presents select elements from her wonderful arsenal of weapons inside a hermetically sealed room, generally used for meetings of the bank’s senior management, determining policy and tracking decision implementation. Her actions in this room within the bank raises questions of art and ethics worthy of comprehensive and profound discussion: what is the significance of this permitted bank break-in? How does one interpret an artist that does not rob the bank, but chooses instead to perform a striptease performance while armed? I will narrow down the field to a discussion into a particular gesture, one seemingly technical and not even executed by the artist herself: the opening and closing of the blinds and operation of the lights. I see this as a political debate regarding the issue of controlling image production and its exposure.

Reshef’s performance exposes the simulacrum: the peep show viewing booth is a bankers meeting room. In contrast to the performative spaces already described, this space is spacious and sophisticated, air conditioned and safe. But as the conditions for the artist are improved, so is the distance of the viewer increased, and their ability to come near, infiltrate and take pleasure in the room, diminished. The artist has access to it and is not alone there. Someone is with her, controlling the lights, heeding her directions to turn them on or off, opening the blinds at the onset and then closing them at the performance conclusion.

Who is this agent? Is he/she truly a complete outsider working unpredictably and independently from the artist? And why doesn’t the artist herself control the lights? Was this just a technical decision? Or a conceptual decision?

Preperation for Bank Robbery, photo: Anat Ben David

In this particular performance, it was Heela Harel, one of the artist’s closest friends and partners who has known her since the ’90s in Jerusalem. Harel was previously mentioned regarding Striptease number 4, when her apartment served as the set and viewpoint overlooking Reshef’s apartment. In this work, they inhabit the space together. Adversely, their eye contact is often limited, as the line of sight between the room controlling the lights and the location of the window is obstructed by the room configuration. They used language to interact – Reshef provided  Harel  with verbal instructions for opening and closing actions. Blinds and electric circuits. Reshef spoke, Harel  implemented, and from the outside the room image was alternately revealed and hidden. My personal wonder at the invention of electricity now relies on the word bidding it be turned on or off. What algorithm was employed there in the viewing booth over the mechanism of image flashes?

During a conversation with Reshef she explained to me that this action was carried out with goals left unfulfilled during a performance with Nitsan Domidiano-Sachs, a literature researcher and Reshef’s sister, and one additional option slated for Hadass Gertman, a performance artist and close friend from their days attending the School of Visual Theater in Jerusalem. I briefly mention these biographical details to highlight three recurring themes in Reshef’s works. First is a collaboration in a performance with an artist-partner, such as Gertman, and second is working with a partner familiar to the artist but who is there strictly as a viewer, meaning someone not there as an artist, such as Harel and Domidiano-Sachs. The question of closeness and familiarity of the operator working with the artist raises additional questions – is it significant that the partner who turned on the lights is of the same gender as the artist? Would the frequency or duration of the lights have been different if the person was a man close to the artist? Or had it been a man completely alien to her? The third pattern, one proposed and examined and yet still untried in a site-specific performance, is that of operating with a complete stranger, someone with no previous ties or relation to the artist. Another key question is – why does the artist not control the lights herself? What terms were agreed on by the artist and operator, what rules were determined? In a conversation with the artist, we discussed the fact that she has yet to fully complete this act and must still examine the optimal way in which this exposure should be accomplished. I consider this conversation regarding ways to improve the act of turning the light on as a transformative progression in exposing the artist’s works. The technical gesture and symbolic gesture are intertwined, producing the world presented there. This is an act that uncovers the image, searing it into the psyche of the other, allowing for the transformation it generates. I am in awe of the strength of Reshef’s arsenal of weapons and am aware of its power to oscillate between establishing and then negating simulated reality, stripping it bare to expose the true reality it creates.

For your information, as agreed on – I wrote about Noa Reshef, and she fulfilled her end of the contract in her travels to Catalonia, buying Caganers. The contract was carried out to the satisfaction of both parties, and I await the day we can do business again.

photo: Tal Boniel

Guy Hugler – poet and independent researcher of the appearances of “Fear” and “Awe” in a range of areas, such as Hebrew Kabbalistic manuscripts of the 13th century.

 

[1]Preparations for Bank Robbery #1 was held in the Clal Building during the “Osim Yomit” event curated by Kineret Haya Max