Introduction – Gesture / Avital Barak

translated by: Margalit Rodgers

In January 2017 we assembled a group of artists, curators, and intellectuals within the framework of the Institute for Public Presence at the Center for Digital Art in Holon to think together about the concept “gesture”. Throughout the year we read theoretical texts, examined works created by members of the group and other artists, and attempted to understand “gesture” as a concept, an action, a political space, an artistic expression, and as a theoretical and critical tool.

In one of the texts in which Giorgio Agamben engages with “gesture”, he describes it as follows:

Gesture is the name of this intersection between life and art, act and power, general and particular, text and execution. It is a moment of life subtracted from the context of individual biography as well as a moment of art subtracted from the neutrality of aesthetics: it is pure praxis. The gesture is neither use value nor exchange value, neither biographic experience nor impersonal event: it is the other side of the commodity that lets the “crystals of this common social substance” sink into the situation.[1]

Gesture as a moment of the political, of disrupting the narrative, of an encounter between different forces, leads to its appearance enabling reflection, calling for criticism. In the course of the group’s meetings questions arose concerning how a gesture is identified and what effect does it create? What are the conditions for its creation? Is it dependent upon the audience, an external view, and interpretation?

How is a gesture, as an act of physical movement, transformed into a concept in art theories (Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin), sociological thought (Erving Goffman, Pierre Bourdieu), or political thought (Guy Debord, Giorgio Agamben)? Does it mark an intersection that connects body and consciousness, action and intention, or does it actually seek to separate them? And what distinguishes it from other concepts in political and art theory – action, creation, work (artwork), appearance?

Using texts from diverse media we examined different types of gestures and attempted to understand its characteristics and what makes a gesture a charged, potent moment with the potential for creating change.

The texts in this issue attempt to contend with this series of questions with which we engaged. As in the group’s meetings, here too there will be texts from different media that correspond with the group’s actions and the engagement of each of its members. Most of them engage with different appearances of gesture in the various art media (video, photography, dance, and sound) and diverse spaces of action (public, space, institutional space, and textual space).

Some are themselves appearances of textual gestures; thus the programmatic article by Shaul Setter, On the Political as a Research Gesture, the short story by Oded Wolkstein, After the Performance: A Tribute to Yasmin Davis, and the essay by Guy Hugler, A Quick Look at a Bank Robbery, about the work of artist Noa Reshef. Others read and interpret artistic gestures through various theoretical perspectives; Ilanit Konopny traces Tamar Latzman’s work in Three Tributes to the History of Photography, Netta Weiser deconstructs the meaning of gesture as a disruption in public space in Do Not Disturb: One Moment in Danse de Nuit by Boris Charmatz, Hilla Ben Ari locates her artistic gesture, Between Muteness and Speech, in the female body between movement and staticity, and Tzfia Dgani and I discuss her artistic action as a dialectic gesture of integration and exception.

Also featured in this issue is a series of collages by Meir Tati, The Phantom Menace, a sound project by Eran Sachs, and a gesture movement study, WORD! je te donne ma parole, by Laura Kirshenbaum.

Group members: Avital Barak, Hilla Ben Ari, Yasmin Davis, Tzfia Dgani, Udi Edelman, Tamar Latzman, Nirit Nelson, Noa Reshef, Eran Sachs, Shaul Setter, Meir Tati, Netta Weiser

Main supplement image: Mrs Tadd 1-3, Tamar Latzman, 2012
Introdection image: still frame from the work “WORD! *je te donne ma parole”, Laura Kirshenbaum

[1] Marginal Notes on Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle, Means without End, p. 80.