This week, as I walked through the Museum of Contemporary Photography, where I work, I felt the full power of the exhibition Survival Techniques: Narratives of Resistance for the first time. The museum’s first floor galleries have been darkened and transformed to showcase contemplative videos that, along with photographs on the upper floors, feel like portals into distant places and time periods as they address the ways individuals and groups endure long-term hardship as a result of political circumstance.
Viewing the exhibition was particularly rewarding because I have been assisting MoCP Director Natasha Egan and independent curator Davide Quadrio over the last few months as they conceived and organized the show. In the course of this work, I have had the opportunity to speak with and learn from artists who recount exceptional stories about the physical and psychological boundaries imposed on ordinary people whose lives intersect with politically charged territories. One of my favorite works in the show is by artist Uriel Orlow, whose video Yellow Limbo retells the story of fourteen cargo ships that were stranded on the Suez Canal as a result of military tensions following the Arab-Israeli War. The ships were passing through the contested trade route on June 5, 1967 when it was closed, and for eight years, the multi-national crew members on board were unable to exit and were forced to come together and survive communally. Orlow’s retelling of the story shows vintage footage shot by crew members during the containment alongside the artist’s own recent footage from the same location.
Israeli artist Sigalit Landau has built an entire art practice that considers ways geographic spaces, and the conflicting ideologies that they sometimes contain, intersect. Her video shown in this exhibition, titled Azkelon, shows young boys playing a knife game popular among Israelis and Palestinians living in Gaza and the nearby city of Ashkelon. The game, which involves the strategic drawing and redrawing of borders with the objective of overtaking another player’s space, echoes seemingly unsolvable political tensions in the territories where the youngsters live.
Other artists in the show begin with their personal biographies, like Tintin Wulia, who was born in Indonesia and has acquired more than 140 passports from various countries throughout the world as a way of overcoming travel restrictions imposed on her, and countless others, with nationalities that prevent open, global travel. A video that shows off her extensive passport collection is installed on numerous screens throughout the museum’s galleries, metaphorically underscoring rifts between nations and drawing attention to the fragmented experience of assuming an international identity.
Throughout the show, I am reminded of the incredible resilience of the human spirit, which each artist reveals to be deeply embedded in our consciousness, even as we face the complexities of an increasingly multifaceted world.
Work by: Yto Barrada, Raphaël Dallaporta, Rainer Ganahl, Philippe Laleu, Sigalit Landau, Daria Menozzi, Li Mu, MRK Palash, Uriel Orlow, Navin Rawanchaikul, Julika Rudelius, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tintin Wulia, Zhang Peili, Artur Zmijewski
Survival Techniques: Narratives of Resistance opens on April 12, 2012 with an Artist and Curator Talk at 4:00 immediately followed by an Opening Reception at 5:00. Exhibiting artist Uriel Orlow will present his performance-lecture Aide-Mémoire on April 25, 2012 in conjunction with the exhibition, which was first executed at the 54th Vince Biennale. For additional information about the exhibition and related programming, please visit the MoCP’s website at mocp.org.
Allison Grant is an Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.