On a recent visit to Toronto and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), I was moved by the presentation of three films by the filmmaker Yael Bartana in the AGO’s Lind Gallery. Her latest film trilogy …And Europe Will Be Stunned features three short films that were made between 2007 and 2011 – Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), Mur i Wisza (Wall and Tower), and Zamach (Assassination) – that are currently on view for the first time in Canada.
Born in Afula, Israel in 1970, Bartana is the first non-Polish artist to represent Poland at a major international art exhibition, having presented her films at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Living and working primarily in Amsterdam and Tel Aviv, she is well known for her complex visualizations and investigations of society and politics. She is noted for receiving honors for her work such as winning the Artes Mundi prize in 2010 for “work that stimulated thinking about the human condition.”
…And Europe Will Be Stunned tells the fictional story of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland, which takes place at no specific time, but is suggestive of the near future. The first film, Mary Koszmary (Nightmares), made in 2007, explores the complex relationships between Jews, Poles and other Europeans in our current age of globalization. The leader of the Jewish Renaissance Movement is shown delivering a speech, urging three million Jews to return to Poland.
The second film, made in 2009, shows the active creation of a new kubbitz (a communal settlement), reminiscent of the socialist propaganda films of the 1930s and 40s.
The third and last film of the trilogy shows a funeral ceremony for the leader of the Jewish Renaissance Movement, who has been mysteriously killed by an unidentified assassin. His symbolic death is shown to unite the myth of this fictional political movement, and through it, the possibility for a multinational community.
As I moved from room to room from the first film to the last, I was entranced by Bartana’s attention to detail in the construction of her narrative. Bartana expertly mixes imagery reminiscent of the historical past with the present, and raises questions of identity and belonging, leaving us to pause and question our own concepts of home and homeland. In raising these questions regarding the complexities of cultural integration, interwoven with reality and fiction, her films challenge us to question our own understanding and acceptance of historical events. I was, in a word, stunned.
The film was commissioned by Artangel, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, The Netherlands Film Fund and Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw.
Jacqueline Chao is a PhD Candidate in Art History at Arizona State University. In addition to curating exhibitions, she has published several books and articles on contemporary art and artists. She currently serves as editor of The AF Project.