What chances are there for free, self-determined actions in a perilous political and social situation? While such questions may supposedly seem far removed from the reality of life in Europe, Michal Helfman introduces them to the protected space of the former home of the Esters family. Her work takes as a starting point the personal living conditions of people whose momentary circumstances denies them freedom and self-determination. In order to enable creativity under such circumstances, Helfman employs the model of the so-called terrorist sleeper cell in a provocational act of appropriation. She contractually transfers the authorship of her video to the members of the “Edition of X” (EOX), a temporary coalition of artists who live in exile because their lives are in endangered due to war and persecution in their native countries. Instead of acts of terror, the “EOX” carries out the instructions for artistic operations transmitted to them from a member of their group still living in their native country (in this case A/P3) via a secure internet connection: art as a subversive weapon in the fight against oppression. From the outset, the members of the EOX have been disguised in masks that simultaneously preserve their anonymity and convey aggressiveness. They begin their performances by beating a path across the stage floor.
Their actions resemble a dance movement that is combined with the voice-over commentaries to form a rhythm that structures time and space. The props and motifs with which the EOX operates — the vessel, the bronze sculpture, the gold and silver rescue blanket, the division of volumes into white and black — form a network consisting of symbolic allusions to archaic images and rituals, light and shade, past and present, to crisis situations.
Repetition is the action’s primary motif. It is expressed in the rituals of the performers as well as in the accompanying commentaries in which the image of a man-made catastrophe is drawn that begins almost as soon as another one is completed; the picture of a woman with a vase that is painted on the vase that is painted on the vase...; the endless reflection of always the same that is only interrupted when the individual’s agency is awarded to him again at the end of the film. As is often the case in Helfman’s performances and installations, potential real scenarios blur with fiction and poetic narration. Despite the fact that the “EOX” is fictional and its members are performers, this association of displaced persons can by all means correspond to real living situations. The mixture of different layers of reality continues in the installation itself. While watching the filmed performance, the viewers are situated among the used props that form an interior here, a space within the space. The visitors thus become a part of the action, as it were, protagonists on a stage representing social reality. The work exemplarily poses the question about how every individual can search for self-determination and alternative opportunities for action in the face of a global state of insecurity and vulnerability.
Michal Helfman (born 1973, lives and works in Tel Aviv) combines sculpture, performance, drawing, video and architecture in her multifaceted works. She often employs theatrical strategies in order to unite concrete references to reality and symbolic fictional images. She had shown her works in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world, including the 50th Venice Biennale, the CCA Tel Aviv, the San Francisco Institute of Visual Art and the Fondazione Sandretto in Turin.