Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv
Curator: Chen Tamir
Material: Inkjet Prints (some mounted on MDF, other free hung), perspex, wood, clay jars (real antiques loan from the Antique Authority and fakes), video projection
“Looters” centers on the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The unit holds an archive of photographs of plunder and raids, while the confiscated objects are stored by the National Treasures. The installation included the unit’s original photographs and plundered objects, as well as fake antiquities that have been produced in the West Bank in order to meet the demand, and a video.
Divorced from their original contexts, looted objects hold little scholarly value, but maintain great sociological and philosophical value. They were stolen twice: once from their resting place and again by the Antiquities Authority who seized them from their plunderers. I, the artist, appropriated them once more. I divert attention towards their “new” story – stolen objects, seized, stored and left in the “unknown” section of the storeroom. They are ready-mades, complete with the aura gained by the object through its convoluted history.
Combining photographs with real and forged or exposed and hidden artifacts challenges both the status of archeology as an historical authoritative voice and the status of photography as incriminating evidence. I ask whether the object or the photograph can truly be a reliable evidence of the past.
The photographs of the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit originally served as incriminating evidence against looters, and show looters captured in mid-raid, as well as dig sites, looted objects, and the tools the looters used in their digs. In the installation, the photographs are enlarged to full body scale, in a way that brings the looters “to life”, and presents them face-to-face with the viewers. Nevertheless, their faces are hidden by the very objects they were seeking. With the looters’ identities obscured, or alternatively with them “becoming” the loot itself, the photographs no longer serve as incriminating evidence of specific individuals, but point to the human dimension of the greater phenomenon of looting.
Beyond documenting the raids, a few of the photographs of the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit depict the everyday life of the Unit, or document social events. For example, the image on the right in this installation view shows Jewish Israeli Prevention Unit officers at an company celebration, dressed up as Arab looters, mimicking their poor appearance. Its proximity in size and space to a different photograph, taken at the storage room, reveals similarities between the sculptural objects and their human “saviors”; a repetition of gestures and positions.